By day, I am a mild-mannered, work-at-home mother of two. By night, I turn into Mega-Bitch, defender of discounts and fighter for customer service justice. This is the story of how I defeated one of the country’s biggest telecom giants, vanquishing my monthly cable and Internet bill for six months in the process.

In The Beginning, There Was Snow…

My saga began one afternoon in June. The birds were singing; the sun was shining; the sky was blue – yet, it was snowing in my house. To be more specific, it was snowing on my television screen.

The snow was getting in the way of my husband’s viewing of the NBA Finals, so we started troubleshooting the issue on our own. First, we double-checked all the cable connections, making sure the coaxial cables were properly attached to the wall outlets and cable box – yet the snow persisted. Next, we tried resetting the cable box itself, an arduous process I’d compare to slaying dragons or battling mythical gorgons. Still no luck. With the snow still falling, my husband and I contemplated the most terrifying idea of all: calling our cable company, Time Warner.

Ultimately, fate cast its glance in my direction, leaving me to battle the customer service reps on a Saturday afternoon while my husband continued to watch basketball through the snow. After waiting for 45 minutes to speak to an actual person, I was told to do all the things I already had done: troubleshoot the coaxial cable and reset the cable box. It took another 45 minutes before the customer service rep decided there was nothing she could do to help me over the phone, so she called in reinforcements: an on-site repairman. Problem was, the repairman was fighting Beowulf in the far reaches of the land, and wasn’t available until a week from Tuesday. We were doomed to spend 10 days with snowy television.

The Conquering Hero?

For 10 days and nights, my husband and I stared bleary-eyed at the television as the snow continued to fall. Over time, the TV signal got progressively worse. By day eight, it was so bad we could barely make out any of the standard definition channels; the HD channels weren’t much better.

When our hero – the Time Warner Cable repair technician – finally found his way to our doorstep, he asked us to describe the problem. We did one better: we showed it to him. Immediately, he began running through the very same troubleshooting techniques the customer service rep had instructed me to perform 10 days earlier with no luck. He used a magic wand to inspect the underground cable running from our house to the neighborhood cable box, only to determine that wasn’t the cause of the problem either. He spent 15 minutes tinkering with that neighborhood box before coming inside, and, proclaiming the problem fixed, disappearing into the night.

The issue was solved – for about 36 hours. By the morning of the second day, not only was our cable television service fuzzy, but so was the signal for our cable-based phone service; our high-speed Internet connection was also hiccuping like a giant who ate one too many pint-sized humans.

Return of the Angry Wife

When it became apparent that our cable signals weren’t going to resolve themselves, I found myself calling Time Warner Cable a second time. I hadn’t been pleased with the customer support I’d received during my first call, but I wasn’t prepared at all for the truly bad customer support I was about to receive. Yet another customer service rep ordered me to check my connections and cable box before proceeding, despite the fact that I’d done this – or had the technician do this – four times now. When the process was once again unsuccessful, I was told I’d be scheduled for another customer service call, this time an agonizing eight days away.

Despite the technician’s best (and by “best,” I mean half-hearted) efforts, he wasn’t able to repair any of the issues, which by this point were so bad that we were completely unable to use our home phone and only able to watch certain HD channels on our television. Not only that, but he completely disconnected our service without warning, failing to give me a chance to save a project I’d been working on to an online database.

Third Time’s the Charm

By now, we’d been suffering with poor quality cable, phone, and Internet services for more than three weeks without any progress. My castle was starting to feel like a dungeon, so trapped did we feel by the bad customer service and support we’d received from TWC. But when I called the third time, I was prepared.

As the customer service rep pulled up my file, I asked to be transferred to a manager. “Oh, I’m sure I can help you,” the chipper customer service rep assured me. I told her to look at my file. “On second thought,” she faltered, “maybe I will send you on to my supervisor.”

I didn’t stop there. I continued asking for manager after manager. Ultimately, I reached the king of all the land: the vice president of operations for Time Warner Cable. His secretary told me he was in a meeting, but if I would give her my name and phone number, that she’d pass my message on to him and he’d surely call me back.

Not. A. Chance.

“Actually, I’ve been dealing with an ongoing problem for 23 days now,” I informed her politely. “How about you give me this phone number and let me know when he has some open time in his schedule, and I’ll call him back.” And she did.

I Vanquish the Evil Doers

It just so happened that VP wasn’t free until the next afternoon. I was at work at that time, so I was forced to make the all-important call in the middle of a bustling TV newsroom with dozens of co-workers eavesdropping on my conversation. Once I was finally connected to the VP, I relayed the problems I’d been experiencing for the better part of the past month; how multiple technicians had made sloppy attempts to fix the problem, only to make it worse; how entry-level customer service reps had downplayed the issues and refused to give me any type of expedited service; how, after all this time, I wasn’t even able to get a discount on my services, which had been rendered virtually unusable due to the bad customer service I’d received.

“What can I do to make this better?” the VP asked.

“Well, at this point I’m resigned to poor service from your company,” I said. Behind me, I heard an audible gasp. It was my manager, who’d been listening to my entire conversation from behind the flimsy partition that separated my desk from hers. “I can’t believe you just said that!” she whispered over the barrier.

Oh, I was just warming up, sister.

I went on to tell the VP that at this point, I was committed to leaving Time Warner Cable for greener grasses. When it comes to how to haggle for a better price or to get a discount, politely threatening to leave the company is like instituting DEFCON level four: it’s the point at which a company knows you are so fed up with its products or services that you’re ready to walk. Of course, you have to be ready to actually leave the company if they don’t give you what you want, but – at least in my experience – they usually give in to my demands.

I told the VP that not only did I want the problem fixed – completely, permanently, immediately – but that I also wanted to be compensated for the amount of time I’d spent on hold, for the days I’d had to sit in my house waiting for a repair technician to show up, for the lost services I’d experienced. Did he have something in mind? Good – I wanted him to triple it.

“Can I just ask you one question?” the VP asked me. “What is all that background noise on your line?”

“That?” I said casually. “Oh, I’m at work. Did I mention I’m the senior producer at the largest NBC news affiliate in the region?”

To The Victor Goes the Spoils

Ultimately, I managed to get a discount far larger than what I’d ever dreamed. The VP – probably terrified at the idea of being a 6pm news expose – offered me six months of my bundled services for free. At the time, I was paying $138/month for cable TV, home phone, and Internet, so his six month offer amounted to a savings of $828. Additionally, he helped me get a discount for my services once the six months ended, slashing my bill 20 percent. Finally, he must have chewed out somebody’s butt, because my cable, phone, and Internet were working better than ever by the start of the next business day. (Note: the ultimate problem was a cable connecting the neighborhood cable box to Time Warner Cable, which had been damaged during the construction of a new home on our street.)

Ever since the day in the newsroom when my coworkers overheard me tell the VP I was “resigned” to bad customer service, I’ve had people come to me time and time again, asking me how to haggle. I tell them what I learned:

  • Always be polite. What your grandmother told you about catching more flies with honey than vinegar is right on target.
  • Don’t settle for “no.” From the customer service rep who takes your phone call to the VP of Operations, everybody always has a boss. Keep asking for the person’s manager until you find someone who will give you what you want.
  • Shoot for the moon. Did my 24-day service interruption really merit six months worth of free services? Probably not. I’d have been happy if the company had simply given me a credit for $110 – 24-days worth of services, based on my $138 monthly bill. Maybe I got greedy, but I also felt the need to show TWC that I wouldn’t tolerate bad customer service and support, so I hit them in the only place it would really hurt: the company’s bottom line.
  • You have options. When I threatened to take my business elsewhere, it could have backfired. But as a customer, you have to know you have options – and be willing to walk to find them.

Reader, do you know to haggle? What are some of your best tips for dealing with bad customer service to get a discount?

Libby Balke

Libby Balke