Editor’s Note: This post is being presented to both of my blogs as I feel that the topic is relevant to all readers. The following is a true story that happened a few weeks ago, around the week of Halloween. However, the story seems much less of a treat than a very bad trick. Sit back and enjoy the longest and the final posting of this year.
When I was younger, many years ago, if you wanted to make a phone call in a public place, you would use a phone booth for that important call. Over time, these phone booths were replaced stands with phones on them. Gone were the days of trying to fit into that tight fitting location and then closing the door just to make that short (or long call). I think part of the reason the phone booth disappeared was that the general public were getting larger and not in a good way.
Unlike the phone booth, these phone stands popped up everywhere. They were at malls, gas stations, grocery stores, and on basically every corner. Even on many highways emergency phone call boxes were set up for the people’s use. In fact, I carried a small bag of change with me in case I needed to make that emergency call.
Of course, this was all well and fine for a long time. That was up until the last year or so. In that time, the phones have disappeared from those malls, gas stations, grocery stores, and the local corner. Of course, the empty stands remained but the phone was gone taken out like some bad dream.
Naturally I never thought about the need for the use of a phone since I never had any reason to call anyone. I never owned a cellphone because I never had the need for one at all ever.
That was until that faithful day happens when that emergency happens and there are no phones around and I don’t own a cellphone. Of course, a little panic set in, but I went into the nearby store where I was and asked if I could borrow their phone. Naturally, I was nervous and felt a little stupid that I had to ask to borrow a phone. After all, I was probably one of a very small group of people who don’t own a cellphone.
I ended up playing phone tag trying to reach the person I was trying to call with absolutely no success. Thankfully, everything wound up pretty much ok at least for that day.
At this point, it was determined that the family needs to get a cellphone. No longer was it a matter of just some passing interest, but something needed for security purposes.
So I spent a couple of days doing some research. With my aging eyes, I needed something big enough to see, but not something huge that would be unbearable to carry. I came down to a couple of choices of what was on sale at the various local stores.
Most importantly to our family was something without a contract. Those who remember way back when cellphones came out, it was required to sign a contract and be committed for years at a time. To make matters worse was that you also had to have good or great credit to get approved.
Then over time, Tracfone was introduced. They were the no-contract, no worry company for cellphone service that everyone who had bad credit would buy. Most importantly, the phones were cheap and the refill cards to add minutes were relatively inexpensive as well.
Over time, all the major carriers started having similar no contract phones with cards as well. The only problem was of course, who’s phone and who’s service.
After talking with a salesperson in one store and spending nearly an hour doing so, I finally decided upon the phone that I liked. The salesperson also told me that I could switch the carrier on the phone to Walmart’s Straight Talk service without any problem at all.
I had read some pretty good reviews of this service from Consumer Reports magazine and thought that this service of “bringing my own phone” to their program would be wonderful. After all, Straight Talk is owned by Tracfone so I thought the service would be pretty good given that it got high ratings from Consumer Reports. I checked the website of Straight Talk and found out that given my zip code and special phone id code that I could use their service.
When I opened the box to the phone and turned it on, I received 2 error messages that the phone could not load the software. This right away seemed like a bad omen to me as if anyone can find a bad item in a store, I certainly would.
So the next day, I exchanged that nonfunctioning phone for another one. When I got home, I immediately turned it on to see if it would start up and happily it did. I got the phone set up with the default carrier, tested it, and downloaded a few apps for it I also registered the phone with the initial carrier’s website. I did not test the phone part because I didn’t buy a phone card. My intention was to use the Walmart plan instead.
Over the next couple of days, I went to the local Walmart trying to purchase the “Bring Your Own Phone Kit” for the Straight Talk service. After spending 2 days waiting about 20 minutes each, I decided to give up on trying getting the required kit. On the 3rd day, I decided to be determined to get the kit no matter what. As the associates of the electronics department was scattered around the area ignoring me, I decided to put my hand on the register counter and after waiting about another 15 minutes. After about nearly a half-hour, an associate finally decided to wander over to me and asked if I needed help.
The associate then scrambled to find a key to unlock the item from the shelf, but was told after nearly running around for another 5 minutes that a key wasn’t needed to get the item off the rack it was on. All the associate did was push and twist the lock to remove it and get the product off the shelf. Had I known how easy that was, I would have done that myself days ago.
Overall, I spent about $70 for the kit, including tax and the 911 service tax. This kit also includes a $45 unlimited talk, text, and web refill card. The biggest part of this package is presumably the multiple SIM cards in the package, which I didn’t need because the card in mine is non-removable.
The next day, I decided to set up the phone with the new carrier. However, for some reason, when I started to set up the phone by inputting my required zip code and information from the phone itself, the website said that my phone was not compatible with my zip code.
The reason I bought the kit in the first place was that the website said that the phone WAS compatible now it saying that it isn’t. Something didn’t seem right somewhere.
Since I hadn’t opened the kit yet, I decided to call Straight Talk’s customer service to see what was up with the problem.
After being on the phone for nearly an hour and half, the customer service rep got all my information from the phone, my personal info, and all other relevant data needed for the transfer of service to them. The person told me it could take 2 or 3 days for the whole transfer to take place. During this call, I also was required to open the kit’s package to get the special codes needed to complete the transaction.
So I was excited to get a phone call (on my house phone), that the service was successfully transferred and that all I had to do would be to enter a special code on the cellphone to activate the service with them. Most of this phone call was muffled and hard to understand but I did get the gist of it.
First thing I did was to check my old provider and also checked my new provider. It appeared that my account was successfully transferred. So now was the time to activate the phone.
When I typed in the special code needed to activate the phone, I got the message that the phone could not be activated at this time. So over the course of an hour, I kept trying every few minutes to activate the phone with no success.
Something seemed to be very wrong so once again I ended up calling Straight Talk’s customer service. After about working with the first person for about 15 minutes trying to fix the problem, I was hung up on.
At this point, let me say that anyone working customer service and hangs up on a person purposely should be fired and should not even be working at such a job in the first place. So I called back a second time.
After providing information to my problem a second time, the first person transferred me to a second person after about 15 minutes unable to solve my problem. After another 15 minutes, I was transferred to yet a third person to try and solve my problem.
Of course, at this point, I was starting to get frustrated. However, this third person found out that somehow the information from the phone was entered into their system incorrectly even though the person read back to me the code correctly the day before. How this mistake happened is beyond me.
After making the necessary corrections, the third person spent another few minutes to get the phone working. Calling the special code results were always the same: could not activate the phone with their service.
So this third person transferred me to a fourth person to try and solve my issue. Again after 15 minutes, this person gave up as well. It seems that the reason why all of these people gave up after 15 minutes, as one person told me, was that if the call lasts for more than 15 minutes then a supervisor would be required to intervene in the phone call. However, at no point during my entire call was a supervisor ever put on the phone line because I was told that they were either unavailable or busy with someone else.
After the fourth person, I was told the one thing that any reasonable caller should never hear: I would be transferred to someone in India to assist me.
Now let me say that this is the worst thing that anybody in customer service should NEVER admit to doing. Nobody should ever feel the need to be transferred to someone outside their home country.
So here I was on person # 5 (the sixth if you count the one that hung up on me) and once again they could not solve the problem. So once again I was transferred to a sixth person for another 15 minutes work session, which again had the same result.
I was then transferred to a seventh person who finally was able to cut to the chase. This person told me what I had found out the day before that my phone and my zip code were not compatible with their service.
Obviously, I was furious that it took 7 people (8 actually) to get to this conclusion. At this point, I asked what my options were given that I had already opened the kit. I was told that I could not return the kit back to Walmart because it had been opened and that I would have to return the kit back to Straight Talk to get my money back.
This idea gets worse as they told me that I would have to ship the kit back at MY expense and that I would have to wait 30 business days to receive a refund. This time period figures to be roughly 45 real days, much longer than I believe the law allows. Why should I have to pay to send back something that their own website said would work and then wait a longer than an undesirable length of time to get my credit back.
At this point, I was extremely furious being that I had spoken to a total of 8 people over the course of 3 ½ hours with no results. I asked why they were selling a product that doesn’t work in this area. Of course, they could not answer that question and were very frustrating to deal with at this point. I told them that I was going to try to return the product back to the local Walmart and see if I could get my credit back from them. They wished me the best of luck snarkly and hung up on me.
The next day was Halloween and was the day that I decided to make my return to the local Walmart of my open phone kit. The line for returns seemed longer than normal as it took about 20 minutes to get waited on.
Let me say on a side note that this was Halloween and I know that many companies including Walmart allow their employees to dress for the holiday. However, I believe that anything that an employee wears on the holiday should be discreet and not be revealing of private areas. Unfortunately, for the young girl who waited on me, she was wearing a very low cut top with enough of her small cleavage showing that if she bent over the wrong way or turned the wrong way she would be giving everybody a show. Honestly, I am surprised that the management didn’t send her home to change into something a little more business appropriate. But then again we are talking about ignorant Walmart.
When I got to the counter and explained my problem with the kit, the inappropriate dressed associate and another older employee who was regularly dressed discussed between them that it was ok for me to return the item because someone else had returned the same item earlier in the week for the same reason I did: not compatible with the phone and zip code.
So happily I got my credit back and within a couple of days it was back on the credit card, not the 45 days that would have happened if I had mailed it back at my expense.
In the end, I had to reset my phone to set up a new number as the old one was still attached to the nonfunctioning Straight Talk account. The good news is that the new phone number is very easy to remember. The bad news is that I spent an afternoon reinstalling all the apps that I had previously installed, a small price to pay to finally get a working phone. I am now happy and have no intention to ever switch service. I did tell the salesperson who originally sold me the phone of all my problems and honestly he was surprised by all my problems. But then again, I had problems from day 1 with the first defective phone.
Now let me summarize this entire process:
- The initial purchase of the phone kit took several days to get an employee to get me the product. Bad service at the store level at start.
- Incorrect information that 4 people overlooked before it was corrected.
- Transferring the phone call to India to try to diagnose the problem not a great idea.
- Having a total of 8 people over a period of over 3 and half hours and none of them able to solve the problem. Is this a case of ignorance or stupidity? I will leave that up to the reader of this blog for that.
- Being told that I would have to send the product back to the company and wait 45 days before getting a refund is not acceptable under any circumstances. How stupid do they think their customers are? But then again we are talking Walmart here!
- Even though it was Halloween, customer service in Walmart at time of return had inappropriately dressed employee. Certainly I got the desired result so there was at least some good closure in the whole thing.
With all the advertising lately for the Straight Talk program, I feel that people would get the same result that I did and therefore should avoid this program at all cost. I also cannot recommend the similar programs offered by Net10, Simple Mobile, and Tracfone itself as these are all portals to the same company. I also don’t recommend buying the more expensive phones that companies like Straight Talk offered as many of them are underperformers and should be avoided.
Finally, my score is 0! Certainly the worst customer service experience ever.
Note: This is my final post for 2014. I will return in early 2015 with a look back at this year and a look ahead at the New Year. So enjoy the holidays and stay away from those Straight Talk people, unless you want to make a lot of new people here and abroad.