File this one under you-never-know-until-you-ask:
I had to call DirecTV yesterday because I've been getting an error message for several months on some of my HD channels. I'd done all the usual steps of checking the connection, restarting the system, etc. But no luck.
As I was talking to the customer service lady, she thanked me more than once for being a longtime and loyal customer to the company. She very politely walked me through a few steps to test my equipment.
Turns out, there's a problem with the wiring on my system and it will require a repair.
She said she can send a service technician out to fix it for a one-time charge of $49.99. If I had purchased the protection plan, she said, it would've been free.
She asked if I would like to go ahead and add the plan for just $5 extra a month. I declined.
"You just want to go ahead and pay the one-time charge of $49.99?" she asked.
I countered: "How about you waive the charge because I've been such a loyal customer?"
"You're right," she said. "Let me see what I can do."
She puts me on hold for a minute.
"Sir," she says, "we're going to waive that charge."
She set up a time for a technician to come out Wednesday. I thanked her. She thanked me again for being a loyal customer.
It was a pleasantly surprising end to what could have been a frustrating customer service experience. Then again, it shouldn't be too surprising considering the economy. We've heard for months how many retailers are letting customers haggle to get better deals on things. This is probably just another example of a company wanting to hang onto customers -- and their money -- for as long as possible.
One thing that I found interesting with this DirecTV experience: The customer service woman was very quick, and I mean very quick, to agree that they should wavie that $49.99. There was no haggling involved. It made me wonder if the company has a policy to always grant these types of discounts for customers provided they ask for them (because a lot of people won't ask, believe it or not; they'll just begrudgingly agree to pay). I didn't ask about such a policy, because I doubt they would tell you if something like that was in place. It wouldn't surprise me, though.
Earlier this year, DirecTV sent me a notice in the mail saying that "in celebration" of my four years as a customer, they were giving me a year of Showtime for free. I appreciated it, of course, but it did strike me as something they were doing to keep customers from dropping their satellite service at a time when people are cutting back on the frills of life.
I've learned through the years that there are more opportunities than you might realize to get things for free, or at least get a good discount. Try it sometime. Use good judgment and be polite, of course, but go ahead and ask. You never know.