Sunday, February 7, 2016

The dark hole of Tracfone customer service

Tracfone just sent me an email asking me to rate its customer service. Thanks for asking, Tracfone!

Unfortunately, Tracfone's online survey consisted of exactly one yes or no question, and didn't allow me to say what I really thought of their customer service, which is: It sucks.

Tracfone excels at offering very cheap cellphone service -- I've looked around and I can't find any other company with such low prices. I pay just $7 a month for my cell service.

Unfortunately, such prices come with a cost: If you need help, you're going to face a lot of barriers before you can talk to a human.  And there's a fair chance that their "help" will actually hurt.

I called Tracfone recently for what should have been a simple request. Instead, it turned into an ordeal of six phone calls, and three hours lost from my life that I'll never get back. And when it was over, I was worse off than when I started.

All I wanted to do was to transfer minutes from my son's deactivated phone to my phone. I know this can be done because I did it before with a different phone.

But the first customer rep I spoke to -- after I had waded through the numerous phone menus Tracfone erects -- seemed puzzled by my request. He said it couldn't be done because my son's phone was deactivated,. He said I would need to spend $11 to buy an "airtime" card, temporarily activate my son's phone, then transfer the minutes.

This didn't seem quite right to me, but I figured $11 wasn't too much to spend to get the 590 minutes on my son's phone. I spent 35 minutes on the line with the rep repeatedly putting me on hold, and mumbling a lot of things in Indian-tinged English that I couldn't quite get.

The rep said all would be taken care of once I reactivated my phone -- wait,  what? All I had to do, he said, was wait 10 minutes after the end of our call.

Except after 10 minutes and "reactivation" my phone didn't work at all. Another call got me to a rep who asked me three times in a row to state my phone number, and no matter how many times I explained it, never did seem to understand why I was calling. At one point, he wanted to completely reset my phone, a step that would have deleted all my photos and contacts that I had built up for the past two years. I declined. That call cost another 40 minutes.

After that, I did get my phone to work -- but they had erased the phone number I had used for 10 years, and given me a new one. And while I now did have the 590 minutes from my son's phone, I had lost all my minutes, texts and data (1000 minutes, 59 texts, 135 mb of data).

To say I was angry is an understatement. My third call got me to a gentleman who told me that there was no way I could get my phone number back -- but when I insisted, he found a way to get my phone number back.  As for my missing minutes, he said, oddly, "Don't worry about those." This call took another 40 minutes.

My fourth call, which was 30 minutes long, went to a woman rep. After explaining the situation, she dutifully tapped away on her keyboard and promised that my minutes would be restored once I did some "reprogramming" steps on my phone.

Except they weren't. Nothing changed.

A fifth call went nowhere when the rep I spoke to said the department I needed was closed.

I arose at 5 a.m. the next morning to get on the phone, this time, strangely enough, with a customer service rep who actually knew what she was doing. In about 15 minutes, she had restored my minutes/texts/data without any reactivating or reprogramming of my phone.

I gave up trying to get the minutes from my son's phone, since that just led to problems. And I didn't even try to get back the $11 I spent for service that I never got.

If there is a tiny silver lining to all this it's that Tracfone gave me its "hotline" phone number. Check here to get it.


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