Before yesterday, my roommate and I paid $US119.79 each month for a cable-internet-home phone bundle in New York City.
That seemed outrageously high, especially for someone who rarely watches TV, so I decided to give them a call, see what other options were out there, and test my negotiation skills.
I wasn’t necessarily looking for a significantly cheaper package, or to cancel (my roommate and I are moving out very soon and will be cancelling the account anyway), but I hoped to hang up the phone with a rate under $US100 a month.
I took five minutes to gather all of our account information. Since the account is under my roommate’s name, I knew I would need her phone number and potentially her credit card information, in addition to our account number.
I then put in five minutes of research, using AllConnect.com to search the best plans and rates in my area. This information could come in handy depending on the direction of the negotiation.
Round One on the phone with the company was a major flop. Here’s how the first half of the conversation went. It is a close to exact version of the conversation, since I’ve condensed and edited for grammar:
Me: Hi there, I cannot afford my cable bill and am wondering if someone can help me.
Cable company representative: OK, what’s your name?
(I gave them my name and proceeded to explain how the account was under my roommate’s name and I was calling on behalf of the two of us. This small detail would come back to bite me. She then looked up our account.)
Rep: This account is in a special rate. We don’t have anything lower. This has the cable, internet, and phone. We don’t even have rates this low anymore.
Me: I went on All Connect to search the best available packages in my area, and it said there was an offer that was $US99.99 for preferred TV, ultimate internet, and home phone, and there were also several other packages that were much cheaper and seemed to offer services similar to what I now have.
Rep: Keep in mind that the $US99 package doesn’t have the cable channels that you have. I think it has less cable channels … And as I said, packages that are $US120 with three services — we don’t even have these offers anymore.
Me: I don’t need all of the channels. Could I cut some of those?
(Here’s where I hit the major roadblock.)
Rep: Do you know the pin number on this account?
Me: What number?
Rep: The customer set a pin number on the account. Otherwise, we can’t change anything with anyone else, not even the roommates.
Me: I have the account number. I have the credit card on file. I have all of the information for the account.
Rep: We wouldn’t be able to make any changes unless you give us a pin number.
Me: Is there anyone else I could talk to that can help me lower this bill for the next couple of months?
Rep: This is the lowest.
Me: This is the absolute lowest?
Me: Is there anyone I can talk to about cancelling?
(This was my ultimate bargaining chip. Companies want to keep customers, and I hoped the threat to cancel would give me some leverage.)
Rep: Do you know the pin number on the account?
Me: [Laughs] No, but I can tell you the account number, the credit card on file …
Rep: I would need to verify more information on the account. This account is in someone else’s name. If you talk to her and get the pin number then we can proceed, but otherwise I can’t do that.
Me: Once I get the pin number, what’s the deal with cancelling. If we want to cancel, is that something we can do without a fee?
Rep: Correct. There are no early termination fees.
It took a while to build up the courage to try again, but I regrouped and re-dialed the 1-800 number, hoping for a different representative. It was completely worth it:
Me: I can’t afford my cable. Can you help me with this?
New cable company representative: Sure, give me one moment.
(He pulled up my account, and I had to verify my roommate’s phone number on the account, since I had called from a different number. This time, I didn’t mention I was the roommate.)
New rep: So what are you looking to do?
Me: I was looking on All Connect to see the different packages available in my area, and there seem to be a lot of packages that were lower than the $US119.79 that I’m paying. Can you help me switch to something that’s lower, and if that’s not possible, can you offer some other options because it’s a bit out of my price range at this point.
New rep: Sure. Give me one second.
(He left me on the line for about a minute.)
New rep: The best you’re going to be able to get done is maybe $US15 to $US20 lower. The lowest package price you could possibly get is $US68, but technically it’s only for brand new customers. But could you get it? It’s a possibility.
Me: That one’s $US68?
New rep: Yes, but it’s only going to knock your bill down about $US19 because you’re still going to have to pay for the box, the taxes …
Me: What does that package include?
New rep: Everything you have now.
Me: Oh. Wow. So why don’t I have that one now?
New rep: Good question. I don’t know. It’s because the package just came out — oh wait, it came out November 2014. I don’t know why they didn’t do that originally. [My cable account started in September 2014]. Bear with me one second. Let me see if I can switch you to this real time, or if I’m going to have to contact you back.”
He ended up asking for my contact information and promising to call back.
I was a bit sceptical, but less than an hour later I got a phone call from my new friend, Chris, with excellent news. My new account would be $US97.04 per month, and it would actually include more channels, the “Guide” feature, and a new channel called “Epix” that would give me access to more movies. The rate is in effect immediately and is good for 12 months.
I had three major takeaways from the experience:
1. “Negotiating” your cable does not take negotiation skills. Negotiation has never been, and likely will never be, a strong suit of mine. I did my research ahead of time and made sure both reps knew that, but rather than focusing on negotiating tactics, I remained pleasant and calm on the line, and relied on soft skills.
It’s also important to note that my lease ends in a month and a half, so my roommate and I will be cancelling this account shortly anyway. Had we been in it for the long run, I wouldn’t have stopped at $US97.04. I would have inquired about different packages with fewer channels or other downgrade possibilities. For my current situation though, this was an easy fix that will save me a little money. More importantly, I have this experience under my belt for the next time I want to lower my cable.
2. It never hurts to ask. And it never hurts to ask twice. I had two completely different experiences, and was told two completely different things about my rate, within five minutes of each other.
Ultimately, companies want to keep their customers, and I was confident that I could eventually settle a lower rate before having to flat-out cancel. Luckily, it only took two phone calls.
3. Calling the cable company is not as daunting or time-consuming as I had made it out to be. I’d been meaning to make this phone call for several weeks, but continued to put it off for various reasons. All in all, I spent about 20 minutes during my lunch break, and earned what would be an extra $US240 each year.
Note: Had I chosen to downgrade and explore other options, the process may have taken longer, but it was not nearly as time-intensive or intimidating as I thought it would be.