- Research the various Internet service options in your area (usually, there are only two wire-based services and perhaps a few wireless ones)
- Call your service provider and inform that that you want to cancel your service
We recently tried these negotiating techniques with AT&T U-verse. Our current Internet-only broadband service (18Mbps download – 1.5Mbps upload) was $55 per month and we’d just received notice that the monthly price was going to be hiked to $68 per month because “the promotional period had ended.” Sound familiar? We were able to renegotiate to a $40 per month service at higher speeds. (45Mbps download – 6 Mbps upload). So how did we get a 40% reduction in our month Internet service and a tripling of the minimum service speed? It’ll take you about an hour to complete the process.
Research Your Options (30 minutes)
Don’t just look at one service, try to research as many as possible and write down the prices for the packages or deals you like the look of. Ask friends, family, and neighbors what kind of deals they are getting. If you’re in the UK you can cut down the research time by using a price comparison service like uSwitch. U.S. consumers aren’t so lucky, but you might try the Broadband Expert or Broadband Now. You need to write down the full details of any deals you can find that offer what you want for less than you’re currently paying.
This is going to go better if you know exactly what you want to say and you have it written down in front of you. The customer service person you talk to is going to ask why you want to leave. There are various different ways to go.
- You might say the service is too expensive and you don’t feel you’re getting the best deal.
- You might tell them that you’ve been offered a better deal by another provider.
- You might tell them that you’re unhappy with the standard of service.
Whatever the case, you need to have all the information that you researched about your account and alternative deals laid out in front of you so you can quote it. Make sure you have a maximum budget in mind and what you expect to get for it. You can be sure that the cable company representative will ask for some details about the “competition”.
During your research, take note of fine print disclosures about contract terms, equipment fees, surcharges, etc. Some new customer offers increase in price during the second year, but ignore that. You are only negotiating for a better price for one year. In this blog, we are only discussing Internet service and we do not recommend buying TV or wireless service from cable providers. (see our blog on Reducing Your TV Bills)
Negotiate Only with Retention Specialists (30 minutes)
You will be asked why you are canceling service. You want to emphasize “it costs too much” and you have “found a better deal” elsewhere. You should expect the representative to start negotiations by attempting to downgrade your current service to save money. Do not play this game at this point in the call. Politely tell the representative you are not interested in a reduction in your services because you can get the same or better from the competition… at a lower price.
And, while there isn’t a lot of competition for most cable companies, there is a bit. For example, in the San Diego market, consumers have a choice between AT&T U-verse and either Spectrum or Cox Cable. But there’s also Webpass — a company that offers high-speed wireless service — in residential or commercial buildings. For about $60 per month, it offers Internet access that is comparable to or better than speeds offered by cable companies. Unfortunately, becoming a Webpass customer isn’t as easy as signing up online. Your building has to be Webpass-equipped, and the company only installs its wireless technology in dense, urban areas because of how the network works. But if you live in a residential building served by Webpass, then you have a viable and lower-cost competitor that you can point out to the retention specialist.
Keep reminding them your concern is over the cost of the service, nothing else. Don’t get sidetracked talking about service problems or poor customer service. It makes a lot more sense for the provider to reduce your bill or improve your service than it does to let you leave. They might offer money-off for a period of time, an upgrade to higher speed or extra channels, or some combination. Try to get them to make offers rather than stating what you want, that way you can find out what’s possible.
Be prepared to describe the deal from the competitor. Let them know that with recent upgrades in your area it covers all the TV channels you want to watch, has the same broadband speed you are getting now, and offers unlimited local and long distance calling to all the places you care about. The retention operator will likely try to challenge the competitor’s offer, but each time politely remind them your offer either includes those fees/charges or waives them with no contract obligation and no cancellation penalties. Tell them that competitor is going all out to sign up new customers in your neighborhood.
At all times, be polite, persistent, and persuasive. If you are pleasant, representatives will often go the extra mile for you. Try saying, “is there anything else you can try to get me a better price,” “I really appreciate all of your help today,” and “thank you for looking into this for me.” If things seem to be going against you, remind them, “I know there must be something we can do together to get to a better deal,” “I know you might not be able to do this for me, but perhaps a supervisor could?” and “maybe I am approaching this wrong and we need to start over and try to find the best promotion we can, even if it means adding or changing something that will get me a better deal.”
Companies want to keep you as a customer, and it doesn’t hurt to share that sentiment. When asking for freebies, also note how long you’ve been a customer and indicate an eagerness to remain loyal—if your needs are met. If you’re a new customer, say that you’re planning on sticking around for a while, and would really appreciate a show of good faith.
The Key Word to Use When Negotiating
The key word in your negotiation is: UPGRADED, as in their competitor ‘just notified you they have upgraded your neighborhood to a better level of service with a great limited time, local promotion just for customers like you.’ As AT&T and other phone companies continue to upgrade their networks to deliver video, phone and better broadband service, you can shut down the debate about DSL broadband speed and the many deficiencies of telephone company partnerships with satellite TV providers. Instead, you will explain the competing Internet provider can now match or exceed the speed that you are currently getting (or at least the speed you need). Moreover, with services like Frontier FiOS TV/Vantage TV, CenturyLink’s Prism, Hawtel’s TV, and Windstream’s Kinetic TV, you don’t need a satellite dish to watch anymore.
Some Additional Tips
- As we noted above, do not agree to add cable TV or wireless services to your account. For the reasons we explain in our Customer Service blog, don’t agree to buying any other services from the cable company.
Sometimes your call just doesn’t go well. If the agent you’re talking to isn’t offering a good deal, call another day. You might get a friendlier representative, or a new promotion might be unlocked. This can sometimes be better than talking to a supervisor.
Remember to save your notes. It is unfortunately all too common that the deal you were promised over the phone can look very different on your first bill. But if you kept your notes and the name(s) of representatives you spoke with, any problems can be fixed later with a corrected deal or service credits.
- Be wary of 1st year promotional deals and other broadband carriers, as they will try to substantially increase your monthly fees after the first year (in our case, it more than doubled). So don’t agree to any multi-year offerings.
Finally, you can’t threaten to cancel and not be willing to actually do just that. As in any negotiation, you have to be prepared to walk away or you shouldn’t be negotiating at all.