The complete guide to negotiating a lower cable bill

It doesn’t have to be this way.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Image: Reuters/Tom Mihalek
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Cable companies really want to keep your business. And they should—the leading providers in the US lost close to 105,000 subscribers last year. Pay TV and internet providers have started approaching retention by trying to figure out exactly what each customer needs, and tailoring packages accordingly. So if you think you’re paying too much, there are steps you can take to lower that price, and you likely have the upper hand. Here are some tips on how to get what you want at the price you want:

Ask to cancel your service

This is probably the quickest way to a cheaper deal. You’ll get transferred to someone who is trained to figure out why you want to leave and to help convince you to stay. That means offering you deals and promotions that nobody told you about before.

Know what you want

Ask for your service provider’s online promotions for new customers. Know how much it would cost to get the same service from a different provider, and let that inform how much of a discount you ask for. If you see a deal that includes phone service, but you want more video recording capabilities or faster internet instead, ask to get that deal and swap out the services.

If you only want internet and HBO GO access, some cable companies have special packages for that: For Comcast it’s “Internet Plus,” at AT&T “HBO Internet Plus,” at Verizon “50/25 Mbps + Local News and Sports + HBO (or Showtime),”  and for Time Warner say “Starter TV+HBO and an internet plan.”

Cash in when something goes wrong

Every time something goes wrong, even if it gets fixed quickly, ask for compensation. At the least, you won’t have to pay for the amount of time you were without the service. You can use this route if your remote isn’t working, if an installation was late, if service goes out.

If no time has actually passed since something wrong happened, try asking for something to make up for the inconvenience of having to call and deal with the problem, like extra channels or a certain amount off your bill for the month. And each time you something goes wrong, emphasize that this is just one in a chain of problems.

Talk about yourself

If you want to lower your bill, give a reason that it’s too expensive for you. Maybe you’re pregnant and saving for the baby, or just lost a job and need internet to find a new one. The company wants to keep you as a long-term customer, so they’ll help you out now if you need it. Companies are trying to tailor their promotions and retention efforts on customer needs. Time Warner Cable wants to know what kind of household you’re in, what your budget is, and what services you use so that they can customize your offers.

A supervisor should be the last resort

“Our agents have the latitude to do the right thing,” Bobby Amirshahi, a Time Warner Cable spokesman, tells Quartz. So don’t demand to talk to a supervisor right away. The agent has time to listen to your story about why you need a better deal, while the supervisor probably does not.

Be persistent

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.

Know what you’re paying for

If you see a price hike, question it. Ask for the specific breakdown of the increase.  Your bill consists of a lot of elements that can change. You’re charged for the equipment, for the service, for installation, for extra channels like Showtime or sports packages. Ask if the company can eliminate the charges for one or more of these to bring the monthly cost down.

Just ask to pay less

A company’s promotions are always changing, so you can call any time just to ask whether you qualify for a deal or promotion on any of your services. Time Warner Cable encourages it. There might be a promotion to add paid TV channel, or a lower internet price for your speed.

Don’t blame the agent

“I know this is not your fault, and I appreciate your patience” can go a long way in getting an agent on your side. It’s not fun for representatives to talk to angry people all day, being blamed for problems they had nothing to do with. Showing some appreciation can help generate good will and a good deal.

Express your loyalty

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.

And if all that fails, you can always cut the cord.