Shameless Hacks: Negotiating

If there’s one thing I’ve learned since joining the business world, it’s that the price we pay for goods and services is several times larger than what it costs businesses them. While I don’t advocate it when buying from small businesses, negotiating is something we should be practicing whenever we deal with corporate behemoths.

I was recently reminded of this when trying to cancel my plan with T-Mobile after, um, getting dumped (oh yeah, we were dumb enough to share a cell phone plan). T-Mobile charged me twice for a month neither of us used fully, but with a bit of patience, I went from “owing” over $100 to closing the account with just $5.

I was raised by a family of wolves lawyers, so you can bet I’ve witnessed some pretty powerful displays of negotiation (even in instances that really didn’t warrant it, but that’s neither here nor there). While mild intimidation (read: implied threats) does get you somewhere, I avoid it at all costs and still see savings. You really do catch more flies with honey than vinegar, so let’s talk about the sneaky-nice ways to get what you want.

Time It Right

Reach out with a purpose. Was there an outage? Did you move? Can you do without the service? Are there new competitors in the area that are more appealing to you? Have a reason to call, and arm yourself with data. If you know that a competitor can replace them, that can be your leverage. Find out their rates and general services, and keep those details at the ready.

Also, take a moment to think about your ideal outcome. Is it a lower bill, or higher quality service? Make a list of any add-ons or perks that would make a difference to you, and have that list by your side – you’ll need it later.

Phone It In

As annoying as it is, calling really is the best way to get any sort of response. Emails, while being much less of a time commitment, go unanswered. A phone call, however, is going to be monitored and recorded.

The employee you speak with will probably be held accountable for customer satisfaction. Businesses track call length, hold times, and the percentage of satisfied customers per rep, then uses this data when it comes time for raises, promotions, and bonuses. This means, for a customer support rep, it can literally pay to make your call as beneficial and quick as possible, even if they’re not exactly going at lightning speeds.

I want to emphasize now that we are not trying to game the system at the employee’s expense. These people are making their living. That said, it’s worth keeping in mind that you’re speaking with a person who has a stake in the conversation going well, and who ultimately does want to find the solution. And on that note…


Remember Who You’re Talking To

Be human! You’re not speaking with Corporate America Incarnate. You’re speaking with someone who’s likely not making enough to justify the shitty people they have to answer calls from for hours at a time, every single day.

Don’t be that guy.

Being a compassionate human being is not only the non-dick way to go about talking to another person, but also the best way to stand out. They’re getting calls back-to-back on their customers’ worst day. If you call in without the intention of using them as a verbal punching bag, they’ll be more inclined to help you.

If I’m just rate shopping, I’ll say something like this:

Thanks for answering. I’ve been with (Company) for (no. years/months) now, and like the service I’ve been getting, but I recently heard from (Competitor) that they’re offering the same exact services for a lower rate. If it weren’t for the price difference, I’d be a customer for life, but, you know, gotta trim that budget… Would you mind transferring me to cancelations?

If, however, there is a problem, I want to bring that up. Even when working with the absolute worst company, I make it a point to start the call by saying something like this:

Thank you for answering. I know it’s the company that’s responsible for my problem, and not you, but it’s been a complete headache. (Explain situation, followed by) I’m just looking to find a solution.

I will admit that I have the habit of emphasizing the drama of my plight on the phone, walking through each little detail. If you don’t want to be a drama queen, I understand. Usually, however, it saves the trouble of the rep trying to “troubleshoot” with me when they know I’ve already tried their suggestion, and failed.


It helps to know with whom you’re speaking. Some strings can only be pulled by higher level team members with authorization. If the individual you’re speaking with can’t help you, ask for the next level up. I want to emphasize, do not berate your rep. It’s not their fault they’re not authorized to offer certain perks or discounts. Instead, I’ll usually say something like:

I really appreciate your help, but I don’t think that’s going to work. Would you mind putting me in touch with a manager?

Or, if there’s been an issue:

Thanks — I know you’re trying to help, but I’ve been on calls with your team for a few (hours? days? weeks?) now, and am just hoping to find the best solution. Would you mind connecting me with a manager? I’m just looking to be done.

Make sure your rep knows you’re not trying to screw them, and they’ll connect you with a manager sooner. It makes sense – they’ve done nothing wrong. Besides, how scary do you think it is for them to hand off an upset customer to their supervisor? Again, this is their job. They want to make you happy. If you go in screaming bloody murder, they’ll think it reflects poorly on them. Would you want to run to your manager with that?

Be Quiet

Once you have someone on the phone who can pull strings, explain your situation again, calmly. If you’re sharing your problem with the company, repeat your excerpt on it not being their fault.

Don’t offer any other cue. Instead, just wait.

If they don’t say anything, this can be your single most uncomfortable moment. Stick it out. They’ll have a better idea of what’s possible than you will, so it’s worth it to let them mull over the options first.

When they offer a solution, think it over for a minute – does it solve your problem as well as your ideal solution? Is it passable? If not, I’ll usually say “oh,” and trail off, and wait again (unless there’s a clear reason why their solution doesn’t work, in which case, tell them).

Yes, And

Told you you’d need that list. When your rep offers a viable solution, you’re not done. I like to use the first rule of improv: yes, and. This works best for things that don’t cost the company a lot in the long-term (read: updated hardware, higher data limits, etc.)

The higher speed connection sounds good to me, could we throw in a new modem?

While there’s no guarantee that these options can work, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Confirm It’s Over

Every time I try this, it’ll either be solved by the end of the call, or they’ll promise to follow up. If it’s the latter, I push for details (when and how will I hear from them?) before hanging up. Either way, get the ticket number and the name of the rep, and keep them somewhere you’ll remember if the problem isn’t actually fixed.

If everything is set to your liking, give them a nice review on Yelp specifically mentioning how awesome your rep is, or write the company to give that rep praise. It’ll make their whole day.


So that’s how I choose to negotiate. No yelling, no mild threats, but it still gets results every time. Nobody wants to screw you when you’re not trying to screw them! In fact, I’d bet that they’re happy to find the workaround (even at their company’s expense, depending on if they feel fairly compensated). So just treat each other like human beings, and reap the benefits.

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