Would you pay a stranger to negotiate your cable bill?
My internet bill just tripled. Funnily enough, no matter how many times this has happened in my life I’m still caught off guard.
The “new customer” package I signed up for a year ago finally ran out. Somehow this means that my internet – which appears to be just as slow and unreliable as it has always been – is now three times as valuable as it was a month ago.
The reality, of course, is that the “value” of the internet I’m provided is almost completely subjective. There are employee salaries involved, along with some other forms of overhead (probably some wires and switches I presume), but internet and cable and similar services are not the same as most physical goods. Oil prices rise and fall in direct relation to the overall availability of oil. When my internet bill triples, it isn’t because there’s suddenly that much less internet out there.
So while you probably won’t get anywhere haggling at the gas station, you’ve got some ground to stand on if you want to negotiate with your service providers. In fact, it turns out you’ve got so much ground to stand on that it can actually support an entire industry dedicated to negotiating price reductions on your behalf.
Calling in the professionals
These types of bill negotiation companies are becoming increasingly prevalent. The New York Times recently profiled BillFixers, a company founded by two brothers, dedicated to negotiating down client bills. Whatever savings they manage to conjure up for their clients, they keep half.
BillFixers claims a success rate of nearly 95 percent, so there’s clearly ample room for negotiation in many bills. And given how rapidly rates for services like internet and cable are climbing, those successes can equal big money. But does that mean it’s actually in your best interest to bring in a professional? Especially when they’re keeping half of what you save?
Mastering the methods
You may assume that when you hire professional bill negotiators like those at BillFixers, they bring with them some level of authority that you do not possess yourself. In truth, when you agree to allow BillFixers to represent you, you actually grant them permission to pretend to be you. When negotiating on your behalf, an agent from BillFixers will not identify themselves as calling from BillFixers – they identify themselves as you.
From there, their methods – as detailed in the New York Times article – are fairly pedestrian. They call and ask for discounts. They’re patient and polite, and often have to make multiple phone calls, but there isn’t much in the way of tricks being used. It helps to know what other offers are available (for leverage) and it speeds up the process immensely to choose the “cancel service” option as soon as you begin the call (which puts you in touch with a retention agent, who is much more likely to make you a better offer). But that’s about it. Call, call, and call again.
Do it yourself
The benefit, therefore, of using a bill negotiation service is negligible unless you either don’t have the time or simply cannot bring yourself to make the calls yourself. At the very least, you should make an honest effort to reduce your bills on your own before you turn to a paid professional.
For my part, I contacted my internet provider and was able to reinstate the “new customer” price without much fuss. Personally, I still think I’m overpaying for service, but given that there isn’t really a viable alternative in my area, I’m happy with the outcome.
If you’re not comfortable picking up the phone and asking for better rates, ask a friend to help out. And if there’s no one who can help, then maybe you can consider turning to a professional negotiator. Because until you at least ask for a better deal, you’re almost certainly paying too much.