I've worked, in one capacity or another, for local ISPs for about five years now. I've always loved working for small businesses. I've never been one to take the "corporate attitude" that larger corporations seem to, especially in the realm of customer service.

I love working with my customers. I love helping people learn how to use the Internet as a tool that's more than just something for e-mail. I love seeing the lightbulb go off over people's heads when something I've taught them, or a tip I've given them opens the doors of possibility within their minds.

God bless their pointy little heads, I even love the lusingist of our luser base.

However, there comes a time when I hate doing business with customers:

*phone rings*

Me:Thanks for calling Insert ISP Name Here, how may I help you?

Them:I've been doing business with you for X number of years. Give me something unreasonable for free. Then give me something else unreasonable for free. Otherwise I'm going to do business with Brand X ISP and you can piss off.

This is not how to drive a hard bargain. Just threatening to take your business elsewhere does nothing but insult my intelligence, and lowers my estimation of your own. This is borne out 99% of the time as follows:

Me:I'm sorry to hear that you're thinking of going elsewhere for service. May I ask which company you're thinking of? I'd like to do a little research and see if I can better their offer to you.

Them:Oh, I just heard from a couple of guys that they're offering unreasonable request number one and unreasonable request number two for free, and you should, too! I already pay too much for Internet access!

Me:Oh. So, you've come to me and asked me to give you some resources that you think a competitor of ours offers for free?

Them:Well, I've just been doing business with you for so long, that's all. You should appreciate that fact.

Me:And I do, but if that's the sole basis for your argument, then maybe you should consider leaving, indeed.

Them:Don't you want my business? You're making me mad, now!

Me:That's not my intent. I'd like you to consider just how long you've been with Insert ISP Name Here. Do you ever get busy signals? No. Does your DSL connection ever go down as a result of anything but the stupidity of the phone company? No. Do you get poor tech support? No. Do you have to wait an insane amount of time on hold to speak to tech support? No. Do we require you to pay by credit card, or impose a ridiculous surcharge for any other type of payment, even payment with cash? No. Is Brand X locally owned and operated? No. Do you know why ADSL is Verizon's favorite four-letter word? No. Do you take all these things for granted. Do you take me for granted? Yes.

Them:Well, if you can do it, why can't they? They're cheaper, and I already pay too much for Internet access!!

This is not how to drive a hard bargain. Paying twenty bucks a month is not too much. You've done nothing to show me that you care enough about doing business with me to appreciate the difference between my service and the service offered by Brand X. You're not prepared to bargain with me; in fact you've done nothing but think that you, as a consumer, have supreme power, and thereby can dictate how I choose to run my business.

Guess again, sporto. We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. If you feel, based wholly on rumor (or worse, advertising) and without doing any independent research of your own, that Brand X will give you better service, go for it. I've got better things to do than battle someone whose every choice is dictated by what you think you can get away with.

And when you come crawling back to me in a month's time because Brand X sucks or went out of business or got bought out by Megacorp, I'm going to ream your ass so hard your eyes bleed. I'll charge you another activation fee. I won't prorate your bill to give you credit for any unused time from your first dance with me. I will gleefully and spitefully say I told you so, and laugh all the way to the bank. You obviously don't learn in any other way except by the application of pain. Fine, we can do that.

If, instead, you're willing to work as a consumer and put your money where your mouth is by backing your threats up with some tangible reasons as to why the competition is more attractive to you, I'll fight to retain your business til my dying breath. I won't make it easy for you, but that's only because it's not easy on me. I will drive a hard bargain, and you shouldn't really expect me not to.

Be prepared.

Thats a rather combatative attitude to one's customer. The problem I think lies not so much with the customer as the whole western attitude to haggling.

Believe it or not, you are supposed to be insulted while haggling, it is normal, as any Arab, or Jew will tell you. They are supposed to deride your product, and of course praise the competition. This is normal, it is the way of things, again, you have to of course make them realize that you are valuable, and indeed worth the 20 dollar per month (outrageously expensive) fee for letting them connect to the Net.

The trick is not to take it personally, the guy wants a good deal, as do I as do you! Believe it or not though, you need him more than he needs you. How many ISPs have died off recently due to lack of customers? Loads. How many people have died from lack of a local ISP? NONE. Its a luxury, a consumer toy, and it better make them happy otherwise you are out of pocket, never mind living.

So what if the customer is a jerk, all sales people know that from day one. The trick with how not to drive a hard bargain is to make them feel the way you think they ought to feel. Bad. And the trick with selling, is of course the opposite, make them feel good.

I used to work with an ISP in Belfast, just when everything was going free around here with Freeserve and all those other people, we got a LOT of those types of calls. I alarmed my boss and line manager when they overheard me telling the customers, yes, of course I would cancel their subscription, however if they preferred I could put it on hold for a week, and if they weren't happy with the other people they could come back, no fuss. After that we would wipe them from the system and invoice them appropriately.

They all came back.

I didn't lose a single one. I am rather glad as both my line manager and the boss went ballistic, and told me that if I HAD lost them a single customer I could kiss my job goodbye. But, with all due respect to them, they aren't Arabs, and we have thousands of years of experience at this sort of thing. How else are a bunch of guys who call the desert their home going to survive unless they are good at trading? I mean you have to be pretty convincing to survive by telling people who live in the fertile plains around your home that you deserve the food they make more than they do...

The hard bargain I drove was the one of the abyss of uncertainty and bad support versus a little cash and a lot of safety. Customers are skittish, you may need them more than they need you, but they don't have to know that do they?

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