Feeling gouged? Overwhelmed by your cable TV bill or the cost of your phone, TV and internet bundle?
Maybe you had high hopes when the new $25 skinny basic TV packages came on the market — only to find your dreams dashed when you added up the extra charges.
The CRTC, which mandated the new packages, encourages dissatisfied customers to shop around and negotiate their own deal.
So CBC News spoke with industry insiders to find out the best way to bargain for a better cable or bundle plan.
And if you're not up for haggling, we also explain how you can hire a negotiator to do the deed for you.
- CRTC flooded with complaints about new $25 skinny basic TV package
Tip No. 1: Don't accept the posted price
You know those posted prices service providers advertise on their websites — such as $70 a month for a package of TV channels? Never take them at face value, says Mohammed Halabi.
His company, MyBillsAreHigh, helps Canadians get better bargains with their telecom companies.
He says consumers can often score 15 to 25 per cent off posted prices, but they have to haggle for it.
"If you don't ask, you don't get," says Halabi, who's based in St. Catharines, Ont.
He also warns people not to be blinded by advertised deals offering a discount for only the first three or six months of a two-year contract.
Ron Finnigan agrees. "People get suckered in," he says. And he should know. Finnigan worked in customer service for both Bell Canada and then Rogers for a total of eight years.
He explains that sometimes customers are lured by amazing savings in the first few months, not fully understanding that for most of the contract they pay full price.
And when the discount disappears, "they're shocked," says Finnigan, who lives in Ottawa.
He advises that before customers commit to a temporary discount, they first calculate the average monthly cost over the entire two-year term. The results might reveal that the promotional deal isn't such a bargain after all.
Tip No. 2: Escalate the call
Halabi says consumers are likely to score a bigger discount that lasts for the entire two-year term by calling their provider. "Lock down a good deal, get it as long as possible," he advises.
He says the key is to get transferred to the retention department, dedicated to keeping customers from straying.
"Don't speak to your first-tier person who comes on the phone," says Halabi. "Get to the loyalty department and engage with them."
Finnigan agrees, but cautions that customers shouldn't dismiss the first-tier agent and immediately demand to be transferred.
"If you say, 'No, I'm not giving you my name, I want to go to customer [retention] and I know all about your tricks and scams,' it's going to prolong the call," he says.
Finnigan explains that the first agent is responsible for getting your information and checking your customer history. If you don't co-operate, you're not going to the next level.
Tip No. 3: Do your homework
Once you do reach the loyalty department, you're still not guaranteed a deal. So you'd best come prepared, advise our insiders.
If you just declare that you're cutting your cable if you don't get a discount, that might not work, explains Finnigan. "It's a tactic that's probably overused," he says.
"A lot of people don't mean it when they say it," adds Finnigan. "The trouble is, they can call your bluff, and then what are you going to do?"
He recommends that customers do their homework and find deals at other companies that they can offer as a comparison.
Halabi says consumers looking for cheaper TV, home phone and internet deals are in a good bargaining position because there's growing competition on the market.
During negotiations, Halabi recommends that people lay out alternatives they are considering such as a cheap streaming service like Netflix, a low-cost internet-based home phone such as Ooma, and internet with a smaller, competitive provider such as Teksavvy.
"With all of these different options out there, you can really squeeze these companies to give you a better discount," he says.
Tip No. 4: Be nice
Even though you may have to bargain hard for a better price, it pays to be polite, say our insiders. In fact, your demeanour could make or break your chances.
"You need to remain professional," a current Rogers employee tells CBC News. The worker, who wishes to remain anonymous, says that some discounts at his telecom company are discretionary — meaning employees can decide whether or not to offer them.
"If the customer is … completely condescending and/or rude, they won't get what they're looking for," he says.
Finnigan says if he encountered an aggressive caller poised for a fight, his main mission was to end the call.
"It's just human nature," says the ex-service rep. He adds that if a customer became "too unpleasant," he was allowed to disconnect the call with no repercussions.
Tip No. 5: a hired gun
Haggling with your telecom isn't for everyone. So if you're the timid type or you don't have the time, you can hire someone else.
Halabi's company, MyBillsAreHigh, calls customers' service providers and negotiates on their behalf.
He says he started the company because he saw an opportunity in "a massive niche of unsatisfied customers."
Halabi claims he can negotiate with the major providers, on average, a 24 per cent discount off customers' TV, home phone, and internet bills.
His fee is based on how much money he saves his clients. Halabi charges five months of savings on a two-year deal. For example, if he saves a customer $100 a month on a two-year contract, his fee is $500.
Halabi says his company is successful because it knows many of the unadvertised deals that competing telecoms offer, a valuable negotiating tactic.
"We're not just calling in and bluffing every time," he says. "We're very serious."
And that's how consumers should behave if they choose to do the negotiating themselves, adds Halabi. And while he advises customers to remain firm, he also agrees they should be polite.
Because sometimes, even when fighting for a lower price, being nice can seal the deal.
CBC -TV's Marketplace is conducting a national investigation on how families can knock down their cable bills. If you think the cost of your monthly cable bill will shock fellow Canadians, please contact Marketplace.