Imagine or you're actually with a big company that has long since past its prime, that at one time been a regulated monopoly and as such been known for bullying or at best ignoring customers rather than innovating or going out of its way to serve them.
Even though the world has changed since your glory days--you have hungry competitors, your customers can drop your offerings at a flip of the appropriate fingers and they can cost you other buyers by telling the world via social media how lousy your outfit is--your culture hasn't.
So when a customer complains about your service to your CEO: a logical action because that person is ultimately responsible for the actions of your firm, what does one of your good soldiers, just following orders from their superiors of course, do? Threaten the customer, of course. Like how dare they?
Naturally when the word gets out about your actions, via a blog entry the customer posts for the world (and other customers) to see, you say "sorry for having told this guy to shut up or we'd do it for him."
This example of how not to respond to customers' complaints in this social media era, where unless you respond to them quickly and authentically including by the CEOs your rep is DOA, comes courtesy of--and perhaps to no surprise to those of us in or follow this industry)--AT&T, via CNN.
CNN reported Thursday that AT&T apologized to one of its customers after a staffer left a voicemail warning that individual had e-mailed the carrier's CEO with complaints.
So here's the story, verbatim (except near the end):
"Giorgio Galante, an AT&T customer and iPhone owner since 2008 from Buffalo, New York, told CNN that he was dissatisfied with the company's handling of questions surrounding his iPhone upgrade eligibility dates. He was also displeased with the recent news of AT&T's pricing plan restructuring, which, among other things, will end unlimited data plans. He decided to e-mail CEO Randall Stephenson directly about his issues"
"Please don't have one of your $12/hour 'Executive Relations' college students call me -- I've found them to be generally poorly informed (Engadget.com readers know more than they do about AT&T) and they have little authority to do anything sensible," reads a portion of Galante's e-mail to Stephenson. He posted this e-mail, along with the offending voicemail, on his blog, "So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish," which he began Wednesday after receiving the message."
"After I sent the e-mail out [last week], on Wednesday I got that nasty gram back in the form of a voicemail," Galante told CNN."
"The message, left by an employee at the company's Executive Response Team, warns Galante that if he continues to e-mail the CEO, "a cease-and-desist letter may be sent to you."
"AT&T told CNN on Thursday in a statement about the incident, "We are apologizing to our customer. 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 he wasn't necessarily expecting a response from Stephenson, but he felt that he was at least providing customer feedback to the CEO. He said that he accepted AT&T's apology but wondered why Stephenson was so "out of touch" and wished he had received a phone call directly from the CEO."
(Now here's the kicker, one that deserves to hurt...)
"Galante said he received a personal phone call from a senior vice president at the company. He said the executive was "extremely apologetic" and asked whether there was anything she could do to keep him as a customer."
"No such luck for AT&T, as Galante is switching to Sprint's new HTC Evo phone immediately."
(Learn how best to use the social channel for your benefit. Attend the Social Customer Summit at ITEXPO West Oct.4-6, 2010 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. See you there!)