Everyone hates dealing with their cable companies and arguing about the inevitable rate hike every year. Even though we know we're probably shelling out too much, the thought of waiting on hold for an hour, dealing with unhelpful customer service reps, and navigating the mind-boggling array of options, add-ons, and upgrades keeps us overpaying paying month after month (or looking to cut the cord all together).
We hate negotiating so much, in fact, that more than a few companies have sprung up offering to take on the odious task for us—for a fee, of course. One such company out of Nashville, BillFixers, works to pry cash out of the purses of big cable and cell phone providers like Comcast and Verizon and put it back in the hands of the consumer, provided they get to keep 50% of the savings you'll see in the first year.
After assisting 1,500 clients to reduce their costs, Billfixer's founders, brothers Julian and Ben Kurland, have amassed a wealth of knowledge about the tricks companies use to keep your rates high and the easiest ways to haggle them down. Below are seven of their top deal-snagging tips.
1. Know the lowest going rate. Before calling, you need to know the cheapest price for your services or package. Without this little bit of homework, you won't be able to recognize whether you're getting the best deal possible. "This is the biggest tip we could give," Ben Kurland says. "Go online and search for what your rate would be if you were a new customer in your area. That’s the gold standard." If you're already a subscriber, the company's website may only display existing customer rates. Get around this by searching through an incognito window on your browser.
If you have competing providers in your area, check their prices online and, if you still want to remain with your carrier, use the information as leverage to bring your current rate down.
2. Go straight to the cancellations department. "The best deals come from staff with the retention/cancellation department. Reps there have access to the best options," Julian Kurland says. Someone who works in the billing department may not be authorized to make the same offers. Opt for the “Cancel My Service” selection on your provider's call center directory and "start the negotiation high," Kurland advises. "Say you're going to leave." He notes that the cancellation department is the most likely hub to remain in house and not be outsourced to another country, which may give representatives additional leeway.
3. Be persistent. Julian Kurland says it typically takes Billfixers between one and three hours on the phone to get the best price. Why so long? "You can't just make one call. We make three to five calls, typically. It's such a gamble whether you get a helpful service representative or not." Adds his brother, "You have to find the right person—someone who wants to help and isn't going to give you the runaround."
4. Don't lose your cool. It's easy to let your frustration at being transferred five times or waiting an hour to speak with a human carry over into your conversation with the representative, but as that classic adage states, you'll catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Rein in your anger and try to be as friendly as possible. "Customer service reps get yelled at all day. It's a nice surprise for them to be treated nicely," Ben Kurland says. "They hold all the power, so being courteous only increases the likelihood they'll want to help you."
5. Skip the freebies. Cable companies try to appease cranky customers by offering HBO or other premium channels free for a period of time, typically six months. If you're not interested, ask instead for free service upgrades, like faster Internet speeds. Just be careful when accepting any deal. These promo offers are set up to expire, so you have to remember to call back and cancel when time is up, or you'll end up paying for that extra. "There are no free freebies when dealing with a cable company," Julian Kurland says.
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6. Ask for an extra break. Depending on the company, customer service reps may be able to offer you a break in the form of a one-time credit. Don't be afraid to ask for one, even after you've already lowered your monthly price.
7. Don't take their word for it. Once you have a firm offer, write down your new prices and contract terms, Julian Kurland says. Then call back and verify that your account accurately reflects the price you were quoted earlier. "You want to make sure that the customer service rep entered the right notes into the system," he explains. "If they made a mistake, you won't know until the next billing cycle, and then you could be on the hook for that payment amount and have to negotiate terms all over again."