Want a better price for cable TV? Just ask for it.
Just over a year ago, I was out with a book club bemoaning the fact that I was paying a whopping $110 per month to Rogers for cable. I knew it was too much, and I'd recently received a flyer in the mail from a competitor offering the same services (HD, hundreds of channels, PVR) for $59.99 plus tax. But I didn't want to go through the hassle of returning my PVR and switching companies. I'd been with Rogers since the 90s.
"Call them and say you want to pay less," instructed my friend Steve. "They're so desparate to keep your business that they will cut your bill in half." It was something he had done himself.
"Ask to speak with the retention department and threaten to leave," added another friend, Sandra.
Hmmm. Was I the only person unaware of this cost-saving tactic? What if they called my bluff and let me go? Armed with my friends' advice, I called Rogers.
"I'd really like to stay with you but I've been offered this other deal and I'm hoping you can match it, " I said (so much for threatening to leave).
A couple of customer service reps later, I had my deal: Digital VIP cable with an HD PVR for $67.14 (taxes included). Easy as pie.
The way they knocked my rate down was to give me discounts -- a 20-per-cent discount off my "Digital VIP Cable" for 12 months (-$11.85), 12 months of my "VIP Digital Terminal" free (-$24.95), 12 months of my "Digital Services Fee" free (-$2.99), a 20-per-cent discount off my "Customer Choice Package" (-$1.61) and a "VIP Discount" (-$5.73). All those cuts translated into a total of $47.13 in savings on my bill. Sure, $68 is not bargain-basement prices. But it's nice to know that the price you're offered isn't the price you have to be satisfied with.
Calling and asking for a better deal is something that anyone can do, but most people don't. It's not like we're all thrilled with the prices on offer -- do a Google search and you'll find numerous Facebook pages and Internet forums filled with angry cable and cell phone consumers who feel they're being ripped off. There's even the suggestion that telecommunications companies overcharge purposely so that they can offer a discount if someone threatens to leave. But with the endless "to do" list that is modern life, companies like Rogers can count on most people not having the time or motivation to try to get a better deal. That mass complacency may be changing, though, as more viewing alternatives are opening up to Canadians.
A recent Globe and Mail article documented the fact that a small but growing segment of the TV-viewing population is discovering options like Netflix, which allow people to watch movies and TV shows over an Internet connection through their gaming console, computer or Web-connected TV set, for only $8/month. As well, I have friends who have stopped watching television altogether and now watch their favourite shows on their computer: either for free on the broadcasters' official websites or purchased through Itunes (the latest Glee episode will run you $2.49, or $3.49 for HD).
Indeed, it's tempting to find a cheaper option as more become available, and my husband, Sean, has been pushing for us to make the switch to a combination of AppleTV and Netflix. But for the moment, going without cable just isn't going to work for me, at least not until what the alternatives improve on what they are offering.
I want the full gamut of cable offerings so I can flip aimlessly and discover new shows (I'd never have gotten into Dragon's Den were it not for aimless flipping). And I want the latest episodes the night they hit the airwaves (any company that isn't currently offering Season 2 of Community or Season 5 of 30 Rock is just not gonna cut it). Canadian broadcasters just don't offer enough of their programming online for free at this point (you won't find The Middle episodes streaming on CTV's site, for example). And buying show-by-show from iTunes sounds great in theory, but I suspect $3.49 per show could very rapidly add up and end up costing more than the cable bill.
There's always the option of "bundling" cable with other services in order to get a better price, but I'm quite happy with what I'm paying for home phone and Internet service from another carrier. (Plus, the surprise iPhone I recieved from my husband for a holiday gift came with an equally surprising three-year contract from Telus, so that's not going to be changing any time soon.)
Alas, my cable cost-cutting crusade didn't end with one discount victory. It's now a year later and my cable bill has suddenly started slipping upward again -- my 12-month discounts are running out and I'll soon be back over $100/month. So what to do? Renegotiate my rate once again or look elsewhere for visual entertainment?
I called Rogers yesterday to get my discounts back, wondering if I'd have to start demanding and threatening. But my customer service rep Leslie was happy to offer me $69.55/month (taxes included) for the next 12 months, a fair price in my mind.
But it wasn't without a catch.
I had to agree to stay with Rogers for a year, and cancelling before the end of that time period would result in a penalty of $20 a month for each remaining month. I knew they were locking me in (a shrewd tactic in these changeable times), but I agreed. My husband now has 12 months to convince me I can say good-bye to cable and still get everything I'm getting now.
Good luck with that.