The monthly cable or satellite bill arrives in the mailboxes of just under 100 million American households each month. The average digital cable bill is a whopping $75 -- and rises about 5% each year.
Even though cutting cable or satellite in favor of online video streaming services is slowly gaining traction, cable TV providers are bigger than ever -- so big in fact, that firms like Comcast have the resources to buy large television networks.
1. Do Your Homework on the Competition
In many communities, your current cable company may be the only cable option in town, but that doesn't mean you don't have alternatives. Research into these is usually as simple as reading the advertising inserts that fill your mailbox each week. In most of these, you'll find ads for satellite companies like DirecTV or DISH network and cable companies, all offering amazing deals.
Keep these, and pay attention to the specials they're running. Even though you don't actually plan to switch from your current provider, it pays to know what other options you have -- this is your best leverage when you call the cable company.
2. Ask Friends and Family How Much They Pay
In many ways, the cable bill is like an airplane ticket -- two tickets for the same destination may have staggering price differences. Cable companies also have a huge variety of plans, promotions and grandfathered plans. In some cases, your $100 cable bill could be as much as 50% more than what your neighbor pays -- for the same package. Collect these numbers, but be sure that you are comparing the exact same package.
3. Determine What You Want Before Calling
Long before you actually call your cable company, determine what you want to get out of it. Be realistic in your expectations -- a good place to start is setting a goal of saving at least 20%. This is a pretty realistic number, especially if your bill is around $100. Talking the cable company down to $80 is not outside the realm of reality.
4. Never Call When You're Angry
This is an important one -- if you call right after you get your new monthly bill and demand to speak to a supervisor, chances are you'll just come across someone who cares less about you than you care about them.
Pick a quiet time to call, preferably in the morning or mid-afternoon. Start the call in a friendly tone, ask how the agent is doing and explain why you are calling.
In my experience, it helps to provide a little background as to why you are calling. Tell the agent that you're going through your yearly budget after doing your taxes, and that you have decided that the cable bill is just too high to justify the expense. Sometimes it can help to "blame" your spouse. Tell the agent that your husband or wife is "fed up" with the bill.
Explain that you really like the service, and that you are a happy customer, but that you simply can't afford to keep paying $100 each month for what you get.
There is nothing scary about making the call -- and when you realize that a single call could save up to $1000 over the next couple of years, you'll usually find the confidence to tackle this.
5. Explain What Will Happen if There Is No Change
Keep your friendly tone going -- and explain that unless you're able to work something out, you may be forced to cancel. Mention the deals you found in the local newspaper and tell the agent how much you could save by switching to the competition.
A word of warning here -- don't immediately bring out the "I will cancel" threat. If you come across a particularly nasty agent, you may end the phone call with a canceled cable contract. Keep mentioning that you "may think" about looking elsewhere.
6. Be Prepared for Counter Arguments
In most cases, you are not the first customer to call with this story. Retention agents are trained to convince you that their cable company is the best in the world. In most cases, they'll have a list of arguments why the competition is not a good choice.
If you mention satellite companies, the agent will probably bring up weather outages -- tell them about neighbor's service or lack of problems.
If they tell you they have the largest selection of "on demand" movies, counter with Netflix for streaming movies.
Eventually, they'll start bringing up some of their other other perks -- anti-virus software, address book services or more. At this point, they're getting desperate. Explain how you never use any of those services, and that they are not enough to justify your monthly bill.
7. The Risk of Losing a Customer -- This Is Where You Want to Be
Once you've convinced the retentions agent that you are serious about leaving, and that you can't be convinced to stay with a couple of existing free perks, you are where you want to be.
This is where you start negotiating with the agent. Usually, they'll have a current list of promotions they can apply to your account.
8. Don't Accept the First Offer
If your cable bill is $80, and they offer $5 off, try and push (politely) for a little more. Use friendly questions like "is that the only option you have to offer?" or "I'm afraid I'll need more than that to convince my husband/wife to keep cable".
9. If All Else Fails, Thank Them and Call Back Later
Customer care agents are human, and in some cases you may end up with someone who is having a bad day. If you chat with an agent and find that they are completely unwilling to help, simply thank them for their time, and call back later. Your chance of getting the same agent is very slim, and the next person may be more accommodating.
10. Not All Savings Have to Come in The Form of Cash
If your cable bill is already as low as the cable company can go, you may be told there is absolutely nothing they can do for you. Explain how that is a real disappointment, then ask if they have any other promotions they can apply. Ask about premium movie channels they can add, pay per view credits or increased high-speed Internet bandwidth.
Once you are offered a deal that is in line with where you wanted to be, go over all the fine print. Be sure that any discounts do not lock you into a new multiyear contract, check for hidden fees and ask for the duration of the discount.
If you were offered any free movie channels, make sure that promotion does not expire. If you were offered movie channels for a specific period, ask whether the channels will drop-off on their own, or whether you need to cancel to avoid being charged at the end of the promotion.
If changes are being made to your channel package, be sure they don't remove any channels you currently watch. Before hanging up, go over the exact details of your new cable deal and get confirmation that everything is correct. It is much easier to fix mistakes or misunderstandings now.
Like all customer service interactions on the phone, some agents may promise things they can't actually deliver. Always make a note of the agent ID or name, and write it down. Make a note of the exact time and date of the call, in case you need to refer future agents to this conversation.
Was the call a success? Pat yourself on the back, and pick up a calculator to determine how much you'll save each year. If the promotions were only applied for a specific period, get your calendar and mark the date at the end of that period. You'll want to call the cable company back around that date to repeat everything you just did -- yes, these promotions can often be applied back-to-back.
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