The web is doing a great job of turning us into a self-service society. It’s just way easier to bypass a human voice in favor of a URL for customer service these days. It's also a shortcut that mobile carriers are happy to let you take. I’ve been with Verizon Wireless for several years now, and I’ve always had success beating advertised phone deals by calling their customer service. In my experience, it's far easier to negotiate with a human than web page. HTML, CSS, and especially Flash just won't play ball—and don't think I haven't tried.

Calling and speaking works. A few weeks ago, I followed the same strategy with Sirius XM and got an annual rate 50% less than the best quoted rate I’d seen anywhere.

I strongly recommend getting in the habit asking for better prices. Americans, in particular, seem resigned to letting sellers – especially big businesses – tell them what to pay. Everything is negotiable, however.

Just ask.

Getting a better deal is not that hard if you. . .

  • Know your price before you call. You need to know what you’re willing to pay, and what your time is worth. Don’t get hung up on the fact that some faceless guy in some forum says he got it 75% off if getting it 50% off works for you.
  • Use these magic words: If you’ll give me X for $Y, I’ll sign up right now. DON’T just nag and nag saying things like “well is that the best you can do?” Instead, state a specific price you’re willing to pay and tell them that if they agree, the deal’s done. This way, the salesperson knows that all they have to do is say yes, and a commission goes in their pocket. This is the equivalent of walking into a car dealership with a written check in hand.
  • Be firm but cordial. Being a jerk won’t do you any favors when asking for a better deal. But be willing to hang up and try again. Negotiating over the phone is as easy as negotiations can be, folks. You never see the person’s face, and if it doesn’t work out for you, just hang up, re-dial, and speak with someone totally different. I’ve done this multiple times in a row and discovered deals that the first few representatives never mentioned (or knew about).
  • Know how the company makes their money. When it comes to mobile phones, companies like Verizon and AT&T are going to make a fortune off of your monthly service fee payments. Use this sub-happy fact to your advantage. Unless you’re going after a brand new phone, there’s a great chance you can get a new phone for little or nothing. From a business standpoint, it’s even rational for the carrier to lose money if they can just get that phone in your hands.
  • Play the customer loyalty card. Emphasize your stellar payment history (assuming it has been). Some companies even have special customer retention / loyalty departments.
  • Be awkwardly silent. This doesn't always help, but it never hurts. When you stop talking, it puts pressure on the other person to fill the silence with noise, specifically their voice. You might like what they say in these situations.
  • Ask, ask, ask, then ask again. Asking for what you want greatly increases the chances you’ll get it. This one extends well beyond the range of mobile phones.

[Photo by tornatore via Flicker]