I Saved 25% on my Internet Service. You Can, Too.

I think often of the man I met at my former job, who told me about his efforts to simply be nice and ask for what he wanted and how that usually worked in his favor. I also know, from my experience in nonprofit fundraising, that the number one reason why people give money is because they were asked. And offering a discount isn’t that different than writing a check for a donation.

So, when my new resident promotional rate ended after a year, I knew it was worth asking for a discount. And, by simply calling my internet company and asking for what I wanted, I got it. Here’s how I did it:

I was strategic: Even though my internet provider has customer service representatives available 24/7, I made sure to call during regular business hours. I knew that the authority to offer a discount would likely need to be made at the manager level, and the manager was most likely available during the business day. I also chose to call at the end of the business day, knowing that customer service reps generally have angry people calling at all hours, so I knew if I was the nice voice at the end of a long day, it might make an impact.

I was patient. I called the 800 number on my bill, knowing it would likely take many steps and probably several minutes, minimum, before I spoke with a live person. The automated system that “answered” the phone tried to get me to say what I wanted so it could route the call appropriately, but I have a strong aversion to talking with robots. I simply kept saying “I want to speak with a person,” each time I was prompted to speak until I was connected with a live human. It took maybe half a dozen tries.

I was polite. When the woman who answered the phone asked how I was doing today, but she was working from a script. I wasn’t, however, and my kindness was sincere. I said that I was just fine, thank you very much, how are you? And when I asked that question, I meant it. I think my friendliness surprised her, and set the tone for the rest of the interaction. Would she still have been willing to escalate my request had I been rude? I do not know, but I have a hunch, given my experience working in customer service, that my politeness made an impact.

I was direct: After we exchanged pleasantries, I simply told her why I was calling: “My one-year new resident introductory rate for internet service has expired so now I am being billed at the higher rate. I’m calling to see if there are any promotions or other ways I can reduce my monthly bill without reducing my level of service.”

That’s right – I told her I wanted the exact same product, but for less money. I made sure to say it nicely. I knew that she was likely not someone who could authorize such a thing, but that someone there could. I was right.

I was prepared to repeat my request. The nice customer service lady asked if I would mind if she transferred me to the Customer Solutions department. I said not a problem, that that would be terrific. She placed me on hold for a few minutes, and then a new person was on the line. I repeated my request to him, again just as nice as I could be.

I used all available information. I had recently received a promotional letter in the mail offering service with this company at a steep discount than what I was currently paying. I did see the fine print saying this promotion was for new customers only, but I knew that if they offered this deal, perhaps there might be other deals for which I did qualify.

My new customer service rep asked me a few questions to clarify what I type of service I wanted (nope, I’m not interested in adding cable or a landline to my service, thanks). He confirmed that the that promotion I received in the mail is for new customers only and involves internet access at lesser speeds than what I currently use, but that he would be happy to see what else may be available.

I continued being patient. He then placed me on hold for a few more minutes. I took the time to pace around the room and get in some more steps for the day. When he came back, he said he found a much cheaper plan, though it was for slower speeds. However, he could include an upgrade to my current speed for an additional charge, making the total price, with fees, about 25% less than my current bill. I said that sounded perfect.

The breakdown:

  • Total time spent on phone: 22 minutes
  • Customer service representatives: 2 (3 if you count the robot)
  • Times placed on hold: 3
  • Original monthly bill, with fees: $97.95
  • New monthly bill, with fees: $72.99
  • Monthly savings: 25%
  • Product received: Exactly the same

This rate is good for one year, after which my rate will go back up again. The customer service representative did say it’s a good idea to call each year to see what promotions or packages might be available. I intend to do just that. It’s more than worth 22 minutes of my time once a year to save $299.52 in monthly expenses!

Finance Series: Introductory Post

I’m 41 years old, and I have been saving money for retirement for roughly half of those years. I thank my dad for that. He would talk to me about saving and investing so often that it was a normal topic of conversation for me. Thanks to him, I took two key pieces of action when I was in college: I opened an IRA and I started investing in a mutual fund.

I have had both of those accounts ever since, and over time, I have taken other steps to save for retirement, and while I am on track to meet my retirement goals, it is not uncommon for me to meet others in their 30s and 40s who have not started saving for retirement, and who aren’t sure how to start.

I am not a financial planner and have no credentials that qualify me to dispense investment advice. What I do have is personal experience and a low tolerance for being unprepared. I’m also a big fan of money and like finding ways to balance saving as much as possible while living my best life. In a series of upcoming blog posts, I will share some of my personal decisions and the information I have learned along the way.

My upcoming topics include:

  • Open an IRA: I’ll talk about what an IRA is and why (and how) you should start one
  • Invest in a mutual fund: I’ll talk about what that is and how it can be a great way to save a little extra money that you won’t miss and then watch it grow
  • Avoid debt like the plague, except when you shouldn’t: I’ll talk about the difference between good debt and bad debt.
  • Your FICO score: what it is and why it’s important, as well as how to build and maintain your credit history
  • When to co-sign a loan. (Hint: you should never co-sign a loan)
  • Car-buying: How to choose wisely
  • How much to save for retirement: are you wondering how to save for retirement when you can barely make ends meet? It’s possible. If I could save money when earning $9/hour without benefits, so can you.
  • Change your mindset, change your future: How to maximize the retirement benefits from your employer. There is no such thing as not being able to afford to get the full match from your employer.
  • When to hire others to help manage your money. Why have an accountant and/or financial planner, and how to afford them.
  • First steps: I’ll share the first, second, and third steps you should take toward saving for retirement, regardless of income.

What other topics would you like to see in this space?

A quick note on customer service

A colleague and I like to trade customer service stories. He loves Plated and recommended them to me. So far, I haven’t had any issues with them that required resolution, but my friend has. Little things, like once they forgot a minor ingredient, so they credited him a few dollars to cover the cost. Or, recently, his box was delivered to the wrong house. It took a few extra hours and some confusion before the error was revealed, and in the end, all was well, but Plated took the extra step of crediting my friend the cost of the box. He did not expect this, nor did he request it, but Plated’s response was, “You were inconvenienced. That is not okay. This box is on us.”

In return, my friend tells others about this, and then they want to use Plated, too. It’s a win all the way around. Plated empowered it’s customer service representatives to consider how customers might feel in a given situation, and made an adjustment. Plated gets it right.

Recently, I experienced the opposite of Plated’s customer service, from Amazon.

I reached out to Amazon because a book I had ordered was not delivered on time. Did I need the book that exact second? No. But I didn’t like the pattern of delivery issues I have been having with Amazon, and this book coming late did not help.

In the last year, I have had four items either not delivered per their “guaranteed” delivery date, or not delivered at all.

When I did reach out to Amazon to address these issues, I struggled to reach resolution. I filed an electronic complaint, and was rewarded with five – count them, five – robo-calls from Amazon’s customer service department. It was the weirdest thing; I would answer my phone only to hear a recorded message saying, “Thank you for calling Amazon’s Kindle services…a customer representative will be with you shortly…your estimated wait time is…”

Seriously? First, I didn’t reach out to Kindle services. Second, you called me, Amazon. Why on earth do you think it’s a good idea to ring someone’s phone only to force them into being on hold? Whose idea of customer service is that?

While I do think the company should refund items that never arrive (which they did), and I do think they should be held accountable for their so-called “guarantees” without customers chasing them down (after all, what does “guaranteed” delivery mean otherwise?), what will keep me a loyal customer of any business is some acknowledgement that the company actually values me as an individual. I want to shop with businesses that empower their staff to keep their word, stand behind their promises, and deliver as expected. And mistakes happen, own it. Stand behind the promises you make to your customers, and don’t make excuses. And for the love of all things sacred and holy, don’t make them chase you down (or sit on hold) to make it right.

 

Because Nice Matters

Several years ago, I was the manager on duty at a large cultural attraction during our biggest fundraising event of the year. Thousands of people came through our gates that day, and my job was to keep things running smoothly. That involved managing the main gate ticket sales, keeping the flow of guests running without issue, and addressing all of the various and sundry issues that come up over the course of a busy day.

By the time we were within an hour of closing, I was tired. I loved my job, but it’s amazing how demanding people can be once they have bought a ticket to something. Suddenly, “the customer is always right” echoes in their minds and typically reasonable people let their rude flags fly.

I was standing near the main gate, saying goodbye to guests as they left, when a man walked up to the ticket window. He wanted to renew his annual membership to our attraction. The ticket agent offered the standard discount for an early membership renewal – 10%. The gentleman politely asked for a 20% discount instead. The ticket agent said she could only offer 10% off. The man, again politely, asked to speak with someone who could authorize a larger discount. The ticket agent pointed at me.

The man walked over. He explained that he was a member and would like to continue to be a member. He was interested in renewing his membership that day, but would appreciate a 20% discount instead of the standard 10% discount for early renewals. I explained that that was not our policy.

He then told me about his strategy. Over the last year or so, when he would go to places like home improvement stores or other attractions, he would see rude customers harass customer service agents and get their rudeness rewarded with whatever they demanded, whereas the people who didn’t speak up did not receive the same concessions. So, he made a decision. He was going to try being nice and simply ask for what he wanted, on the theory that people who were used to taking abuse would appreciate being treated with consideration and he could then get what he wanted without being rude. Everybody wins.

Over the last year or so, he had been able to receive discounts for all sorts of things, simply by being nice. He was right; being nice was a great strategy. He knew that I had likely been beleaguered by rude people all day long (I had), and that if he spoke with me at the end of the day, I might appreciate speaking with a nice person (I did). He was straightforward and transparent. Of course I gave him a bigger discount than the standard one. He saved a bit of money, I had an enjoyable conversation with a nice person, and the attraction kept a loyal member.

Over time, I find that being nice is generally the way to go, as a customer, as a service provider, or as a human being in general. We can all stand to err on the side of kindness and transparency in our personal and business dealings.

 

 

 

Finding My Strengths

At some point in your life, you have probably taken an aptitude test called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. This is an assessment that will pinpoint your dominant personality traits, which you can use to guide yourself toward a particular career choice. As they say on the Myers-Briggs website, “understanding yourself and others provides a unique perspective and opens up possibility – in your job, your relationships, your life.”

If you have never taken the Myers-Briggs assessment, I highly recommend it. I have taken the quiz several times over my life, and I always score the same: INFJ. The letters stand for:

• Introverted

• Intuition

• Feeling

• Judging

Boy, does this describe me. My gut feeling rules. I am intuitive, and empathetic. I’m not at all shy, but I do value my private time to recharge. I’m very selective of friends and associates. If you make it into my inner circle, consider yourself lucky.

Fun fact: INFJ’s are the rarest personality type, making up only 1-2% of the population.

I recently also completed the Strengths Finder 2.0 assessment. This is based on the fact that so often in professional situations, training and development focuses on fixing what isn’t working, or developing what is lacking. Strengths Finders 2.0 instead focuses on identifying your strengths so you can build on them.

My top strengths as identified by Strengths Finder 2.0 are:

Intellection: I am introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.

Empathy: I can sense the feelings of other people by imagining themselves in others’ lives or others’ situations.

Connectedness: I have faith in the links between all things, and believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason.

Developer: I recognize and cultivate the potential in others, and spot the signs of each small improvement and derive satisfaction from these improvements.

Input: I have a craving to know more. Often, I like to collect and archive all kinds of information.

In other words, I’m smart, empathetic, and like to read and retain knowledge. I also enjoy working with others to help them be their best selves. Sounds like the perfect fit for helping charities meet with their best donors!

To read more and to take these assessments for yourself:

www.mbtionline.com

http://www.personalitypage.com/INFJ.html

https://infj.org/public/infjcharacter.html

strengthsfinder.com

My Favorite Client

I have a secret: I have an all-time favorite client. I know, I know, clients are supposed to be like children, right? It’s bad form to have a favorite? Yet, one of them stands out from the rest and always has: The Marine Toys for Tots Foundation (TFT).

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Years ago, I worked for a direct mail agency. We specialized in direct mail fundraising campaigns for nonprofit organizations. While at this agency, I was the writer of record for the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation. I wrote fundraising appeals for them for years, and that remains some of the work about which I am the most proud.

TFT was easily my favorite client, for many reasons, in no particular order:

  • They were easy to work with. Let me tell you, the Marines run a tight ship (no pun intended). They are on time, always. They do what they say they will do. If there is a deadline, they will meet it. If they say they will send you source material, they send it (as opposed to saying “oh, just have the copywriter come up with something.” Ahem.).
  • This is the charity that sells itself. The bottom line is that it’s just not hard to rally people around the cause of children, toys, and Christmas. This is a cause that transcends religion, race, politics, gender, and anything else that tends to divide people. I have yet to meet the person who can’t be bothered to provide a simple, new, unwrapped toy for a child at Christmas. We all know the impact that doing so can make on a young life. We all know how easy it is to share our own bounty.
  • The low program expense ratio. To this day, close to 98% of donations received go toward the mission of providing a little Christmas to as many needy children as possible (Source). When you donate to the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, you know exactly what your money is going to buy. Many donors find that comforting.

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Even though I have moved on from that agency, and have not written for Toys for Tots in some time, I still think about them every year when I trim my own Christmas tree, because I still have, and treasure, the Christmas ornaments given as favors at the annual Toys for Tots Foundation kick-off luncheon. Hanging those ornaments on my tree, I remember each family’s story I was privileged to read about and then to write about in an effort to support a very good cause. I am grateful for the opportunity to play a little part in helping make those families’ holidays special.

P.S. You can read some of my work for TFT on my Samples page.

A Tale of Two Managers

My very first paying job – complete with actual paychecks as opposed to babysitting money – was at a local bagel shop. I was in high school, and earned $4.50 hour. This was twenty-five cents more than minimum wage, and I was thrilled.

My job mostly entailed working at the counter, taking orders, prepping and serving food, and working the cash register. When it was slow, I would clean anything I could find, including the bathrooms. When I was really bored, I would restock any available thing that needed restocking, like the napkin dispensers and salt and pepper shakers. I don’t like to be bored, so I tried to always keep moving.

There were two managers who typically worked when I did. One of them, Bob, was the man who hired me. He was my first impression of what a manager in a professional situation could be. Unfortunately, that impression was a bad one. This guy was lazy. I don’t think I ever saw him do any actual work. He would come in, sit in the manager’s office, and talk on the phone to his girlfriend the entire time, while the rest of us hustled out front.

Except…I soon realized that I was the only one hustling. If Bob was there, he certainly wasn’t paying attention or holding anyone accountable for doing their jobs, so my coworkers would slack off, too.

Sometimes, I got lucky and Patty was the manager. It was impossible to outwork this woman. She was a force. She would come into that shop and not stop moving the entire time. She didn’t just work the counter and keep things moving up front; she made sure to get the back in order, too. Some nights, this meant she wanted to deep clean the kitchen floors. My coworkers hated this, because it not only kept them there an extra hour, it kept them there to clean. Patty did not care. It was as if she was oblivious to the staff eye-rolling and huffing and puffing. She simply expected them to do their jobs.

When it was floor-cleaning time, we would first get everything off the floor that couldn’t get wet. Then, we would flood the kitchen with the hose. Water would get in every corner and crevasse that regular sweeping and mopping couldn’t touch. After that, took the real work: we each grabbed a mop and scrubbed and washed and wrung out and scrubbed and washed again. If you’ve ever done any type of industrial cleaning, you know that those mops were heavy. This was hard work. I loved it.

That first employment experience taught me a lot. I learned what it means to have a real work ethic, and what it looks like when you don’t. More than that, I saw the impact that one’s own work ethic could quickly have to those around you, especially if those people are subordinates.

I also learned to pay attention. At every job I have had since, I quietly look around. I seek out qualities in managers that motivate and inspire, and those that depress and demoralize. Over time, I hone my own approach at being both manager and managed, trying to be true to my own work ethic, and to practice what I have learned.