Reader Games Tivo Retentions Department To Gets $6 Knocked Off Monthly Rate

Most companies with recurring services have a group of shiny sphincters known as the retention department, but doing battle with them and knowing how they operate can get your monthly bill reduced. They’re also sometimes called the “saves” department, because they’re supposed to “save” you from leaving for another company. Here’s how Jonathan recently turned the Tivo retention department to his advantage:..

…I called up Tivo, read to “Cancel” (I love my Tivo and would never give it up) knowing that they would transfer me to the retention department, I played hardball with them and told them that I just didn’t think there was enough “value” and that I wasn’t feeling that i was getting what i paid for. They bought it hook like and sinker, and what was 16.95 a month, they knocked down to 10.95 w/o yearly contract, in addition to a free month of service. Retention departments: Always evil, but sometimes profitable.

This same technique can also be more satisfyingly applied to outrightly adversarial companies like your cable or cellphone provider, or credit card company.

It’s not enough to simply say, “you suck give me $5 or I’m leaving.” Customer service departments are trained to weed out the garden-variety discount seekers. You’ve got to talk a good game and paint a picture of your dissatisfaction and sorrow before they’ll start throwing freebies your way. Put a little romance into it, you’ve got to take them out to dinner first before their pants drop.

(Photo: Getty)

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  1. kingKonqueror says:

    Quite frankly, I think this should have been in “BAD CONSUMER” instead of “SUCCESS STORIES.” Sure, who wouldn’t love to get a discount on a great service? But lying for financial gain is a big no-no. If Tivo had done this in reverse (oh I don’t know how, maybe calling and saying they have to drop you unless you agree to a $6 fee increase), Consumerist would be up in arms about it. The tone of this article even completely agrees that it was a scam – “Reader Games Tivo…” – since when is scamming a virtue?

    Just because they’re evil penny-pinching bottom feeders doesn’t mean we have to be too. Bad Consumerist, bad!

  2. Bulldog9908 says:

    Consumerist celebrates unethical behavior like this and then expects companies to act ethically?

    Johnathan is the kind of consumer who gives the rest of us a bad rap and makes companies cut rewards programs and other benefits to consumers to avoid losing money to these creeps.

  3. JPropaganda says:

    @kingKonqueror: A good consumer should be allowed to find any discount that is available to him. I wholeheartedly disagree with your ‘bad consumer’ label.

  4. Ben Popken says:

    Threatening to cancel is a time-honored tactic for getting your rates reduced. We’re supposed to simply accept the pricing plans they deign to give us and that’s that? If getting a good deal makes you squeamish, they must really have you brainwashed.

  5. flairness says:

    I’m sorry, exactly what in the fuck is that headline supposed to mean?

  6. TPIRman says:

    I would have a hard time telling a company whose services I love (which includes TiVo) that I’m dissatisfied and thinking of leaving. That said, even though it seems sleazy to me on a human level, I don’t believe it crosses the line into unethical behavior.

    This is a basic negotiation, and the two parties are not obligated to show their complete hand when negotiating. Just as a union boss can threaten management with a strike with no intention of actually staging a walkout, the customer can threaten a company with cancellation even if he plans to keep the service.

    A bluff is fair because the company always has the option of calling it. And in that case the customer loses all leverage. If the CSR on the other end of the line said to Jonathan, “I’m sorry to hear that, sir; your account has been canceled” — isn’t that what we want companies to say when we call to cancel? — then Jonathan would need to quickly backtrack, and with his ruse sniffed out, he would permanently end his chances at a discount.

    TiVo didn’t get suckered. The company made an implicit calculation of the chance that Jonathan was bluffing and decided it was worth it to offer him a discount rather than risk the possibility that he was serious. When you turn a cancellation request into a negotiation, you naturally assume the risks associated with negotiating. It’s not unfair for a consumer to negotiate aggressively with his best interests at heart; the company is certainly doing the same.

    My main problem with Jonathan’s strategy is that it seems unnecessarily risky. Might he not have achieved similar results by calling up and saying something along the lines of: “I love my TiVo, and I have been a happy customer for years, but my friends get DVR service for free. I like my TiVo better, but given the DVR market right now, I was wondering if you could give me a discount in exchange for my longtime loyalty?”

    This would not only eliminate the risk of a bluffing strategy, but it would also have the benefit of being the truth.

  7. ATTSlave says:

    They wouldn’t offer you the rate if it was going to hurt their bottom line.

  8. Phildawg says:

    This kind of thing really pisses me off. Hey dumbass, incase you haven’t noticed, TiVo is having a hard enough time staying afloat! If you are truly sincere when you say “I love my Tivo and would never give it up” you wouldn’t try to save yourself a measly 6 bucks a month for something you love. Now does this mean I have to pay the extra 6 bucks a month so you can have your fookin discount, burn in hell with your cable-branded DVR!

  9. Phildawg says:

    @ATTSlave: Tivo has VERY little operating cost. All their costs involve R&D, recovering profit from units that are sold well below cost actual cost, and customer service. Maybe the little bit of the top is that much closer to TiVo switching to outsourced call centers. Isn’t it nice being able to call, get through immediately, and talk to somebody located right here in America who is knowledgeable, friendly, and extremely qualified for their position!

  10. Phildawg says:

    @Ben Popken: Hey Ben, there’s a difference between getting a good deal with a very successful and wealthy company. TiVo is struggling to stay afloat with all the copycats, and honestly, if they don’t win some form of a patent suit, etc. they will almost for sure go out of business in due time.

  11. chutch says:

    @kingKonqueror: I’ll agree with you on this one. Tivo is one of the few companies I don’t mind giving money to. They generally provide an excellent service. Also, when I’ve called their technical support I’ve yet to get outsourced to call lines in India.

    Today – for example – I was on the phone with tech support and retentions. My old Tivo (just over a year old) decided to give out for no obvious reason. My warranty was out, but I was already on the market to get a new DVR (adding a second to our house). I talked to tech support and they told me my old DVR was a lost cause and it would cost $150 to exchange. I decided I would just cancel my service to this Tivo (obviously) and not worry about it since I just yesterday bought a new Tivo with a 3 year contract prepaid.

    Retentions ok’d an exchange for a product that obviously hadn’t lived up to its life expectancy – and then without being asked expedited my discount on my older Tivo’s service. They didn’t contractually have to do anything for me. The difference that will continue to provide them with my support is that they did anyway.

    Sorry Ben, I agree on getting a deal. I’ll be first in line haggling most places. I’m simply a believer that you don’t bite the hand that feeds you. You may be feeding the company, but without the Tivo service, it’s either give more money to the *EVIL* cable companies or deal with VCRs. I’d rather support and not screw with one of the few companies around that provide a service that doesn’t have screwing you in their business plan.

  12. jesdynf says:

    The correct response to “I wish to cancel your service” is “I’m sorry to hear that, I will make the necessary arrangements”. Any other response — specifically including transferring me to another agent I must plead my case to, weathering against a bullet-point “save” pitch — is nothing less than stealing my time.

    It is entirely appropriate to use this mechanism for your own personal profit, given that it exists for no other reason than to profit at your expense.

  13. hn333 says:

    I would rather build my own PVR. No monthly fees.

  14. Maurs says:

    He’s just negotiating his contract. Bluffing is part of the game; it’s not any more unethical than asking for an unrealistically high raise in the hopes of compromising for more money.

  15. stopNgoBeau says:

    Call it bluffing or negotiating, but its still a lie, and I think lying is unethical…

    Or am I lying now?

    That’s the problem these days…

  16. TPIRman says:

    @Phildawg: “Hey dumbass, incase you haven’t noticed, TiVo is having a hard enough time staying afloat!”

    If TiVo is really depending on the charity of its users to survive, it is not long for this world anyway. Most consumers who find the $17/month price point unpalatable will not bother to negotiate for a discount; they will simply choose an alternative. The fact that Jonathan will continue to be a TiVo customer at a still-profitable price makes him a far better asset to the company than one who abandons TiVo outright. TiVo knows this, and that’s why they gave him the discount.

    Any financial difficulties facing TiVo do not equate to a moral obligation on Jonathan’s part to give them extra money. It is their job to make their business plan viable, not his.

    I say this as a TiVo owner from the very beginning. They will pry my TiVo boxes from my cold, dead hands, and I’m glad to support the company, but let’s be realistic about the mechanics of a competitive marketplace.

  17. kenblakely says:

    @Phildawg: That is without doubt the STUPIDEST thing I’ve read this year. Phildawg: you >>deserve<< to pay more for the service.

  18. Buran says:

    @Ben Popken: Well, yeah, it’s not like they weren’t disclosed in advance. And lying for financial gain is unethical.

  19. Buran says:

    @Maurs: Then why doesn’t he be straightforward about the negotiations? Why does he lie about it?

  20. MercuryPDX says:

    @Phildawg: I have to agree with you. I have two series II units with Lifetimes on them, so calling for a different rate is out of the question and not anything to bargain with. I’ve heard that getting lifetime transfered to new units now is a crap shoot.

    That said, if the company does go under I’ll have to go with the Comcast DVR(shudder), and what seemed like a great purchase at the time will no longer really be so. Here’s to hoping they keep things going despite the Johnathan’s of the world hammering them $6 at a time.

  21. alk509 says:

    @Phildawg: So it is only OK to negotiate a better deal when your negotiating position is weaker than the other party’s? Yeah, good luck with that, son.

  22. alk509 says:

    @Buran:

    why doesn’t he be straightforward about the negotiations? Why does he lie about it?”

    Because the whole thing is based on making Tivo believe that their choice is to either get $10.95 from Johnathan every month, or receiving $0.00 from Jonathan every month. Do you really think that volunteering the fact that he’ll happily pay whatever they charge him will make them lower their rates for him?

  23. alk509 says:

    @MercuryPDX: You folks are completely misconstruing Tivo’s financial problems. If and when Tivo goes under, it won’t be because of Johnathan and his (IMO perfectly rational, legal and ethical) negotiating techniques. Individuals must act in their own financial best interest, not the best interests of the companies they do business with.

    Tivo’s problem, as I see it, is that they’re based on a ridiculous business model: they want to both have and eat the proverbial cake, by selling you the widget AND charging you a monthly fee to use it. As is to be expected, not enough consumers fall for the scam, profits dwidle, company’s in trouble.

  24. mikala says:

    I love TiVo. Tivo is not Comcast, not Sprint… this just doesn’t feel right.

  25. Ben Popken says:

    @Ben Popken: Ok, I guess I should have been more specific, the point of this post is not really about Tivo, it’s about how you can do the same with more evil companies, like cable or credit card companies.

  26. boandmichele says:

    @hn333: unfortunately that doesnt apply for mythTV anymore. its on their homepage, but its just for the program guide. but still.

    anyway, i love my tivo, i love streaming my downloaded movies to my tv in 480p, and i even love my peanut remote with the worn out buttons

    but there is nothing unethical about this. good move, good bluff.

  27. Josh Smith says:

    When we couldn’t justify the cost of the HD Tivo we went with our cable companies HD DVR and moved the Tivo to the bedroom, after a month of little use I called to cancel and scored 6.95 /month for life even if I switch boxes!

  28. Pupator says:

    Why does it matter who the company is or how well they’re doing. Isn’t lying, de facto, unethical? I don’t think this behavior should be celebrated no matter who the “victim” company is.

    Would we celebrate big companies if they called up all their customers who make more than $50,000 and said “You make enough money to pay more, so we’re going to charge you double or cut your utilities off?”

    If you’re really going to turn a service off because it costs too much – call them and tell them that. If they make you a better deal to get you to stay, that’s business. Calling a company and outright lying to them can’t possibly be classified as ethical behavior.

  29. Illusio26 says:

    Wow, you guys sticking up for Tivo are idiots. When you go to buy a used car, do you just pay the sticker price? When i was still with comcast, I really didn’t have a choice every month when they felt like raising my rates. “Oh, by the way, were charging you another $5 this month, and not really giving you anything new in return”. It’s not exactly like we get to negotiate with most utility companies to begin with.

    Somehow I doubt an extra $5 a month is going to stop Tivo from going under if that’s the direction they are headed.

    In business, you take any advantage you can get. Nothing personal against Tivo, but it’s just business.

  30. mthrndr says:

    Tivo’s retentions dept tries hard to keep you. I’d love it if other companies did this. They offered me 6.95 for life, but I REALLY did want to cancel. 6.95>0.00. Now I just use the manual record on my series II.

  31. alk509 says:

    @Pupator:

    Would we celebrate big companies if they called up all their customers who make more than $50,000 and said “You make enough money to pay more, so we’re going to charge you double or cut your utilities off?”

    That’s kind of what Tivo is doing: “We can sell this service to you at $10.95, but we’re going to charge you $16.95, instead.”

  32. lowlight69 says:

    honestly i’m a bit torn, while i don’t like lying, i do think bluffing in negotiations is acceptable. but honestly that is neither here nor there.

    my co-worker does the following about every 6 months:
    1) see ad for service from rival company
    2) call current provider, ask them to match advertised price from rival
    3) if they say yes, done, if not, cancel and go with new provider.
    4) wait 6 months, go to step 1.

    he has switched cable/sat providers a couple of times but he always has the “new customer” deal and his rates are reasonable.

    specifically with Tivo, i LOVE them, Tivo is the greatest. but now that i have a child i don’t have time to watch tv so i canceled my diretv/tivo service a few months ago. the three shows that i try to watch can be easily downloaded. but even then it is hard to make time to watch those in a week.

  33. Jimmy M says:

    I did the same back when it was like $12/mo – I’ve been paying $6.95/mo for years :)

  34. dethl says:

    I was able to get TiVo to do the same thing for me, except I was really thinking of leaving. I had a 1-year contract with TiVo where I paid $19.99/month, which paid for my service and the subsidized dual tuner Series 2 TiVo (which I was able to get for $30 up front). After my year ended I went to the $16.95/month, before taxes. After taxes I ended up paying just about the same as I did while on my contract which angered me to no end.

    I called up TiVo and told them that I was paying just about the same and I didn’t see the value in it so they dropped me to $10.95/month before taxes – ends up being $12/month. That is definitely worth it.

    Then again, DirecTiVo users still get one hell of a deal – $5/month I believe.

  35. Phildawg says:

    I’m sorry if some of your disagree with me on my opinions but I truly do love my TiVo. I would love to take advantage of HD satellite, but until the cable card mess is straightened out, I’m sticking with cable’s offering just because of TiVo.

    One thing that really upset me here might be something some of you missed or was not aware. I should have said this originally, but what really makes me mad here is that the original posters contract is not just the subscription fee, it is the one where he entered into a contract with TiVo for a unit with little to no money upfront and has now TAKEN ADVANTAGE of Tivo’s desire to remain competitive and renegotiated his contract on grounds that should have NEVER been possible in the first place. He was under contract, he couldn’t stop paying his TiVo service. But TiVo, to keep a customer happy, abolished his contract and gave him a lower rate.

    For those that think this is just fine, the horrible condition our economy is in today (with national debt now at over 9 trillion dollars, compared to 4.6 trillion 6 years ago, and the dollar worth the same or less than the Canadian dollar now! you deserve the recession we are about to experience and the hyper inflation that is already beginning to occur on the consumables market.

    I’m sick and tired of these piece of shit American’s who believe in low price over quality.

  36. Phildawg says:

    I should also add I own an original TiVo that cost me 700 dollars with the life subscription back in 2000. I own a series 2 single tuner, and a series 2 dual tuner. I will be heartbroken that day TiVo has to close shop, and we don’t need people trying to exploit a good company. If you like the Walmart’s and Best Buy’s of the world and their strict anti-consumer policies, if you keep ‘sticking it’ to the good guys, all we will have left is the mega corporations who will never deviate from their anti-consumer policies.

  37. SadSam says:

    I had succss when I called DirecTv (the last time they raised rates) and told them that I liked DirecTv, that I had been a long term customer (since 2002), but that I was really sad that they raised my rates. When I called, I also had the Comcast offer for the same services which was at a lower rate. I explained what Comcast was charging and while I didn’t really want to switch from DirecTv to Comcase I would do so to dave $25 a month. DirecTv rep was kind and understanding and lowered my monthly rat from @ $75 to @$52 a month and locked it in for 12 months for me.

  38. IndyJaws says:

    @Ben Popken: Ok Ben, you saved yourself in my eyes there. I completely agree that we can and should try to get the best deal from the companies we consider evil and/or not providing the price/benefit we expect. Of course, those companies will vary from consumer to consumer. For me, I’d renegotiate with Comcast and Sprint in a heartbeat. But I’m very happy with the quality of service and features that TiVo and Vonage provide me, so I’ll gladly pay their monthly charges, considering it money well-spent, even though I could probably get a reduction (4 TiVos would get me some leverage and Vonage will do almost anything to keep a customer these days).

  39. 44ounce says:

    I just got six months of Showtime free when I was upgrading my Directv package. They give it out free to new customers, I figured they should throw me some, too. Especially since I’ve been giving them $50 a month for the last three years, right?

  40. Atomike says:

    Phildawg wrote: “I’m sick and tired of these piece of s**t American’s who believe in low price over quality.”

    If you really, really want to look like a moron, just lump all Americans together and bash them. Good grief. If you think Europeans or Africans or Asians are so much better, then only go to European or Asian web sites. Granted, some Americans are dumb. Many Europeans are dumb too. Simply put, you are a bigot. Never, ever claim to be an open minded person. Ever.
    Also, there’s nothing wrong with accepting lower quality for lower price. It’s called a free market economy. You’ll learn more about a few years from now in Jr. High School.

  41. Phildawg says:

    I’m sorry, the problem is way to deep to explain on the consumerist blog. However, I never said ALL american’s… but I do understand how it could be taken out of context.

  42. Alvis says:

    They’re not selling an item; they’re selling a service. Frankly, what they’re charging for readily-available TV listings, albeit in a proprietary machine-readable format, is highway robbery. There’s no shame in getting a discount on what ammounts to a data conversion service that take them mere seconds of CPU-time to produce.

  43. Phildawg says:

    @Alvis: What you are paying for is their intellectual property. If all you want from a TiVo is a TV guide and to be able to record said program on the TV guide, a normal DVR from your cable company suits you. If however you want the ease of use, yet still very powerful, then you want a DVR with the TiVo software.

    However, as I pointed out earlier, monthly service fee for TiVo is 12.95 for the first box. The original story talks about a 16.95 monthly service fee and this is because he did not pay for his hardware.

    I wish I could call up a cellphone company and convince them to cancel the 2 year contract, give me the ($200-$300) phone for free, and pay a reduced monthly rate.

  44. yetiwisdom says:

    While I’ve used this tactic several times with Comcast, I would never do so with my beloved TiVo. Comcast has been jacking up rates and reducing value & quality for years. TiVo’s rates have remained flat but they bring additional value regularly – about 3 times a year I get an update to my service that usually adds some functionality (games! movie tix! podcasts! smart searches! ux enhancements!) to the service.

    Thus TiVo probably would be justified to demand more $ for the increased value but they don’t. That makes them golden in my book.

    And I have to challenge the posters who say “what they’re charging for readily-available TV listings”. I hate to tell you but TiVo is a LOT more than TV listings. They offer the best DVR interface on the market with the deepest functionality. Didja know my TiVo can grab Rocketboom, Threadbanger, etc., etc., podcasts fron the web so I can watch from the comfort of my couch? How bout music streaming? Games? Amazon Unbox? Digital photos from my desktop on my TV? I suggest you actually try one before posting your assessment of the service. In my opinion, it’s far from “highway robbery” and I’ll never go back to “regular TV” or one of those crap Comcast DVR’s.

  45. Alvis says:

    @Phildawg: “If however you want the ease of use, yet still very powerful, then you want a DVR with the TiVo software.”

    But when you bought the box, you PAID for the software license that runs the system. The only ongoing fee is for listings, which are available elsewhere from dozens of sources, but TiVo cripples the unit to only accept THEIR database format.