Sometimes the easiest way to save money on your broadband and phone service isn’t by switching to a different ISP. In fact many of the UK’s largest providers operate a dedicated retentions department and if you know what you’re doing then it’s often possible to save a little money.
Switching broadband and phone provider has certainly become a lot easier over the past few years (See Our Switching Guide), but sometimes people are happy with the service they get and just need to save a little money, albeit without risking a compromise on service quality that could follow a change of provider.
Certainly we all know the pain. So many of today’s headline deals and discount only focus on attracting new customers, while existing subscribers can easily be left to feel neglected and forced to face a frustrating future of annual price rises that will often move further and further away from what new users seem to be paying.
In those situations it’s often worth trying your ISP’s retentions department (yes they do exist), which will usually be able to help you save a few pounds. Admittedly you won’t always be able to get the same headline deal as the provider offers to new customers, but it can still be worth a try if you like the service.
The following tips are most likely to work with the biggest ISPs, such as BT, Virgin Media, Sky Broadband, EE, TalkTalk, Vodafone and possibly a few others (e.g. Plusnet). However smaller providers may lack the flexibility or budget to offer you a better deal and on top of that many of those are often much more focused on delivering better service or support quality than cutting prices.
Mind you, it’s always worth a try. The key is not to be fearful of negotiation and don’t become too combative with the sales staff, instead just try turning it into a polite conversation, highlighting some of the cheaper deals that you’ve seen and then leave the rest up to them.
1. Forget email, use the phone.
Obviously the easiest way to request a price cut would be to send your ISP an email or use their online support / chat system, which might work (sometimes somebody will call back and offer you a deal) but often those avenues of communication are only setup to deal with support / technical issues or errors and the agent may simply reply to advise a phone call.
Sales and retentions departments know that the need to phone and negotiate can be a sort of psychological barrier for some people but as we said before, it doesn’t need to be. Once you’ve been put through to the ISPs sales / retention team then half the battle is already over.
NOTE: Sometimes if you Google around you can find a direct number for your ISPs retentions department, which saves a lot of time.
2. It’s not a fight, be polite.
Remember, this shouldn’t be like endlessly haggling with a grumpy old man over the price of an antique watch at the local market (although you can adopt that tactic). The sales agents at most of the largest providers tend to follow a simple script, so don’t over think how much effort you’ll have to put in.
After all what’s the worst that could happen? Maybe you don’t save any money? Well that’s still a positive outcome because now you know and can in the future consider switching ISP instead. So always be polite, friendly, calm and start by simply reflecting your concern about the rising cost of your service. Remember.. sales staff are people too, we think.
NOTE: Front line staff may not be the ones who you need to talk with and they might only put you through to retentions if you’re clear about what you want. So make sure to start off by expressing that you’re unhappy with what you’re paying for and point to cheaper deals in the market (see no.5 below).
I’d also include a casual insinuation that you “may need to cancel” your service if the issue cannot be resolved, but I’d only take this approach if they first say there’s nothing that can be done (many ISPs will put you through to the right team without having to threaten this).
Just remember, you’ll probably have to say this all twice (once for the front line support, then again for retentions) and retentions may also be called something different like “cancellations“, “customer options” or “disconnections,” but don’t be discouraged by those titles.
Just remember, nobody will cancel your service unless you make a specific request to do so! If you get put through to cancellations and they’re not playing ball then just say you’re going to go away to choose the best alternative and consult your family but won’t cancel the service today. At least you tried, so pat yourself on the back.
3. Timing is key (contracts and price hikes).
Naturally you’re going to struggle to haggle if you’re still within your original contract term for whatever package you’ve chosen to adopt, so wait until the initial contract has finished before trying to negotiate a better deal. Prices tend to rise after the first year discounts run out and having this on your bill is useful ammunition for the call.
Another good time to target a retention call is immediately after the announcement of a price hike (most of the largest providers do this once or twice a year) because the retention department will be expecting such calls, which makes it even easier to query the possibility of a discount.
4. Loyalty may reward.
Experiences may vary, but if you’ve been a customer of the provider for a few years’ then use this as part of your opening pitch because it will carry more weight with the retentions agent (“Hi, I’ve been a loyal customer of your broadband service for X years..“).
5. Know the alternatives.
This one is very important. Take a look at what you’re paying, then note down what new subscribers are being offered for the same service by your existing ISP (it’s usually less then you’re paying) and also have a look around to find a nearly identical service from another provider that also costs less than you’re currently paying. Keep a simple record of all this.
By doing this the retentions agent will know that you’ve done your homework and it provides vital ammunition for your case. We’d recommend having at least two alternative deals to hand and that makes it harder for the agent to ignore your plight as they may try to shun the first example.
6. Play up any problems you’ve had in the past.
All sorts of things can go wrong with a fixed line broadband and phone service, so if you’ve recently suffered with any of those (we’re assuming they’ve since been resolved) then use it as part of your tactic. At least mention them as playing a role in your hypothetical decision to consider leaving.
7. Silence is golden.
The Tremeloes song had it right, silence really is golden. Anybody practised in sales techniques knows that leaving a silence is essentially a trap for the customer, which makes you feel as if you need to fill that silence by agreeing to something. So don’t, let it linger and wait for the other side to speak.
8. Get some extras or an upgrade thrown-in.
It’s not all about price, sometimes you can get extras (e.g. Anytime UK calls, a free router upgrade) thrown-in as part of a sweetener agreement or you might get a better deal by allowing the provider to upgrade your service (e.g. moving to fibre broadband on a new customer style discount).
Just be aware of the downside to this approach, which is that you’ll probably be back on the phone again next year once the normal, and often more expensive, pricing for these premium extras becomes apparent on your bill. Mind you this is true for pretty much anything they offer because most of their discounts may only last for as long as another 12-18 month contract term.
9. Propose an annual payment.
Assuming you’ve been happy with the service and just want to save money then you could, if all else fails, propose the idea of paying up-front for a new contract term. The catch being that you’d only be willing to do this if they offer a suitable discount. Pre-payment for a contract is very attractive for providers and so they might bite, but not all are properly setup to handle it.
10. Get it all in writing.
Once you’ve reached a deal (well done if you did) then remember that it’s likely to be a non-standard agreement (i.e. not the same as what new customers are being offered), so make sure that the ISP confirms the details in writing via email or a letter to your home address. This is useful, just in case you have to dispute something further down the road and need evidence to show what was agreed.
Ultimately it’s down to you to decide whether what’s on offer is worth your time. A hard negotiator can always try for more (the first offer is rarely the best one) or refuse and ring back to try the same approach on a different day (some retentions departments may offer you a different deal the second time around), but the final decision will be yours.
Of course if you’re actually planning to switch ISP, but don’t mind staying if your existing provider offers a good deal, then so much the better because you’ll have a much clearer idea of what you want and the threat of cancellation is now more of a promise. Just make sure you can actually get what the new ISP is offering before you decide to cancel.
One final tip, which helps a lot, is to write out roughly what you want to say before you make the call. Keep it all short and to the point, there’s no need to get wordy with long explanations and you want the call to be as straightforward / quick for both sides as possible.
After you’ve done all this once then it’ll become something you can do again in the future, safe in the knowledge that you’re saving money.