Negotiating Everyday Bills Like a Pro

    

A lot of people treat customer service reps like dirt. If the last person an agent talked with wasn’t rude to them, then the caller right before them probably was.

With an empathetic approach, this is an opportunity for you to call utility providers (say, once a quarter) to get the low-stakes practice you need to succeed in high-stakes negotiations—while lowering your monthly bills at the same time.

Here are the two techniques you need to master if you want to start negotiating your everyday bills like a pro.

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Start with an Accusations Audit

Before you pick up the phone and call up a rep for bill negotiation, do a little preparation ahead of time by conducting an accusations audit.

An accusations audit is a technique used to identify and diffuse negative sentiments harbored by your counterpart. Take a moment to think about how the rep feels and what their experience has been like so far today

In this situation, your accusations audit might look like this:

  • The agent you’re speaking with is in a bad mood and probably just had to deal with an irate customer—or several—before connecting with you.
  • Everyone who calls in wants a discount and is unhappy with their bills.
  • The customers who call in and aren’t complaining about their bills are complaining about other things. A cable customer, for example, might call to complain that their service isn’t working.

Keep in mind that the agent is going to expect you to act like everyone else. By conducting an accusations audit and executing empathy for your counterpart you've started to develop understanding and have taken the first step toward getting them to switch from “another irate caller” mode into “what can I do to help” mode.

This approach helps you turn a customer service agent into a champion willing to go to war for you internally—just because you don’t sound like everyone else.

Ask Plenty of Calibrated Questions

Let’s say you’re annoyed at the fact that new customers get discounts all the time and you, as a long-standing customer, are paying top dollar for the exact same services.

Unfortunately, you can’t get an agent to feel sympathy for you by explaining this fact verbatim. This happens only if they arrive at that conclusion on their own. How do you do this? By using calibrated questions.

Instead of complaining that you’re not getting something you want, flip the situation around and ask a question:

  • How do I take advantage of the promotion you’re giving to new clients?

Try to get the agent to naturally think about the way the structure of the business is unfair to you. They know the company they work for has been giving new customers stuff that you can’t get—despite the fact that you’ve been paying them each month, on time, for years.

While an agent might not be able to pass along the new-customer discount, they might be able to hook you up with some other deal—one that you didn’t even know existed. Here’s another calibrated question that could lead to this outcome:

  • How long have I been a customer?

Let’s say you’ve been a customer for 10 years, the company offers discounts only to new customers, and the agent starts to put two and two together. They are now naturally coming to the conclusion you wanted them to realize—that their company isn’t doing anything to help existing customers.

The best part about this technique? You can even try doing it through an online chat. Write out an accusations audit on a Post-it note and hop on a chat to give it a whirl on your own. This time, start with an apology to immediately display empathy:

  • I’m so sorry you guys have to deal with this every day.

Follow this up by using calibrated questions, and it’s likely that you’ll be paying less on your utility bill next month.

As your confidence grows, don’t forget that the skills used in these low-stakes opportunities are the same skills used in high-stakes situations. Download our e-book below to learn how you can start using these techniques to increase your sales.

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About The Author

Brandon Voss is the Director of Operations and an Instructor/Consultant with The Black Swan Group. Brandon has been instrumental in adapting the FBI’s hostage negotiation techniques to the business world. In addition to training clients, Brandon has guest lectured at USC Marshall School of Business and Georgetown McDonough School of Business.