Negotiation is one of the finest communication skills to hone.
Even if you aren’t in sales or business, you can benefit almost every day from sharpening your negotiating abilities. Over the years I’ve saved myself and my businesses thousands (somewhere in the 5-figure range) of dollars in fees from my services companies. Here I break down the mindset, communication style, influence methods, issue-leveraging techniques, and lines to use.
Mindset: Treat it like a game
You may be furious at your service providers for fees they are charging you or you may feel guilty and mad at yourself about being late on a payment or screwing something up that’s costing you. What’s important is to remove your emotions from this process and treat it like a game. A fun game to build your negotiating, influence, and communication skills. Remember the customer service reps aren’t your enemy, they don’t get paid anymore to charge you exorbitant fees.
Be friendly but escalate your assertiveness and aggressiveness. Before you start your negotiation session with customer service get a pen and pad out so you can take notes. Remember, people want to help nice people, so kill them with kindness. Write down their name and use it frequently during the conversation. Don’t be afraid to use a little humor to establish rapport. A customer service rep has to talk to angry customers all day long so at least begin the conversation by being personable. Here’s a great line that I like to use…
OK, Chris (or whatever their name is), I’ve made an effort to be very civil and friendly with you even though your company is treating me like garbage here. There has to be something you can do to help me…
NOW SHUT UP and let them help you — What’s important is to balance this with assertiveness. Be very clear and upfront about what you want. If they don’t offer you what you want then be increasingly assertive and aggressive.
Asking is half the battle
What might surprise you is that customer service reps, even the first-level operators, are often willing to refund your fees and make an exception to help you, if only you ask them. I’m amazed at how many times I’ve had this exchange…
Me: I really don’t think it’s fair that I’m charged this extra fee, I pay my normal bill which is what I signed up for. Can you waive it, Chris?
Customer Service Rep: No sorry sir, it’s our policy not to waive that fee.
Me: Well Chris, I just don’t think it’s fair, how would you like it if I was charging you a fee like this? Please ask your manager for me. I’m a good customer of your company and I think I deserve the best service.
They put me on hold for a few minutes
Customer Service Rep: Sir, I checked and we are willing to extend you a courtesy to waive your fee.
Talk to the manager
If the first-level operator is unable or unwilling to help you, you definitely want to talk to their manager. Use this line…
Chris, I’m sure you’re a nice person but you’re not providing me with the service I think I deserve as a good customer of your company. I’d like you to transfer me to your manager, I will let them know that you did everything you could to try to help me.
Once you get the manager on the phone, write down their name. Restate your case and request a refund. A lot of times this will do the trick. If they claim that they just can’t help you use this line:
I refuse to believe that your customer service organization has no one in it capable of making a decision. Now, what can you do to help me?
Even though they may tell you they don’t, different customer service managers may have different policies when it comes to extending refunds. If one manager is just refusing to help you, hang up, call back and talk to someone else.
Note: 50%-75% of the time you will be able to resolve your issues by applying the 4 steps above.
Leverage errors and issues
A lot of times service companies with an iron-clad policy of no refunds do extend discounts for bad service or mistakes that they have made. Here are some examples of errors that service companies make…
- Screwing up your bill amount
- Keeping you on hold too long
- Transferring you to multiple operators who have been unable to help you
- Service going down temporarily
- Malfunctioning product or equipment
- Failing to call you back on an issue
If they have made any one of these mistakes (or a multitude of others) in the last year then you can emphasize the huge inconvenience this caused you; how much time and money it cost you and why you deserve a discount. If there was an error or mistake they told you would be taken care of and then was not or if one customer service rep tells you something different from another this line is good…
Were you (their company) lying to me then or are you lying to me now?
They don’t want to admit to either so they better help you now.
Ask for more than what you want
Negotiating 101 states that you should ask for more than what you want. That way they can counteroffer, closer to what you actually want and at the same time, they feel they are doing a good job of negotiating. About 25% of the time they will take your first offer and then you are better off than you thought you would be.
Vehemently defend yourself, if you convincingly act like the mistakes resulting in the fees or issues are completely their company’s responsibility you will be surprised at your ability to convince them to believe you. As they try to explain their policies and reasons for giving you fees or causing the issues, tell them:
I’m just a stupid customer, I don’t know how your system works. I just pay my bill and expect good service.
Then go back to explaining how this is their company’s fault.
Emphasize your value as a customer
Their company and job would not exist if it wasn’t for customers like you paying their bills every month. Emphasize this to them…
If you are a new customer — emphasize that if they treat you right and you get good service with them you will refer your friends to them.
If you are an old customer — emphasize your loyalty, the length of the relationship, and the amount of money they have made off you over the years.
Separate the customer service rep from the problem
Most customer service reps are good people who just want to get through the day and make customers like you happy. They could care less about the profit margins of their employer, so appeal to their humanity, explain how wrong it is how you are being treated. Let them know that you are not angry at them but with their policies.
Appeal to economics
Customer service is very expensive to companies. They have to pay for call centers, phone systems, and employees. Emphasize how much you are costing them in time due to their bad policy of charging you fees. Here’s a line to use:
I’m a good customer, I pay my bill, so you realize it’s going to cost your organization more money arguing on the phone with me than it is to refund fees (or solve my problem). Not to mention what it costs you in brain damage and stress dealing with this problem. I’d really like you to just do the right thing here. How can you help me?
Complain to the big boss
Occasionally you will have a situation that is particularly costly to you and the customer service manager just will not budge. The founders, presidents, CEO, or executives of many companies maintain a blog or social media presence for their companies or at least have a bio page somewhere out on the internet with an email link. C-Level execs of companies are often more aware of the damage a disgruntled customer can do than customer service employees are. Here’s an example of when this was particularly effective:
I was facing several hundred dollars in fees for custom programming of a server for a client’s internet company. My hosting company had made numerous mistakes and cost me a lot of time. The customer service managers just refused to help me out. I looked up the CEO of my hosting company. I discovered that he maintained a blog talking about business, I posted a comment (with link to get in contact with me) on his most recent blog telling about my situation, the problems I had with them, and my intention to tell the entire internet about it. Almost immediately I received a call from a high-level manager apologizing for the situation and offering to solve my problem, free of charge.
If you really want to take this to the next level post a blog or YouTube video about your bad experience, include the name of a company’s executive in this title or keywords. You can be sure this will show up when people Google their name. A corporate exec will usually move heaven and earth to fix this PR disaster. You can take it down and Google will de-index it when they do what you want. This very powerful tactic, that if misused can result in serious legal action against you.
I list this at the bottom because it’s the last resort. Usually, you can get your way with the tactics above. Customer service managers know that disgruntled customers are the worst thing for a company. In this day of Google, Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter you have more power than ever to destroy the reputation of a brand. Inform them that you will be posting a blog, Youtube vlog, or a Tweet about your terrible experience with their company.
Occasionally a customer service employee will be unprofessional or take a personal stance against helping you. In this case, I go for the jugular; ask them for their full name, if they refuse ask them for “first name, last initial,” tell them you are taking notes. Inform them that you will be mentioning them in your scathing post about them. If you have their first and last name you can use it, in your post for many to see. Again this is a very powerful (potentially career-destroying) tactic so please only use it if they have personally chosen to wrong you.
As a personal finance lifehacker, you’ll want to acquaint yourself with the art and science of negotiation, read Never Split the Difference or at least check out my review of the book…