Retail is for Suckers: I Lowered my DIRECTV Bill, and You Can Too
High bills and customer service phone calls… two of the least pleasurable things on the planet. Combine the two and you’ve got a recipe for a hair-pulling nightmare that’ll have you screaming “I”m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” at the top of your lungs. As evidenced in the recent release of a recorded phone call between some poor bastard who just wants to cancel his Comcast and a customer service rep desperate to stop him, there’s nothing worse than trying to get a company that’s used to bilking your wallet on a monthly basis to stop.
While this nightmarish customer service call to Comcast is perhaps a bit over-the-top, it is a fairly good example of what happens if you need to cancel any type of monthly-billed service. As somebody who spent a few years manning customer service phones for a billion-dollar corporation (one of the most soul-sucking few years of my life), I can tell you that one of the reasons these companies charge so much for their services is because they pay an army of suffering customer service reps (let’s call the CSRs from here on out, shall we?) to do whatever they have to do to keep you from canceling that expensive service. It’s a bit of a Catch-22, but there you go.
Now, if you really truly do want (or need) to cancel your cable TV, or phone service, or whatever, I say good luck to you. With any luck, you’ll get a sympathetic soul on the other end of the line who understands your plight and won’t put you through the Grand Inquisition in order to cut the ties. More likely, you’re going to eventually end up in a ‘retention center,’ where the most persuasive and relentless CSRs wait to work their magic (torture) in order to keep you as a paying customer.
But…. BUT. Why not use this most annoying habit of big corporations to your own advantage? Most people call to cancel a service simply because they think it’s too expensive. Most of us don’t WANT to cancel cable, or satellite, or anything else that we derive pleasure from and see value in. But dammit, in these tough economic times, some services are expendable, and they often tend to be among the more expensive services out there. Who the hell thinks that $100 a month for satellite TV is an acceptable thing? More and more Americans are cutting cords altogether, but the reality is lots of us still enjoy what we get out of these services.
Companies found out a long time ago that it’s in their own best interest to pay CSRs to run interference and try to talk people out of (or harass them) into not canceling. They can afford to do so because most people, even those who bitch about how expensive something is, roll over and don’t ever do anything about it. For some, it’s probably not worth their time to do anything about it, and just pay the bills when they come in. These people make much more money than I do; my income makes a $100 satellite TV bill unacceptable. The same goes for my $15 a month satellite radio habit. Too expensive. But studies have shown that seven out of ten Americans never contact a company to inquire about possibly lowering their high bills; they simply accept them. I’m one of those three people who aren’t having it.
Having been in the CSR business, I know that companies will usually (make that always) go out of their way to retain customers. They’re too addicted to your money. And having worked in retail, I also realize that most products and services have high profit margins, and that even if their prices were significantly reduced, the companies offering them would still turn a profit. So, in an effort to reduce my bills, I put all this knowledge to use and started making calls.
How To Reduce Your Monthly Bills
What I’m talking about here refers to services like cable TV or other “non-essential” monthly fees. These companies all offer discounts to existing customers. ALL of them. DEEP discounts in some cases. Like I said, they want you to remain a customer. You probably signed up for the service with a special promotional price for a set amount of time. In the case I’ll use here, DIRECTV, it was a two year contract with a low introductory price. This is nothing out of the ordinary. After the promotional period ends, your bills automatically switch to the “regular” price, which is always much, much higher. Again, most people accept this is the way things are and don’t question it. That’s a mistake if you enjoy keeping your hard-earned money.
The truth is, companies can afford to keep giving you their services at prices much closer to the low introductory fees than their regular prices. The catch? They never, ever advertise these prices, and you’ve got to do a little work to get them. A few minutes on the phone can easily save you and your family hundreds of dollars a year (if not more!)
When you call to inquire about special deals or discounts for your service, there’s one important point. You’ve got to be ready to walk away from the service. These discounts are being offered by the Retention Team, so you’ve got to call and get through to a CSR by requesting to cancel your service. Even if you don’t really want to cancel, you’ve got to make them think you do. If you tell them you want to cancel right off the bat, you’ll get through to the Retention Dept. rather quickly. This is what you want. Canceling the service outright is your nuclear option, but unless you really want to cancel, it’ll never get that far.
1. Tell them you’re shopping around for cheaper services (in my case, I told them I’m getting offers from DISH and Charter, which is very much true.) They’ll have your account info in front of them, showing them how long you’ve been a loyal, high price-paying customer. Emphasize this fact to the person you get on the phone. The longer you’ve been a customer, the better the chances they’ll make you a sweet deal to keep you. Tell the rep you’re going to go with another company *unless* they can do something about your terribly high prices. And of course, they can. And they will. Be patient.
My most recent call to DIRECTV resulted in discounts to my account of over $30 a month for a year. PLUS, several free months of premium pay channels at no cost. (A recent call to SiriusXM lowered my monthly satellite radio bill from $15 to $5.) These are typical discounts. If you’re not happy with the discounts they’re offering, ask nicely if that’s the best they can do. Ask, because it’s not the best they can do. They can do more. But you gotta ask. Remember: these CSRs are paid to retain customers. They DO NOT want you to cancel, because if they lose too many customers to cancellation without retaining them, they are FIRED. Their jobs literally depend on keeping you as a happy paying customer, and they’re empowered to offer fairly large discounts to do so. It’s a stressful situation for them to be in, so they’re ready to deal A customer paying less per month is still earning the company more than a cancelled customer. Remember this: YOU are paying the bills, YOU are in control. If they don’t give you what you think is a decent reduction in your bills, threaten to cancel.
2. This is an important point to remember. While all of my recent calls to customer service at various companies have been surprisingly helpful, pleasant experiences, sometimes you and the CSR just don’t click. Starting off on the right foot will get you far.
BE POLITE TO WHOEVER ANSWERS THE PHONE, no matter if they’re male of female, or working in Tennessee or India. Again, from my experience working the phones in customer service, being polite and asking nicely will get you much farther than being demanding or confrontational. Whoever you get on the phone, they’re there to help you, and they’re not getting paid much to do so. Don’t be a dick to them; that will automatically eliminate any desire they may have to be helpful to you. Ask them how their day’s going…. ask them about the weather…. refer to them by their first name, which they’re always going to give you. The sweeter you are, the better the chance is that they’re going to go out of their way to help you as much as they can, and with the least amount of resistance. This is a game, a negotiation, and you both need to play nicely.
3. Be ready to let the call go if you’re not getting anywhere with a particular CSR. Again, there’s no need to be dickish about it, but sometimes the rep on the line just isn’t going to be as helpful as he or she could be. CSRs are people, and sometimes they’re having an ‘off’ day. Sometimes you’re having an ‘off’ day. That’s cool. Rather than elevating the back-and-forth into something negative and confrontational, kindly thank them for their time and tell them you’ll call back later.
Call back later and get somebody else. The other option is to ask an unhelpful CSR to speak to their manager. This is always going to be a turn-off and a barrier to a beneficial resolution. You’ll probably still get the end results you’re looking for, but trust me: treating the first person you get on the phone with politeness and respect, and asking nicely (never demanding) will get you much further much faster than bitchily demanding to speak to somebody’s “boss.”
Being a negative, demanding caller, regardless of the outcome, will get you red-flagged and may affect future communications with the company. Your calls are logged, as are the reasons for your call, and any “issues” you presented to the CSR. Be firm, but be nice. These front-line reps are almost always empowered to do more for you than you’d think possible; go into the call knowing this, and knowing that kind words and respect will bring out the big discount guns much quicker.
The Comcast recording has demonstrated the sometimes desperate techniques used by CSRs who are paid to save customers and fired if they lose them. It also shows for all to see that these companies really, REALLY don’t want to use you or anyone else. They want your money. They want as much of it as possible, but they’re also willing to settle for a lot less money if push comes to shove. Don’t be afraid to give them a little shove; just remember to do it nicely. Work WITH them, and not against them, and you’ll be surprised what they may be willing to offer you. They’ll help you get lower bills, you’ll help them achieve their retention quotas and not get fired, and you’ll both have done a bit to stick it to the Man. What are you waiting for??
p.s. I talked to Lynn at DIRECTV during my last call, and she couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful. There are good CSRs out there! She was in Nashville and had the best southern accent ever. I picture her as looking like the young lady above, though I know this probably isn’t the case.
***UPDATE FEBRUARY 2017*** I’ve heard from some readers, and have experienced myself, that DirecTV has seemed to reign in their customer retention discounts a bit since being acquired by AT&T. Recent calls to DirecTV have offered diminishing returns; maybe I’ve exceeded my “discount limit” or maybe they just aren’t offering the big discounts they used to to keep a customer happy. Either way, I stand by the info above. If you’re dissatisfied with the high prices of any kind of service, and are a customer in good standing with them, at the very least it doesn’t hurt to give them a call. The worst that will happen is that you’re denied the good customer discount you’re seeking. If that’s the case, it’s your prerogative to tell that service to shove it and go ahead and cancel your account. There are way too many competitors in any field (cell phone, cable & satellite TV, etc.) If they really don’t want to go the extra mile to keep you happy as a customer, then it’s their loss. And your gain! Cheers.