Consumer Reports’ Shop Smart: Untangling the bundle

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Take a close look at your cable bill, Consumer Reports suggests. It's a confusing onslaught of charges, taxes and add-on fees.

With all of the fine print and opaque pricing, it's hard not to feel like you're getting ripped off. In the previous six years that the Consumer Reports National Research Center has conducted customer satisfaction surveys on in-home telecommunication services, providers have consistently rated below average among services they cover.

One positive finding from the survey is that consumers of telecommunications services are becoming more savvy negotiators. Four out of 10 respondents attempted to bargain with their service providers. Among the hagglers, 46 percent said their provider dropped the price by as much as $50 per month, 31 percent got a new promotional rate and 29 percent received additional premium channels. Even among those whose initial promotional rate had expired, 43 percent were able to negotiate a new discount.

Companies have been talking tough about cracking down on serial negotiators, but haggling has no downside. Consumer Reports recommends these ways of doing it right:

• Ask for a better deal. It might sound obvious, but the first step is to call customer service and say your bill is too high. Ask whether you qualify for any promotions, including their best deal for new customers. Stress that you’ve been a loyal subscriber and want to stay — but only if they can do something for you.

• Fight price hikes. Even if your promotion has expired, ask whether you qualify for a new one: 43 percent of Consumer Reports subscribers in that situation negotiated a new discount. If you encounter a helpful representative, note his or her name and, if possible, extension.

• Check out the competition. If your requests fall on deaf ears, see what other local providers are offering new subscribers, then ask your current provider to match it. Note that you might have to sign a contract to get the sweeter deal, so decide whether it’s worth being locked in.

• Threaten to disconnect. Still no luck? Call to say you’re planning to cancel your service because it costs too much. You'll be directed to a customer retention rep, who might be more willing to work with you. But be warned: Over the past few months, Consumer Reports has found that telecom providers are more likely to skip the discount and offer a small perk, such as faster Internet speed or a three-month freebie on a premium channel. If you’ve called a number of times in the past, you might not get concessions.

• Be ready to walk. At some point, you might have to switch if you can’t get what you want. Before you move to another company, check its website for the best deal and request a written quote that includes all equipment charges, taxes and fees. Find out how long the promotional rate applies and what the bill will be after it expires. Once you put in the disconnect order, you might find that your former provider wants you back.


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