Sunday, September 1, 2013

That bill is too much

This post specifically references the Albany, New York area, but the overall strategy is applicable anywhere you live.  It would be nice if you were truly rewarded for loyalty; however, the reality is that loyal customers get price increases while "new customers" get promotions.  I have saved hundreds of dollars over the past few years by not settling for the new price.  I will present the general strategy and then discuss specific bills where I have applied these strategies.

Here is my overall strategy:

1.  Identify your alternatives / options.
2.  Price these options.
3.  Evaluate their merits.  (There may be some pluses and some minuses.)
4.  Think through your spiel (write down talking points if it helps you) and then
5.  Contact your provider of choice.

These are some real examples where I have used this approach and saved money:

1.  Waste disposal:  This might be the easiest example as it likely offers the closest "apples to apples" array of competitors.  Lets face it, it doesn't matter who picks up your garbage; the service is basically the same.  Yes, you might prefer this pick up time versus that, but for the most part you will be getting the same service and can adapt.  As is routinely the case, we received our annual good news, rate increase.  In past years, I had realized a savings by prepaying for a year, but in contacting the provider this year, I felt that this savings just wasn't worth it.  In the course of this contact, I did learn that they were receptive to "price matching"... a-hah, now we were getting somewhere.  From here, it was simply a matter of using Google to identify local waste haulers in my area and then dialing for dollars.

2.  Times Union Newspaper (518-454-4545).  First off, I will comment that I like that the phone number is easy to remember; I never have to look it up, I just know to alternate "45" to make the phone number.  Even in this internet age, I love the newspaper and I haven't found the internet equivalent of the Sunday coupons and bargain ads.  I've learned that it is best to call between around 10:30 AM to 2:00 PM or so as this avoids the craziness of the morning delivery calls and the quitting time wind down.  Unlike the "apples to apples" leverage you have with waste haulers, there really isn't an alternate newspaper in Albany.  However, you are not completely without leverage as the newspaper's ability to generate advertising revenue is tied to their number of subscribers.  If they can avoid it, they would prefer not to loose you as a subscriber.  So each time the Times Union bill comes due, they try to slip in an increase and I call and tell them its too much (it usually is and push comes to shove, I would cancel if the price doesn't work for me).  Thus far, I have always got a price lower than the printed bill by calling.

3.  Time Warner Cable TWC (1-866-321-CABLE).  Another easy number to remember and I call religiously when I receive that annual increase notice.  I (currently) rely on TWC for Internet, TV and phone.  In last week's post, I identified home phone alternatives and one of these alternatives may be a good step in "unbundling" so that you are not as dependent on one provider for all of your services which in turn gives you additional leverage for your business.  Phone is the most easily replaced as there are many options - whether it be going fully to cellular service or finding another such at netTalk.  Internet and phone are tougher and for the most part, the only alternative is Verizon who would provide the internet through DSL and the TV through a satellite partner.  I have always found TWC's customer service much better than Verizon, but needless to say I don't emphasize this point when I contact them.  Thus, I proceed to gather pricing data as best as I can to reflect replacing TWC service.  After gathering this information and my current billing information, I make my move to call TWC.  When calling, I express that I am considering a change and ask to speak with someone in retention (sometimes referred to as a "retention specialist").  As with any customer service automated line, it is a bit like playing roulette - sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you don't.  If you feel you are reaching a dead end with the representative that you land, be very polite but make an excuse to get off the line (Thank you, that sounds worth considering.  Let me take a day or two to think it over...).  I've read some who say you can just call back to get someone else.  I tend not to do this as your contact is recorded in their records and I think they are wise to this hang up call back strategy.  Instead, I do take a day or two to regroup.

During this time, I can consider new approaches.  For example, if you are exposed to a commercial advertising a knock out rate for "new" customers, it is fair to contact TWC and ask TWC why is it that a new customer gets this knock out rate while you, being a loyal customer, get to pay more.  I recall a past contact where it reached the point in one TWC contact that I asked, "what do I need to do to be a new customer?" and learned that if I turned in all my equipment, I would be considered a new customer the next day (as I was no longer an "existing" customer).  In the past, the headache of a new phone number would make this option untenable; however, you can obtain a free phone number through Google Voice.  One option is to get your Google Voice number, set it up to ring to your existing phone and then distribute your Google Voice number to family, friends and whoever else you want to have your phone number.  This way, you are not hostage to your phone service as you use the Google Voice phone number to ring to whatever device (number) that you are currently using.  (I will remark that I do understand that you can "port" phone numbers; however, I have heard far too many horror stories of delays and mix ups so I think the Google Voice strategy works better to be able to give out one phone number and then just configure that number to ring to wherever you want it to ring).

Another area to explore is whether you should purchase your own cable modem or continue to pay the TWC rental charge which has recently increased from $3.95 to $5.95.  This rate increase prompted me to make the purchase and so far so good as far as the connection.  However, I will note that TWC's customer service attitude has changed and on both occasions where I have had contact with customer service since moving to using my own modem, there was a marked change whereby these customer service reps quickly pointed to my modem as the issue and that "you need to call the manufacturer" when in both cases my modem was not the source of the issue.  I would not recommend moving to your own modem unless you are at least moderately comfortable with technology / equipment and are also comfortable advocating for help (even when TWC tries to push you off on a wild goose chase to the router manufacturer).  Recently I was chatting with a Microsoft representative who indicated to me that TWC throttles your internet connection via the modem so that by using your own cable modem you avoid this throttling.  I cannot substantiate this remark; however, considering the source and the logic, it may have merit so I include it here as another potential benefit to purchasing your own cable modem.

So next time you receive your bill and are greeted by a rate increase, do your homework, then pick up the phone and tell them that bill is too much!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are appreciated. Please note that comments are moderated, but will generally be published if on topic and free from excessive profanity or hostility.