These scary economic times have a lot of us looking to trim our tech budgets. But before you lose the premium cable channels, upgraded broadband, and unlimited international calling plan, you may want to try a little price negotiation. You might be worried, but your service providers are crapping bricks. The recession has actually increased your leverage. By articulating their worst fear (losing customers), you can wangle huge savings.
"The business climate is changing, and we continuously adjust for that," says Robyn Watson, PR director at Time Warner Cable. That's code for "Let's talk." Operators are standing by, and they're trained to cycle through a script that's dripping with juicy options. Negotiate well and you'll tease out the goodies they tried to withhold at first.
Going in, it helps to know the competition your service provider faces. If you have satellite TV and broadband from the phone company, be familiar with the most recent cable bargain bundle. Or vice versa: Has the à la carte crowd been pimping price drops to entice switching? Work it. If you're willing to take your business elsewhere, that's even better. In addition to introductory honeymoon rates, they probably have unadvertised sweeteners. If you do switch, though, mark your calendar and call back in six months or a year when the rate adjusts. Savvy consumers know that this little dance is a recurring affair.
But be careful of stepping on toes. Don't just call up and immediately threaten to leave. Herb Cohen, who helped set up the FBI's hostage negotiation program, cautions against acting too smart. "Intellect is an asset, but only if it's concealed," he says. "Dumb is better than smart." You want to be saying, "Can you explain this to me? I heard from a friend who got such-and-such a deal." That'll switch the rep into deal-making mode. Eventually, try to flip your opponent to your point of view by involving them in your decisionmaking, with questions like "If you were me, what would you do?"
Some operators will be quick with a brush-off, so don't be afraid to hang up and try again. If you're not having any luck, you can always ask for the retention department (the folks with beaucoup bargaining power) right out of the chute. Just remember to never be rude—angrily demanding a manager isn't going to make anyone want to do you any favors. And never be afraid to walk. If nothing else, a history of fickleness might lend extra credibility to your tough talk in the future.