How to Ruthlessly Negotiate Your Cable Bill

When I went off to college, I felt like my parents paid like $10-$15 a month for cable television (this was in 1998, so not ancient times).

My first cable bill after I graduated was like $80!

There were some pretty big leaps in technology, such as high-speed internet (no more modems and SCREEEEEEEEECH-KERRRBWAAAAA-BAANAAAAAA-SHHHHHHHHH every time I went online… a sound I kind of miss actually) and DVRs, but there was a big leap in price. Nowadays, between cable box rental fees and service, it gets expensive.

It's easy to see why folks find it so tempting to cut the cord.

If you don't want to cut the cable but still want to save a few bucks each month, this guide will help you do that in the shortest time possible.

When I went off to college, I felt like my parents paid like $10-$15 a month for cable television (this was in 1998, so not ancient times). My first cable bill after I graduated was like $80! There were some pretty big leaps in technology, such as high speed internet (no more modems and SCREEEEEEEEECH-KERRRBWAAAAA-BAANAAAAAA-SHHHHHHHHH...First things first, you need to be out of your contract. Cable contracts these days have early termination fees (ETF) and unless you're a few months away from its expiration, you probably have too high of a financial hurdle to overcome.

If you are not in the contract, or soon to be out of it, then a “signing bonus” (that's what they call the gift cards they give away to new customers) might defray the ETF.

Know Your Level of Service

Get a copy of your latest bill and write down the exact level of service you have. This will make it easier to compare against alternatives.

For cable, you'll want a ballpark # of channels you have including the names of channels you must have. If you're like us, you watch the local channels and maybe five others, tops.

For the internet, you'll want to know your speeds, usually expressed in Mbps. If you have 50/50 (that's 50Mbps upload, 50Mbps download), you want to compare against 50/50 at another company.

You'll want to do the same for the phone but the phone is usually thrown in as an afterthought. 🙂

Collect Competitor's Information

Armed with your package, start scouring the internet for cable deals. Look for offers from any cable company advertising in your area and record their prices for the same level of service you're currently getting. Include any packages you would consider signing up for if your current provider doesn't play ball.

The key to getting your cable bill lowered is competition.

By collecting all this information, you are doing two things. First, you're going to be able to tell the representative that you know what's available out there. Second, you are willing to cancel your service with them and quit because you did half of the work already.

What if you are stuck in a place with no competition? The customer service representative will probably not know. And even if they did, you can always cancel and go without cable. Cable companies are always competing against the price of not having cable, $0. 🙂

If the competition is offering gift cards to sign up, be sure to factor that into the cost of service. Getting a gift card is nice but might not be as good as getting a free DVR rental or a lower monthly price.

Make the Call

When you call, you need to get moved to the Retentions department, where they try to retain you as a customer. You get there by following the phone tree to Cancel Service, whatever that might look like, or getting on the phone with a human being and telling them you want to cancel your service.

This is the exact play (no need to deviate, just keep it simple):

  • YOU: I'd like to cancel my service.
  • Rep: Why?
  • YOU: [Company X] offers the exact same service for $$$.
  • [they will say something polite and then transfer you to Retentions]

You need to get to Retentions because that's where the best offers are made. They're the last line of defense.

You're not getting that if you're talking to a rep before that stage. It's a waste of your time and theirs since you won't agree to anything they suggest.

When they ask you why you are canceling – you must tell them it's because you found a better deal elsewhere. The retention specialists are trained to handle nearly all objections and they will try to talk you out of leaving. They'll try all of the tricks other than lowering your bill or they'll try to lower some aspects so you pay less, but downgrade your service.

The Negotiation Playbook: The negotiation dance has three distinct phases once the agent has finished recapping your service and information to make sure they have it right:

  • Rep gives Initial Offer: This will always be better than what you see online through your account but it's not going to be their best.
  • You need to compare this with the offers you've seen, is it better? If not, tell them “I have this promotion from [Company X] for $$$, can you beat this?”
  • Rep gives the Second offer: This might or might not be their best but it'll be better than the first offer.
  • You should move to talk about the other offer points – free DVRs, upgraded cable modems, added channels, other things that, effectively, are free to throw in
  • Rep tells you what they can throw in, what they can't, etc.

The first phase is that first offer, 2nd phase is the 2nd offer, and the third phase is those free add-ons they can throw in to maximize what you get.

At this point, it's up to you to hold the line to get the deal you are happy with or go through with a cancel.

The key is getting a deal you're happy with and moving on. I just did this with Verizon and the call took just 12 minutes, including a minute listening to a terms and conditions automated message. My 2-year contract was set to end in 1 day and I was able to turn a $164.99/mo offer into $119.99/mo – a savings of $1,080 over two years. 12 minutes for a grand in savings, can't beat that.

General Tips for the Call

Some general suggestions on the conversation itself:

  • Build a rapport and be nice. They will try to build a rapport with you too so this should be easy, but by liking you they might bend a little more. They might not, but if they were going to give a little more to someone it's probably to someone they like.
  • Your best phrases are “Is that the best you can do?” and using pauses and hesitations to your advantage. They want to keep you more than you want to keep them, remember that.
  • Ask for everything and anything you want, they won't be able to read your mind and you need to leave the conversation happy. They just need you to leave the conversation still being a customer.
  • If you feel like the agent isn't giving in, if the offers are all terrible versus your alternative, thank them for their day and get off the phone. You might have reached a particularly difficult agent or they met their quota or some other reason, so just reset and try again.
  • Be willing to cancel. And follow through… because you might get an offer in the mail a short time later to sign up.
  • For bonus points and an inside look, read this Comcast Quality Guidelines for Retention (courtesy of TheVerge and ArsTechnica).

Skip Online Chat, Call. It may be tempting to try online chat, especially since the call might last a while. DON'T. Those agents don't always have the authority to make changes – so you might be negotiating with someone who can't do more than walk you through screens. Each cable company is different but I suspect this most common.

Have you slashed your cable bill through negotiation?

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