Just threaten to leave

April 19 2009 by Ellen Roseman

As consumers, we have the power to take our business elsewhere. We should use that power now, during this recession, to get better deals.

When calling a company you deal with, ask for the retention department. That’s where you can get rock bottom prices or special inducements to keep you around. The people working there only tell you about these deals if they believe you’re going to leave.

The first time it happened to me was when I called to cancel a credit card I wasn’t using. Within a minute, they had lowered my interest rate from 18 per cent to about 12 per cent — and I didn’t even ask for it.

David Bach has a new book, Fight for Your Money, where he has a good story about cable and satellite TV. He was working with a couple on a money makeover show and persuaded the husband he didn’t need TSN. The household was paying $1,000 a year for cable and dropping the sports channel cut their bill in half.

“Later, I had him call back a second time and tell the cable company that he had just gotten a coupon from a satellite TV company offering introductory service at $19.95 for six months,” he says.

“Guess what happened? His cable company matched the offer — and threw in TSN for free, for a total savings of nearly $400.”

All it may take is one phone call to lower many of your bills, if you’re a good customer who has been around for a while. Companies know it costs less to give you a better deal than to recruit a new customer to replace you when you leave.

So, try it some time. Do research on all the competitors’ prices, then see how far you can go by saying you plan to decamp. But make sure to escalate your call to the right people, those who have the power to retain you as a customer and pull out all the stops to make sure you stay.

Do you have any haggling stories of your own? Do you find it easy to negotiate over the phone, on the internet or in a store to get the lowest possible price? Please give your best tips to help others.


  1. Charles in Vancouver

    Apr 19 2009

    Many years ago the same strategy worked for me at Bell Sympatico. My 3-month introductory offer of $24.95 was about to expire, and I knew I would only live in the apartment for 7 more months before moving back to my parents’ and going off to travel. I phoned Bell and told them I was considering a switch to Execulink who offered DSL for $29.95/month.

    So first, the CSR offered me $24.95/month on a 1-year contract. I knew this wouldn’t work because I would move out sooner. I explained all the reasons why I would not be able to go with a contract, and finally the CSR offered a monthly credit against my bill for the next 6 months, no contract, such that I’d only owe $24.95. Deal.

    On the other hand, some providers like Virgin Mobile are less interested in negotiating because they are operating in discount territory. Whenever I phone a CSR and inquire about odd billing problems, they usually just give me a $5 credit (or whatever the problem cost me) rather than mitigate the actual issue.

  2. Personal Finance Blog

    Apr 20 2009

    Great points, Ellen!

    About 6 years ago I struck a deal with Rogers: 1 Year free Ultimate pack, including TMN channels.

    But the best part was that I was unwilling to take the offer, so Rogers gave me their PVR for free for LIFETIME!

    The PVR costs $29.99/month plus tax for rental. However, I got it for free for as long as I stay a consumer with Rogers.

  3. Potato

    Apr 21 2009

    When Rogers hiked the cost of cable & internet 5% this March I wrote them a letter to complain; they agreed to delay the increase for 3 months. At that point I still might have to cancel cable TV, or at least threaten to!

  4. Cynthia

    Apr 21 2009

    My current experience with Bell has been rather distasteful. I think when my contract for sympatico is up, I will be calling to say that I am getting a better offer from my local cable company. See what they offer, go call cable, see what they will offer me since I have cable tv, analog mind you. I am certainly not paying $25 a month for a pvr. I thought that was high until someone posted Rogers price. I’ll get them to compete for my business.

  5. Niraj Chandra

    Apr 21 2009

    Great article; I really love your insights. There is nothing like a whiff of competition to get better service.
    There is a nice article on Consumer Scams at:


    It ties in very neatly with the work you are doing.

  6. Anna

    Apr 27 2009

    I’m about to call up and cancel my Amex card as I kind of don’t need it…. but will see if they offer me any incentive to stay 🙂

  7. Anil

    May 1 2009

    After years of fighting with Bell, I finally told them where to stick it and cancelled the contract after 3 years. After I paid off all their nuisance charges, do you know what they did? They reported me to the credit collectors for being delinquent!

    All of this after carefully documenting and confirming with them all those charges and noting that the full amount has been cashed in. It seems to me and a whole lot of other people that they have nothing else better to do than to screw people.

    I wonder what would happen if someone made a documentary of their experiences with this company and uploaded it to Youtube and a few other newsworthy organizations. They’ve pissed off a lot of people, so it’s bound to happen soon! I wonder how many times Bell has been dragged to small claims court over stuff like this?