What happens when T-Mobile and AT&T duke it out on Twitter over a potential customer?

Summary:And it got even better when T-Mobile chief executive John Legere entered the ring.

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T-Mobile's John Legere scores some serious points when he gets down in the mix with a potential new customer. Image: CNET

It's not often you see two companies battling it out in public — let alone in front of a combined 600,000 people on Twitter. But when you do, you can expect sparks to fly.

Jay Rooney took to the microblogging site this week to question why he's still has service with AT&T, which charges through the nose for overseas data. T-Mobile doesn't, and recently  pitched unlimited data and texting worldwide  in efforts to stand out from the crowd while appeasing the millions of travelers on its roster.

Rooney's one, simple tweet was enough of a catalyst for AT&T and T-Mobile to engage in a virtual fist-fight for the hand of a customer, which saw T-Mobile's boss enter the mix and win over not one, but likely many more potential customers.

AT&T and T-Mobile, the second and fourth largest U.S. cellular companies respectively, used to be close friends. In 2011, the two companies proposed a merger for $39 billion that would see the combined company take on Verizon for the first-place slot. But the Justice Dept. blocked the proposal claiming it would cripple the country's cellular competition. The deal eventually collapsed — both companies taking a financial hit as a result — leaving the two firms well and truly off each other's the Christmas card list.

Since then, the two firms have taken almost every opportunity to take pot-shots at each other. At T-Mobile's Uncarrier event in March, executives mocked AT&T's "confusing" data plans and network speeds, among other things.

Here's what happened in the latest AT&T v. T-Mobile war of words.


T-Mobile immediately, without missing a beat, jumps in to help — not without throwing a right-hook at AT&T, calling it an "old-school" carrier.


Rooney seems to be upbeat about the prospect of T-Mobile's service.


But then the cellular turf war begins as AT&T catches on to the T-Mobile's subversive customer snatch and enters the fray.


At which point Rooney plays objective commentator:


He considers AT&T's pitch, but casually suggests he should get something out of it.


T-Mobile, feeling a little undercut, takes a swipe at AT&T with a scathing subtweet, and ups its offer to Rooney.


To which Rooney replies:


But AT&T wants to downplay the rivalry with its cellular frenemy.


And then things get really interesting when T-Mobile chief executive John Legere, a seasoned tweeter, throws down the corporate gauntlet with this zinger:


And that seals the deal. Rooney's convinced.


But others watching the two companies duke it out from the sidelines are starting to throw their weight behind T-Mobile.


And another enters the ring:


Legere's just scored himself at least two new customers thanks to his tactical tweeting.


T-Mobile's official Twitter account, the social face of the company, tweets out so others following the cellular company are shown what good public relations looks like.


Another disgruntled cellular customer, Gabe Guerrero, sees what's going on and throws in their two cents.


And then something incredible happens as the conversation snowballs further. Sprint gets dragged into the fray as others' look at their own personal circumstances and consider jumping ship to a rival.


Guerrero explains his situation, and showing his frustration threatens a complete walk-out. 


Sprint, looking a little desperate, throws out all the stops to prevent a customer bailing on their service.


There's a lesson to be learned from this. Customer engagement through carefully defined and considered strategy is all good and well. But when a company chief executive, like John Legere, who has a penchant for saying it how it is in a brutally honest and frank way (trust me on this one) gets right down to the customer-facing level, it certainly doesn't hurt. 

In this case, it will likely result in not just one new customer, but many. That's social engagement and marketing done right, kids. Class dismissed.

Topics: Networking

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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