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A post about the Art of Negotiation and not taking "No" for an answer when it comes to buying things from sales people.

This isn’t a post about the rising gas prices (though from the title, you might think otherwise).

This is a post about how, oftentimes, if you complain (in a respectful manner, of course) you will get further ahead than if you kept quiet.

My boyfriend recently bought a used car at a dealership and traded in his current car.  At the dealership, the sales person told him that the car had all season tires on it.  Boyfriend looked at the tires, saw the word “snow” and asked the sales person “are you SURE these aren’t snow tires?”.

Salesperson said “yes, they’re all seasons”.

So my boyfriend took this guy’s word and bought the car, then went home to look the serial number on the tires up.

They were indeed snow tires.

My boyfriend would like snow tires, but with the current gas prices at such high levels, he would much rather prefer to have all season tires and increase his fuel economy by 10%.  Besides, it doesn’t snow very much here in Vancouver.

 shiiiiny!!! Pictures, Images and Photos

So he called the sales person up.  Sales person said “oh.  okay, let me see if we can find some all seasons for you, I will get back to you within a few days”.

Sales person calls back and says that he found some all seasons and can give a discount of $50 off per tire.  That would be a total of $500 for four tires (tires are expensive here in Canada).

My boyfriend told him that what he’s offering isn’t good enough.  That the principle of it is that the salesperson told him they were snow tires, so why should he have to pay extra for the sales person’s mistake?

Sales person said he’ll talk to his manager.

Salesperson comes back and says he can offer $100 off per tire.

Boyfriend said- still not good enough.  Can I speak to your manager?

Manager says that he can offer $100 off per tire.

Boyfriend repeated his story and said the $100 off per tire wasn’t a sufficient offer.  Manager understandably states that they do stand by their customer service, but at the same time, they cannot just give him a free set of tires due to a loss of profit standpoint.  Manager says he’ll see what he can do and will contact boyfriend in a week.

A week rolls by, they don’t call and boyfriend is slightly more preturbed.  He calls and asks to speak to the manager.  Manager states he was “just about to call” (sure..) but what boyfriend is offered is pretty good.  A set of Michelin tires for $150, not just $100 off the entire set.

So I guess the moral of the story is that sometimes if you complain enough, you might just get what you want (or at least a good compromise).  The other moral of the story is not to jump into buying so hastily! (e.g. before buying, check the serial number of the tires).  If you’re in the market for tires, Saving Mentor has a good guide on saving money on winter tires on his blog… might be a good idea to stock up for next year.

Is it human nature that people will TRY to take advantage of you if they can?  Just like how when you bargain in a different country, they inflate the price of the product by 100%, and it is up to your own negotiation skills to knock the price back down?

Readers, what do you think?  Do you have any personal experiences where you stood your ground, dissatisfied with the company’s customer service, and was given more than if you were to have accepted things more easily?

Article comments

chantl01 says:

I’ve found after numerous fruitless phone calls to CSRs that writing a calm letter to the head of customer service detailing the many unsuccessful interactions I’ve had with the CSRs in resolving my problem tends to get positive results.

And if the problem is especially egregious, indicating that you’ve sent a copy of the letter to the Ministry of Consumer Services is almost guaranteed to get a quick response. We had a recent situation where FEDEX was claiming that they had delivered a parcel after the HST was instituted in Ontario, and charging us as having collected the HST for payment to the Government. In fact, the delivery had been made before the HST date (meaning they had only paid GST to the provincial govt) and we had the tracking records to prove it. Fedex refused to admit their mistake and lower the amount owing, until we wrote a pointed letter to the Ministry of Consumer Affairs. Not only did we get a personal apology from the head of customer service at Fedex, but also received a request for confirmation of resolution of the issue from the Ministry. I got the impression they take a very dim view of companies ‘fudging’ how much tax they say they are collecting on behalf of the Government.

young says:

@chantl01- wow, that’s amazing- I’ve never heard of going up to the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, way to go! This GST/HST thing is a big headache. I was doing my taxes and it’s been such a b*tch to do them with the GST/HST change this year. They should have just started it on January 1 so that it saves the rest of Canada a headache. I’m glad you got that dealt with and I’m surprised FEDEX sounded like they were so petty and righteous about it all.

James Anderson says:

Perseverence is the as these people just do everthing they can to make you give in and sink. I always log everysingle telephone call, email etc and then when I have got the result I want I then send them a bill for the total time I have spent trying to reolve things due to the fact I’m self employed and can’t aford to cover the the time. Does not often work but has worked for me with DELL and a local furniture store.

young says:

@James Anderson- That’s another good way to do it, log it in.. that’s the good thing about email- an instant paper trail.

kh says:

Oh wow. Good for him for being persistent.

I actually just yesterday had a similar experience of my own with my cell phone provider. I upgraded my phones in Jan with a 2-for-1 deal plus a loyalty discount. I was told that the charge for both phones would show up on my bill, and then there would be a credit for the 50% discount on the 1st phone and the free 2nd phone. The charges showed up nearly immediately, but the credits never did. Every month I’ve called and asked when the credit will show up and been assured that I don’t need to pay the full balance – just pay the service bill and the credits will be there “in the next week”.

Finally, yesterday, I called and said if the credits weren’t applied immediately – as in I can log on and see them in 15 mins – I was going to cancel my service. I was polite and calm, but firm.

As a result not only did I get the credit I was promised, they also credited me 25% of my monthly bill as a customer retention effort to compensate me for the inconvenience.

Persistence and politeness (and the occasional threat to take your business elsewhere) does pay off!

young says:

@kh- That’s awesome! 25% is nothing to sneeze at 🙂 You sounded very firm, set boundaries, and gave them indication to take action (I like the polite threat 😉 )

Sarah says:

yes i can completely agree. Living in Asia these days, you HAVE to be careful about customer service and inspecting products before you buy them, because it’s really hard to negotiate anything once it’s been purchased. Whenever I buy anything electronic here (recent purchase was a vacuum cleaner) I make sure to ask the salesperson to open the box, plug in the appliance so I know it works, then put the item back in the box while I am standing there. I normally make faces when inspecting items just to see if people will knock down the price. If they’re really desperate, they’ll knock off the price by at least half right away.

The important thing to know is, there are always other companies/stores out there, and not to be afraid to mention to problem store that you’ll spread what happened by word of mouth. Most times they’ll take your complaint more seriously.

young says:

@Sarah- lol sounds like you’ve got the living in asia strategies down pat!! My best friend has been living in Asia for a while and her negotiating/bargaining skills are second to none! I was thoroughly impressed when we went to Vietnam a few months ago with her bargaining skills! You’re right about that- a lot of places are “final sale” in asia, even when it comes to electronics and big purchases.

101 Centavos says:

Nice story of perseverence. Sounds like the salesman made a mistake and was not willing to take care of it, at least at first.
I had a former boss with a great line for responding to poor customer service:
“I need to talk to someone that can fire yew” (Imagine this delivered with a Cajun accent)

young says:

@101 Centavos- hehe.. your former boss sounds like quite the character!

Keith Dennis says:

Thanks for your post! Nothing as serious as tires but we had problem with a pizza delivery once. The pizza was an hour and half later than expected on family movie night. My wife called them a couple of times and demanded to speak to the manager – not the call center in charge of orders. We ended up with the pizza free and twice the purchase amount in free credits.

It is really in the best interest of the company make your purchase right and to keep you happy. Who knows how many of our friends and neighbors we could have told about our bad experience and they would have ordered from a different company next time.

Moral – let my wife do the complaining, she is really good at it and be persistent, it is a win-win situation.

young says:

@Keith Dennis- Hmm sounds like a recurrent theme here, pizza delivery. I wonder if @DeliverAwayDebt can come and dispel some of this negative experience with pizza delivery drivers? 😉 I think women are good at complaining in general (at least I know I am!)… so next time the wife is complaining to you, just think of it as practice for future negotiations with customer service 😉

Squirrelers says:

Y&T – to answer your question, I recall being annoyed and then getting a pizza from somewhere else all the while being super hungry!

young says:

@Squirrelers- lol! Awe man, that story sounds like you deserved a beer for the wait!

krantcents says:

It wasn’t that serious, but I was not getting anywhere with the people I could talk to over the phone. No, he did not appear at my door or respond personally. He had his assistant solve my problem and compensated me for my frustration. BTW, I am not batting a thousand with this method, but it has worked 2 out of 3 times!

Lindy Mint says:

I could tell you the story of our one and only Dell computer, but it would be a LONG story about SEVERAL calls to customer service (thankfully made by my husband – I would have given up and lived with a buggy computer). Thankfully, he got a young rep one day who told him that we “hadn’t been through enough pain yet,” to warrant them sending us a new computer. That was enough for my husband to talk to management and they sent us a new upgraded one within two days.

Yes, complaining does pay off, if you have the persistence. 🙂

young says:

@Lindy Mint- Oh my goodness! I can’t believe a customer service representative actually said that!! Does Dell want to punish their customers to have them suffer in pain before they fix the problem? Sounds like they’re into S&M lol. It’s always nice to have one person in the relationship who’s into negotiating. For us, that’s me (even though my boyfriend took a negotiations course in school!).

SavingMentor says:

Haha, I must have been sleepy when I wrote my previous comment. I inserted the P.S. right in the middle of the comment!

young says:

@SavingMentor- Hey, I’m the one who has typos all the time and I spelled Winnipeg wrong lol.. so the PS in the middle of your comment isn’t a big deal.

Country Girl says:

Wow, how did the salesperson mess up all seasons and snows? The monster snow-tread should be a huge give away. Anywho, good on you guys for sticking to your guns and getting the right tires at a great price! I kinda enjoy fighting the system sometimes – once I was helping my cousin frame up some walls in his house and the local lumberyard delivered a whole load of crap wood (uneven, poorly cut, splitting). He was humming and hawing about what to do and I ended up calling the lumber yard and telling them that they could come back and get their wood because we would be going to their competitors for sending an entire load of unusable lumber. They sent the truck back with a full load of top-notch lumber. It definitely pays to complain when it’s justified.

young says:

@Country Girl- I know what you mean- I too enjoy fighting the system and “sticking it to the man”. Your cousin must be appreciative of your assertiveness and integrity for making sure you guys got what you paid for.

eemusings says:

Ugh, that’s insane – it was clearly the salesman’s fault.

We’re kind of going through this at the moment – car troubles which the mechanic can’t quite seem to pinpoint. BF is dealing with it all (after all he’s the main driver, and he’s more hardheaded than I, plus men seem to take other men more seriously, so…) Luckily they set out a quote and policy is to fix the problem as stated. The work and parts have already cost them double the original quote, but they HAVE to stand by their word and eat the loss.

young says:

@eemusings- You’re right about men taking other men more seriously, especially when it comes to cars… unfortunately that’s often the case. Glad to hear that the mechanic has a policy like that… Saves you tons of money in the long run and really, gives you peace of mind. I took my car in because of its crap fuel efficiency (it’s a Japanese car, it’s supposed to be fuel efficient) and tried to figure out why it was like that, ended up spending $250 to find out nothing I didn’t know already. Good luck with the car troubles, eemusings!

Two Degrees says:

Persistence DOES pay off!

*clap clap*

young says:

@Two Degrees- 🙂 Do you have an experience where you were rewarded eventually by being persistent? Perhaps related to your current situation? I’m sure you’ll find a great job deserving of your creativity and insightfulness soon! Good luck on those interviews!

Yang says:

I think a hidden lesson in this story is to always consult experts when making important purchases.

I’m quite surprised that the original problem with the tires came up at all. A person that’s even a little bit knowledgeable about cars can instantly tell the difference between all-season tires and snow tires. I can understand a consumer not having that knowledge but a car salesman should possess at least the BARE MINIMUM car know-how to identify winter tires at a glance. If he didn’t know that, I’m willing to bet that he really didn’t know anything else about the car.

I’m sorry but here comes some tough love: buying that car was like buying a mutual fund from a junior, fresh out of school financial “advisor.” He/she didn’t know what he/she was selling and simply read off figures from the simplified prospectus. Best case scenario, you ended up with a low cost index fund that exposes you to the level of risk appropriate to you (i.e. a car that fits in your budget and is perfect for your needs). Worst case scenario, you end up with a high MER actively managed fund filled with derivatives and other speculative holdings (i.e. a Hummer H2 on a 12% – 15 year financing plan).

May I suggest that next time you, your BF, or your readers buy a car, take a friend along that knows a little bit about cars. Everybody know a car guy or gal.

For future reference, all-season tires have the “M + S” designation printed right on the tire sidewall, after the tire brand and name. That stands for “mud and snow.” Winter tires have a symbol that looks like a little mountain with a snowflake in it. Also printed on the sidewall, right after the tire name.

young says:

@Yang- Thanks for writing, Yang. Actually, my BF is a car fanatic! He ate, slept, dreamt cars for the longest time. I think what threw him off though, is that the car salesman was adamant that they were not snow tires… and perhaps he tends not to doubt what is perceived as authority (the car salesman should be an expert on what he is selling).

That’s a great analogy you give, about investing with people that don’t seem experienced. I felt that way when I went with Investors Group (I have my experience blogged somewhere on this blog) and the guy looked like he was my age. That being said, we shouldn’t try to discriminate based on agism, but it’s definitely hard not to.

SavingMentor says:

I have gone through this process a countless number of times. So much so that now I am actually less likely to be persistent if I know the return will be low and many hours of my time will be wasted. True, you can usually get something – but it is rare that the end result is worth the amount of time and effort you put into getting it, especially with big companies.

The reason I have spoken to so many manages and so many customer service folks is that I tend to try and do creative things when it comes to saving money that the person I am dealing with is often walking on completely new ground to them. Mistakes are often made and sometimes lies are even told (by them) and many times there are conveniently “no notes in the system”. For a while I actually went so far as to record ever customer service call I made to make sure that I would have a record of any promises made.

P.S. Thanks for linking to my article on tires. You can still use that general process to get summer all season tires as well. I like the General Altimax HP tires for everything but winter driving.

With Bell, it was proven to me that even having a foolproof record isn’t good enough for them to admit that they were wrong – not even a higher up manager would officially acknowledge their mistake even when given the proof. I’ve since been more lax at recording calls and just hoping for the best unless it is extremely important.

All that to say that persistence does usually pay off and it can be worth it to teach them a lesson or to prove your point. However, sometimes you just have to cut your losses and figure out what path with cause you the least in terms of out of pocket cost, time spent, and emotional stress.

young says:

@HowtoSaveMoney- That is definitely the case when you’re trying to renew or renegotiate a new contract- I have been told the same thing too “no notes in the system” and had also thought that perhaps I should record what they are saying and what promises the CSR’s make. Emotional stress is a big factor, sometimes it’s not worth the effort, the time, and often the way negotiating and complaining like this makes you feel (like ones’ getting into some bad karma or something).

krantcents says:

I often wonder how many people just give up! Most companies do not let you speak to a decision maker until you have made a variety of phone calls. In many cases, just going to the person who has the authority to make a decision is a lot easier. I have had good luck writing compelling letters to Fortune 500 CEOs. I did that with Verizon about a year ago.

young says:

@krantcents- really? wow! Did they respond back in person? That’s very impressive, that CEO’s for Fortune 500 companies will respond! Must have been a really bad experience with the company?

Echo says:

I had this happen to me with Bell Satellite TV. I was calling to complain about being overcharged on my bill. When all was rectified, the agent asked me if I would like the movie channels free for 30 days. I said no, since I didn’t want to have to call back and cancel in 30 days (since they would start charging me automatically). The agent said that she would cancel the service after 30 days and I would not have to call. So I agreed.

About two weeks later my bill shows up and there is a $19.99 charge for the movie channels. Not only did I not get the movie channels free for the 1st month, I was being charged full price!

I had to call and speak to about 4 different people to explain what happened. Nobody understood what was going on (since there is no way to get the same agent on the phone who you dealt with in the first place).

Finally I spoke with a manager and they credited my bill after I threatened to cancel my account. If this was their solution to my initial problem of a billing error, they just magnified it by 1000!

I think those types of call centres intentionally make it difficult to resolve your problems and hope you will just go away. You need to be persistent, not only to get what you want, but to make sure you don’t get taken advantage of.

young says:

@Echo- That sounds.. really annoying! But very common. That’s often the same case when you’re negotiating for a new cell phone plan (they always make mistakes even when I ask them to repeat what they are offering on the contract), and once you get the phone you have to triple check often.

I have become a bit of a bitch nowadays and when I get the “circular talk” I just ask to speak to the manager in a nice way.

That’s a great theory (albeit skeptical)- that they make it intentionally difficult to resolve your problem… I hope that’s not the case though, otherwise I will have have lost a little more hope for the goodness of humankind 🙁 Anyone who works at call centres who can confirm this? That you guys just throw us for a loop and see how frustrated we can become, like mice running on a wheel?

Squirrelers says:

In your example, the store clearly made a mistake, and your BF bought the tires based on erroneous information provided by the store’s salesperson. They should have stepped up without the need for the customer being persistent.

I’ll have to think about it, but I can recall one example from a LONG time ago – like 15 years ago when much younger – which is a much smaller scale example but one that shows persistence. Kind of funny, actually.

I had ordered a pizza, which was supposed to have been delivered in 45 minutes, but after 90 minutes of no delivery I finally called. They said the driver couldn’t find my address. I repeated the address, they confirmed, and then they said they’d deliver it. It never came.

So, I called the store, over 2 hours after the original order, and they said that my address did not exist. Are you kidding me?? Nobody else ever had a problem finding my place.

I called the store manager, he told me I was playing games with them and not to call back as he didn’t want to sell me a pizza. Huh? I persisted by writing/contacting the national parent company and detailing all of this lunacy. I did it several times, before they gave me a free pizza card. I never did redeem it, as at that point it was the principle that mattered. But persistence pays when dealing with goofy salespeople!

young says:

@Squirrelers- You’re so lucky your most recent experience with this was 15 years ago! That’s hilarious they said your address didn’t exist… (maybe they had lots of prank calls with fake addresses the night before?)… nowadays that issue should be a moot point as people have GPS’s now eh?

I can’t believe the store manager didn’t want to sell you a pizza, and said that to you. So did you end up getting a pizza that night?

MoneyCone says:

Good for you! I agree with Rachelle. You have to be persistent. If I think it is worth the effort I would. In your case it definitely was!

Great job getting your tires for $150.
I always find it kind of hard to complain, but will make it a point to do so in the future. 😉
I haven’t had much to complain about recently. I usually call the cable internet company when my cheap rates are up and ask for discount. Usually, they give it to me.

young says:

@retirebyforty- Wait ’till you try it more often, it gets a bit addictive 🙂 I like calling to renew cheap rates/ cheap contracts too, but it’s definitely a skill and I find myself needing to practice it.

Rachelle says:

This is completely true. I once bought 46 sheets of maple plywood at Home Depot for use in some display cabinets. Once we made the cabinets when we applied the finish on the plywood we discovered that every single sheet of plywood was defective. Specifically the glue they used to apply the veneer was uneven. The result was a tiger striped horror on our previously beautiful display cabinets.

I went after Home Depot, and got a refund for the cost of the cabinets and they delivered 46 sheets of A-1 maple plywood. It took me several months to get it sorted.

You have to be persistent, so persistent that the people who answer the telephone and their managers will pass you on to the people who have the power to say yes. This is crucial because the people who answer the phone do not have the power to say yes no matter how relevant your issue is. For publicly traded companies the people who can say yes usually have an email and phone number listed on their site. Once you perform the necessary contact with their front line customer service follow up with them.

young says:

@Rachelle-Ugh.. tiger striped horror sounds pretty darn horrendous… especially knowing one has paid a bit of money for that plywood (Home improvement is so expensive- I feel the pain). Home Depot is usually pretty good for refunds, but I’m surprised it took so long. They seem efficient, but I guess it’s more difficult when you get something custom ordered like that.

You’ve described the usual scenario perfectly, the phone is passed around and one has to repeat themselves over and over again… it gets tiring but hopefully is worth the effort.

I just sent off an email about poor customer service at The Brick (don’t get me started on that one…!).