Before I got married, I was never really vocal about problems I had with companies. If the food I ordered at a restaurant was the wrong order, I usually wouldn’t say anything. If I had extra fees in my checking account at the end of the month, I’d chalk it up to coincidence and think it wouldn’t happen again. I didn’t like asking people for things I didn’t know for sure were mine.
After my wife and I married, and we became 100% responsible for our bills, somewhere inside me an internal light switch flipped on. Maybe it was because the money paying for these products and services was mine, or maybe I just got fed up with getting jerked around, but I started to find that there were a lot of things I could do to get rid of a fee, fix a problem, or simply lower my bill.
1. Ask productive questions. Don’t ask yes or no questions when you’re on the phone; find new ways to express what you want. Saying things like:
- “I’d really appreciate it if you could do…”
- “What can we do about…?”
- “Please remove this fee/change this thing.”
- “I’m considering switching services, what can you do to help me stay with (company)?”
It’s so easy, especially over the phone, to say no. Don’t give them that chance.
2. Be direct. Sometimes it can be intimidating to call someone and tell them you think they made a mistake or that you need something to change. I think this is the main reason I originally hated calling. However, I had a great experience with a company that helped me to realize it’s better to ask and be told no than to not ask at all.
My wife and I are involved in a start-up company and have been making more and more phone calls. Two months ago, we realized early on that we were going to run out of minutes on our cell phone plan, and we wanted to change our plan and buy more minutes. When I called, I told the person on the other end of the phone exactly what was going on. The customer service rep told me that I wouldn’t be able to change our plan until the end of the month, but that she could give us each 900 free bonus minutes. This saved us, as paying for minutes over our monthly amount would have been killer.
If you find you start running into problems when you’re asking for what you need, find something you can use as leverage. One of the best things (if it’s true) is your long history as a customer of the company. If you’ve done a good job of paying your bills on time and haven’t caused any major problems, they’ll be more likely to want to help you out. Be persistent and don’t let a simple ‘no’ deter you.
3. Know the situation. Paying attention to bills, letters from the companies you work with and deals offered by other companies can help you when negotiating. Because of the high cost of customer acquisition, many companies will be willing to cut you a deal to keep you as a loyal customer. It’s also much harder to dispute a fee you received a letter about two weeks earlier.
Make sure to keep track of who you talk to, when you talked to them, and exactly what they told you. This information will be very useful if you have to call in about the same situation again. Sometimes companies make honest mistakes, and usually they’re happy to change them.
4. Be realistic. Don’t chew out the person on the other end of the phone. They didn’t cause your problem. Even though fees or a company mistake might have you frustrated, yelling at the customer service rep makes them want to help you even less.
Having worked in customer service before, I can say that I worked so much harder to help people who were frustrated but reasonable, rather than the people who just called and yelled into the phone.
In today’s economy, there are few things that aren’t negotiable in some way. Doing some research and then making a phone call could save you quite a bit of money. Don’t let these huge companies jerk you around. It might be easier to just sit tight and pay the fees you don’t understand and eat the food you didn’t order, but it sure is cheaper to do something about it.
How about you? Has there been a time when you’ve been able to get a problem solved or a fee reversed?
Updated October 3, 2009 and originally published October 1, 2009. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.