I always hear these stories about people who get on their phones and call customer service and somehow manage to get their monthly cable or cell phone bills lowered. They always make it like the key to getting a discounted rate is to just stay on the line, threatening to cancel their service. Apparently it’s a big game of chicken and all you have to do is wait out whoever is on the phone. Eventually they’ll go get a supervisor, who will in turn get a manager who, after contacting his regional comptroller, will be pleased to inform you that, as a sign of appreciation of your continued service, they would like to extend to you a lowered rate or a cancellation of service charges or something free coming in the mail.
Some people are natural hagglers. Some people can look at an item, come to an independent conclusion about how much the item costs, and then twist the arm of whoever is selling whatever it is to significantly lower the ticket price. I’m not one of those guys. If anything, salespeople can sense me coming from a mile away, and I always wind up getting sold additional crap that I don’t need at what must be a much higher than market value price.
I’ve tried the customer service thing. I remember the first time that I had my own apartment, I subscribed to cable and Internet. I didn’t know that the monthly rate that I signed up for was just a teaser package used to lure in customers, but sure enough, after like three months, my bill shot up by a lot. So I called up customer service. And I told the guy, “I’d like to cancel my service.” And the customer service guy said, “Sure thing. Someone will be by later in the week to pick up the cable box.” And I’m just like, “Really? I want to talk to someone else.” And he said, “Sure. Hold on.” And someone else got on the line and said the same exact thing, that they’ve cancelled my account. And the cable guy showed up and picked up the stuff. And I had no cable or Internet. So I called to renew my account, and not only did I not get my original lower rate, but now I had to pay an extra installation fee, plus a cancellation fee from when they shut it down. Ridiculous.
I went to a friend’s wedding in Iowa last fall, and when I got to the airport, I rented a car. It was probably the most adult thing that I’ve ever done in my whole life. When they handed me the keys, I was like, really? You’re really just going to give me this car? It was crazy. But they totally took me for every cent that I had. I had purchased the rental in advance, but when I got to the counter, the agent kept asking all of these questions, questions with built-in answers, like, “You want the car insurance, right?” “Right? Yes?” I answered, really in the form of a question also, really hoping that they would help me out, explain the whole insurance thing, but they didn’t, they just continued. “You want to buy an extra tank of gas in advance, right?” “Do I? Yes?”
What was once a great deal on a car rental turned into a multi-hundred dollar transaction. I told my dad about it when I got home and he was just like, “You always say no to all of that stuff!” Apparently every credit card comes with built in rental car insurance, so I didn’t need that. And the gas, well, I figured out in my head almost an hour later that it didn’t make sense, because if I bought a full tank in advance, I would have to literally empty out the tank just to make it worth the expense. And of course I returned it probably half full. I like to think of it as a tip to the car, a little extra gas, a little extra money from me to the car rental company.
The closest that I ever got to a successful haggle was this one time where I had to go to the Apple store because something was wrong with my phone. It wasn’t charging, and when the tech guy looked at it, he told me that the wires were all mangled on the inside, and that it was my fault. It couldn’t have been my fault. There was no way. But the guy insisted. I was going to have to buy a new phone. Even though this one was new. I told the tech guy about how the phone salesman had successfully sold me on insurance, how every month I was paying like ten extra bucks for this protection. Wouldn’t it be for something like this? Well, you see, I didn’t buy the phone from the Apple store, I bought it from the cell phone store, and so for some reason that’s a whole different system with a whole different set of rules and, basically no, I wouldn’t be getting a free replacement phone.
But luck was on my side this time. The tech guy turned out to be pretty much my passive aggressive identical twin. We didn’t look alike, but I felt like on the inside we were the same. Like if I were born into a different life, it could have very well have been this guy’s. He told me he couldn’t help me out, but he was overly passive about it, like obviously not wanting to get into a confrontation with me. And I was the same way, but I refused to leave. We were both very polite. It went back and forth like this for a while.
“I really think Apple should give me a new phone.”
“I’m sorry but there’s nothing we can do.”
“I understand your position and appreciate your apology, but I really have to insist.”
“I acknowledge your thanking me for my apology, and I can sympathize with what you’re going through, but I can’t help you out.”
“Your sympathy is greatly appreciated, but isn’t there something you can do?”
This went on for way too long, with long awkward moments of silence in between each exchange. Finally he found some manager and they had a long talk. The manager came over to me and told me, in a very annoyed voice, that if I paid seventy-five bucks, I’d get a new iPhone. And he told me it in a very take-it-or-leave-it, this-offer-won’t-be-here-in-five-minutes tone of voice. So even though I wanted to question where he pulled the number seventy-five from, and even though I wanted to ask him why he couldn’t just pull out a fifty, or a twenty, or for that matter a zero, I took out my credit card and got the new phone. And I felt weird, like did I win? Was that a haggle? I don’t know.