Tracfone customer service: worst ever?

I haven’t written about what I used to call “adventures in customer service” in a long time, but I’m kind of considering this a public service.

I hate cell phones. In my experience there’s no such thing as a clear call, and people on cell phones seem to automatically become jerks – and people on cell phones in cars can be lethal. If I want to get online I’ll use my laptop; if I want to read I have my Kindle and, you know, books, and if I want to take pictures I have a camera. And the last thing I need in my life is either another expensive gadget or a monthly bill.

However, there are times when you just want to order a pizza, or when your car dies and you need AAA. So, mainly to address the latter, what I did was go to WalMart and look at the pay-as-you-go phones. My decision was made pretty much based on what I could bear to spend while getting something useful without more frills than I absolutely needed. and I ended up with a Tracfone.

I had no real problems for a while; I was annoyed by spam texts, but figured it was par for the course. When my minutes started to run low I (stupidly, as it turned out) decided to go for the biggest bargain, and spent a couple hundred dollars on 1500 minutes.

Then a little while ago I realized that when I called out, no one could hear me. So I called customer service – this was about three weeks ago, on May 8.

The overseas representative tried some basic troubleshooting, then put me on hold – and I suddenly found myself talking to someone else who told me I shouldn’t have been transferred to her, I was getting a new phone, and tried to hang up on me. Before she disconnected, I managed to get out of her that I could expect the replacement in 4-5 days. Then she hung up.

Two weeks later I realized it had never come, and I called back – and thus started a week-long saga that has included over a dozen telephone calls and about fifty emails, in which, besides some basic rudeness and apathy, I have been lied to, been hung up on (once by someone calling herself a supervisor, and a few times by an operator who was trying to get rid of me because I had the temerity to call shortly before 5:00), had a few blind transfers and accidental transfers … including one to someone named Donna somewhere in America who had no idea what was going on with my situation but was more than happy to chat for a while and give me a couple of new numbers – the Miami office, at 800-867-7183, and Pearline Graham, at 305-715-6526. I started up again the next morning.

Keep in mind that all this while I was being told by everyone up to and including the automated service that my replacement phone would be received in 4-5 days. The humans started telling me that the ticket was “incomplete”, but no one could or would tell me why.

At the Miami office I finally reached someone who – after more than forty minutes and apparently some consultation with her supervisor – told me that my phone was out of warranty and I would just have to buy another one. I asked for her supervisor, but she was (of course) suddenly unavailable, and so I left my work number, with extension, for a prompt call back. I didn’t hear anything until eight hours later, when someone – not a supervisor – finally called. She claimed she had tried to call me at work, but did not have the extension number. And apparently was unable to use the company directory or ask the operator for my desk.

The next day, I received an email in response to one I had sent to Pearline Graham, whose title is “Executive Resolution Department Manager”, and she passed the buck to someone else… in the end, I got not one but two replacement phones.

Why am I not satisfied when I received a replacement for a phone that was out of warranty? Ms. Graham certainly doesn’t understand this.

There are many reasons. First, not one customer service agent ever asked for my name, nor used my name. This is unprecedented in my experience. I used to be a customer service rep, and if I had neglected to ask someone’s name I would have been in serious trouble. It’s basic courtesy.

Second, I never asked for a phone, nor expected a phone; I didn’t think about when I bought the original thing, or how long the warranty was. I just wanted to see if there was anything I could do about the problem. If that very first rep had said “no, sorry, your phone is out of warranty, and it sounds like it needs to be replaced; please contact us once you’ve bought another of the same make and we’ll transfer the number and minutes” – if I’d heard that I would have sighed and thanked him and gone my way.

But that’s not what happened. I was promised a phone, even if accidentally, and it took a hellish experience to get that promise fulfilled, and then some. I inferred through something in one of the 50+ emails I exchanged with Graham and her assistnat that two phones might have been sent, and asked about it. I asked six times, and no one ever answered. No one ever apologized for the many many mistakes that were made, nor the hang-ups, nor the fact that it took three weeks, a total of at least a dozen calls, and those 50+ emails to resolve a situation that never should have happened.

And remember how I said the main reason I even have a cell phone is in case of car trouble? Guess what happened last night – before I got anywhere near home and however many phones were waiting on the doorstep. It was almost funny – except that I was tired, hungry, desperate to get home, and stuck alone in a parking lot as night began to fall, with no other recourse than walk to the nearest open store and beg to use a phone to call Triple A (no payphones anymore). Oh, and I had to do that twice, because I was originally told that a truck would show up in about 45 minutes. After an hour, when no one came, I had to go beg for the phone again, to be told by AAA that the truck had been delayed and would be nearly another hour – maybe two. But they couldn’t let me know because – wait for it – I didn’t have a functioning phone.

I mentioned this situation in one of my many, many emails to Ms. Graham. At no point did she or her assistant ever even acknowledge it. They never apologized for the unfathomable stupidity of the struggle I had to get any kind of answer at all. They never apologized for the hang-ups or the rudeness. Instead, Ms. Graham kept insisting I call her – and I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. I had spent something like four hours, total, on the phone with Tracfone representatives, and I was beaten down – the idea of getting on the phone again was intolerable. But I finally did call Ms. Graham this morning … and had to leave a voicemail. I left, in the end, five voicemails.

At no point was I asked for any details beyond what I gave initially. Any customer service manager I’ve ever worked with or for would have taken any information I was able to give in order to pursue what they like to call “training opportunities”, and hopefully discipline. If nothing else, I wanted desperately to tell someone what happened, and .. no one cared.

In fact, at no point in the process did I ever feel like anyone, anywhere gave half a damn that I was being inconvenienced, and then angry, and then angrier and angrier. They just kept making matters worse.

I’ve submitted a review to the Better Business Bureau, where I was shocked to see the company has an “A” rating – how?? But I have a feeling that the company will squash it. After all, I got a replacement phone – what more could I possibly want?

An apology.

Acknowledgement of the many, many screwups of the company, and some kind of indication that they’re going to do something about it.


I will use up the minutes I was dumb enough to buy, and never, ever use Tracfone again – and I strongly advise anyone else with sense to avoid the company.

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4 Responses to Tracfone customer service: worst ever?

  1. Susan Dexter says:

    This is the recourse they leave you, to “review” Tracfone–and they think it stops there. But surprise! Some people who follow your blog work with non-profits who are exploring buying this type of cell phone for contacting their clients without revealing their personal numbers. And now they will be told “I have never had a problem with my AT & T Go Phone–but I hear Tracfone has serious issues.” I used to be in advertising, where every negative comment represented 10 people who didn’t bother to complain. Wonder how that applies now, when most customers can complain all over FaceBook?

  2. stewartry says:

    I never realized how toothless the Better Business Bureau is. I mean, technically the company resolved my problem; the fact that they put me through hell before doing so (and caused the problem in the first place) is irrelevant. And before my review is made public there it is sent to Tracfone for editing and comment. So that might be why they have an “A” rating … I just don’t know.

  3. marguerite wainio says:

    Well, the first time I bought a TracFone, I had the same kind of experience described above. So I wrote an email to the CEO of TracFone, and that brought some fast action, believe me. Pearline Graham called me at 8 the next morning falling over herself wanting to help me, and she ended up that particular time sending me three activated phones to choose from. Since then, I have stayed with their network because they have great coverage in my area, and I never call the 800 number at all, ever again. I go straight to Pearline–because I have problems every time I try to install a new phone. She usually upgrades me and sends me a replacement by overnight mail. I am surprised to hear that she did not help you. I just bought a new Net 10 phone from the company itself, and–surprise–it is defective. So I just left yet another message for Pearline–but I have every confidence that this will be take care of yet again. Her number again is 305 715 6526. Good luck.

  4. stewartry says:

    Thank you! That post was a few years old, so maybe Pearline’s work ethic has improved. It still ranks as the worst customer service experience of my life, and that’s quite an accomplishment, given the competition!

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