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.