"By VICTOR GODINEZ / The Dallas Morning News
Once upon a time, threatening and berating a customer for pestering the chief executive officer of your company merely resulted in one bitter ex-customer.
Nowadays, as Dallas-based AT&T Inc. just discovered, it means an embarrassing online backlash, a very public customer defection and free advertising for a competitor's hot new gadget.
New York resident and iPhone app developer Giorgio Galante e-mailed CEO Randall Stephenson on Wednesday to complain about the wireless carrier's new data plans that eliminate the option for unlimited downloads.
Galante had e-mailed Stephenson a week earlier to request that his eligibility date for a discount on a new phone be moved up, in anticipation of the new iPhone that Apple Inc. is expected to unveil Monday.
An AT&T customer-service representative replied to the first note and said the company couldn't accommodate the request, and Galante said he planned to leave AT&T and buy the new HTC EVO 4G phone being released today by Sprint Nextel Corp.
After the second e-mail, though, the tone from the responding AT&T rep took a surprising turn.
"I want to first thank you for the feedback," the rep said in a voice mail Galante posted on his blog (attepicfail.tumblr.com), along with his original e-mails. "Going forward, I need to warn you that if you continue to send e-mails to Randall Stephenson, a cease-and-desist letter may be sent to you."
The legal threat exploded across the Internet like a rotten egg, and AT&T hurriedly issued a statement Thursday.
"We are apologizing to our customer," AT&T said. "We're working with him today to address his questions and concerns. This is not the way we want to treat customers. From Facebook to significant customer-service channels, AT&T strives to provide our customers with easy ways to have their questions addressed."
Galante said on his blog Thursday afternoon that a senior vice president from the company had called to apologize.
"I accepted her apology, and yet have still decided to move on to Sprint + HTC Evo," Galante wrote. "All in all, it's clear that Mr. Stephenson's mail filtering staff needs some additional training on dealing with customers."
He also wasn't ready to let Stephenson off the hook.
"It would have been nice to hear from Mr. Stephenson though," he wrote. "