Cutting your cable bill can be as easy as making a single phone call. Or you can have the conversation via online chat, which some experts say is even more effective, since you'll probably be talking to a customer service representative instead of to a salesperson. And the conversation can usually be over in five minutes.
But you have to know exactly what to say to get the best possible deal. Here are step-by-step instructions for preparing for the call -- and the five-sentence script to follow.
Before you call:
Watch your mailbox. Save up the special offers and discount coupons that come in the mail, and collect the ads and inserts that come in your newspaper. You can also find offers by checking others companies' websites online. Keep offers from your company and those from rival companies.
Do some research. Ask friends what service they use and how much they're paying. Call the rival company to ask what their best deal is right now if you switch. Because rates change all the time, people in the same neighborhood may be paying wildly different costs, says Schwark Satyavolu, CEO of Truaxis, formerly BillShrink. But don't just get ballpark numbers; find out what other companies charge for the same services you want so you're not comparing apples and oranges. The more ammunition you have, the better positioned you'll be to negotiate. Keep in mind that even if your area has only one cable provider, that's not the only kind of competition. DirectTV, Apple TV, Netflix, and satellite services are all competition for cable as well. "There are so many options available now, cable providers are under pressure, which may result in more flexibility," Satyavolu says.
Know the details of your bills. Be clear on the services you're paying for and whether they were added up individually or as a package. Read your bill carefully for hidden fees or for anything that looks different from what you remember signing up for. Some companies make "upgrades" or change the details of plans without notifying customers.
Know your payment history. How long have you been a customer? Many companies value longtime customers for their loyalty. Have you made all or almost all of your payments on time? Be prepared to play up your status as a valuable customer the company wants -- and needs -- to keep.
Know your account number. If you don't, be prepared with other identifying information, such as your phone number, address, and social security number.
Have a bill in front of you. It helps to be able to consult the details of what you're paying for.
Have a pen ready to take notes. Circle the parts of the bill you're questioning. You can take notes right on the bill or on a separate sheet of paper.
Psych yourself up. Most people don't call to request bill reductions for one of two reasons: Either they're too embarrassed, or they assume they won't be successful. Build yourself up for this conversation by combating both notions in your head. You're entitled to call to ask for lower costs -- that's every customer's right. And there's no reason they shouldn't say yes. You've been a loyal customer worth keeping.
Be prepared to be flexible. Sometimes you can get the best deal by combining Internet and cable TV, or by choosing a package deal rather than selecting a prorated menu of services. Be prepared to hear all the options the sales rep or customer service rep offers before you make your push for what you want. (You never know; there might be something you want thrown in for free.)
Be as nice as possible without being smarmy. Remember, the life of a phone customer service assistant isn't easy, and some have more flexibility to negotiate than others. Your goal is to be the person the he or she wants to help. If you're gruff or impatient, the rep will have less incentive to go out of his or her way for you.
5 sentences to slash your cable bill
The script, in five sentences:
1. State the issue firmly.
"I'm calling to make changes in my cable service because I can't afford my current payment."
2. Play the competition card.
"I'm considering switching services because I've received an offer from [name a rival company] for [name the specific services, such as cable and Internet] for [name the price]." Alternative: "My friend across town is only paying [name the price]."
At this point, expect the cable provider cable rep to name all the services you have and tell you what a good deal it is.
3. State your history as a loyal customer and repeat that cost is the issue.
If the representative touts other perks of your service, such as virus protection, say that you don't use those services. Politely repeat that you're thinking of switching or even canceling cable altogether to save money.
"I understand; I've been a loyal customer for [state the time period], and I always make my payments -- but rates have gone up, and I'm going to have to switch or cancel cable altogether because we just can't afford it."
At this point, wait a beat or two. Many times, the cable rep will step in to offer specials. If not, follow with, "Is there anything you can do to help me reduce costs?"
The spokesperson will likely name the deals or discounts available. If the rep says there are no offers or he or she isn't authorized to make bill reductions, ask in a friendly tone to speak to someone who can help you with this. In some cases this will mean being transferred from sales to customer service. Asking to speak with the "disconnection department" may get you the furthest with some companies.
4. Push for a better bottom line.
"Is that the best you can do?"
If the offer isn't enough, push harder: "So, right now, my monthly payment is [name the current cost], and with this deal it will be [name the rep's proposed cost]. I don't think that's going to make enough of a difference."
If the deal offered is an introductory offer that expires after six months, push for a longer term or ask what to do to keep your rate from jumping back up: "Is it possible to extend that rate for a year?"
The cable rep might decline an extension and instead say you can call back in six months and ask to have the introductory offer extended. If so, make note of the date when the rate hike goes into effect.
5. Obtain confirmation information and make sure there are no hidden fees.
"You've done a great job helping me, and I really appreciate it. Can we go over the details one more time -- and can I have your name so I know whom I was talking to?" (It's also a good idea to ask for e-mail confirmation.)
If the representative has been helpful and one of those automatic customer service surveys comes on afterward, be sure and give the representative a high rating. Who knows, he or she may be more likely to help the next rate-reduction caller too!