Lower Your Cable Bill With Techniques A Hostage Negotiator Uses

A former FBI hostage negotiator breaks down the keys to getting a better deal from your cable company.


We’ve told you how a few minutes on the phone can save you $500 on your cable bill. Of course, while it doesn’t hurt to ask, it doesn’t guarantee results either.

To help customers improve their odds when haggling with service providers, writer Eric Barker turned to a professional negotiator, Christopher Voss. The 24-year veteran of the FBI retired as its lead international hostage negotiator and now heads Black Swan Group Ltd., described on its website as “a strategic business advisory firm with a specific focus in negotiation.”

As Barker put it on his blog:

The customer service rep is reading from a script. I know somebody who has worked on producing those scripts — he’s a Harvard-trained negotiator. An expert. He makes sure the phrasing triggers reciprocity and subtly includes a number of other techniques to benefit them — and not you.

So when you talk to the person reading that script, you’re basically going up against a top-tier negotiator. Totally not a fair fight. And that bugs me. A lot.

[Voss] is going to show us a number of methods he’s used [in] dealing with hostage takers, terrorists and other people almost as scary as Comcast. [Voss] and I specifically discussed how you can lower your cable bill, but these concepts will work for most any service provider you’re dealing with.

Here’s how they break it down:

Do some homework

Knowing how your cable company’s prices compare to other companies’ prices can be helpful. But Voss recommends knowing how your current price compares to the price your company offers new customers.

Project calmness and warmth

Voss says this is simply a matter of speaking more slowly and smiling while you speak.

“Customer service people are so used to being attacked that this has to be the first step. It’ll either prevent them from putting their guard up or make them less leery in dropping their guard,” he says.

Start by saying ‘I’m sorry’

These two words have two effects.

“In a very non-threatening way, you have forced them to take a look at you to figure out what’s going on,” Voss says.

You have also disarmed the customer service representative on the other end of the line by showing respect in a situation in which he or she is used to the opposite treatment.

Use the phrase ‘This is going to sound harsh’

Voss says that after hearing this phrase, we are expecting to have to deal with something huge.

“Having braced ourselves for something terrible and horrifying, whatever comes next is always less than what we expected,” Voss says. “We feel relieved and it seems easy in comparison.”

Turn a complaint call into an appreciation call

The last thing hardened customer service reps expect is for a customer to thank them for the company’s product or service.

“So start off by saying, ‘Your company provides phenomenal service. I’m getting a great bargain and I’m a little embarrassed that I’m calling in and asking for a better deal because what your company is providing is worth every single dime that you’re charging me,'” Voss says.

This tactic, called “forced empathy,” brings down a customer service rep’s guard by making him or her see your point without the representative realizing it’s being forced on him or her.

Make a focused comparison with an open-ended question

Again, be gentle so the rep doesn’t feel you’re forcing your point on him or her, or backing him or her into a corner.

“(One of Voss’ students) called in and he went on and on and on about how good the service was,” Voss tells Barker. “And then he said, ‘I’ve been a loyal customer and I’ve always paid my bill on time and then I find out that with the great value that I’m getting and the tremendous amount of loyalty that I’ve been providing that you guys are offering better deals to people who have never paid you a dime and never been a loyal customer.’ He said, ‘How am I supposed to live with that?’

“The next thing he heard was the sound of crickets. Because the person on the other end of the line had no answer, it was just dead silence.”

Have you tried asking a service provider for a better deal? Or have you already cut the cable cord? Share your tips for reducing costs by leaving a comment below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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