Ask three times!

How often do you find yourself asking organizations for favors—discounted prices, waived policies, or extended promotional rates? Quite often, I’d suppose. And how often do the organizations say yes on the very first try? Hardly ever, if your experience is anything like mine.

But don’t hang up in a flurry of despair! Because the best negotiators know that asking multiple times—sometimes of multiple people—is often the only way to achieve their objectives. Indeed, in the domain of organizational favors, I’d say that asking at least three times is the only way to make life negotiable.

Consider five reasons:

  1. You might get a different answer. Many organizations are not known for the consistency or impeccable training of their customer service representatives. Perhaps the first representative declined your discount request simply because they yet haven’t received the discount training? And perhaps the second or third just received it yesterday?
  2. You might get a better answer. Anyone who’s ever dealt with an organization knows that “talking to a supervisor” often produces a better answer than talking to whomever answers the phone. It’s not the supervisor and the answerer are operating off a different set of policy waiver policies. Indeed, the second person is probably not even a supervisor. It’s just that they reserve the policy waivers for the people persistent enough to ask for the supervisor.
  3. You might get a more helpful person. Everyone has a bad day now and again, and customer service representatives are far from the exception. Indeed, it’s just possible that today’s the lucky day for the first representative you encounter, in which case your chances automatically increase by talking to someone less crabby.
  4. You might get experience asking the question. In addition to surfacing different people and answers, asking several times increases your own understanding of the issues. For example, a comment during your first conversation might reveal that the organization doesn’t offer “discounts” for the current bundle of services, but it might be willing to unbundle the services and reduce the price accordingly. Can you ask like that on the third try?
  5. You might learn something about the organization. Even if you don’t get a better answer or representative, and even if you don’t come up with a better way to phrase the request, you might learn something useful about the organization. At a minimum, you might learn that the organization is not delivering the level of customer service you expect, prompting a useful consideration of your alternatives. Better yet, you might gain a general appreciation for the types of policies the organization cannot waive and the types they might—an insight that will probably come in handy the next time you need a favor.

In sum, you should not take organizational denials as the end of the story—at least not until you’ve encountered a few of them. Instead, you should try to see a few organizational denials as a natural part of the process—a series of no’s on the eventual road to yes.

Screw-ups as discounts

Products that perform poorly. Services that fall short. For most of us, these are nothing more than tremendous frustrations. Fewer of us realize that they also represent tremendous opportunities—opportunities to make life negotiable by requesting a discount!

Some people don’t know that companies offer discounts to dissatisfied customers. Others know but are too afraid to ask. So let me be the one to emphasize that underperforming products and underwhelming services represent opportunity knocking! And anyone who doesn’t heed its sound may be throwing money away. So, the next time you find yourself with a dud, I’d advise you to ask the provider for recompense. “How can we make this right?” you might say. Or, “In recognition of XYZ, may I request some money back?” Off the top of my head, this approach has helped to rectify a mortgage mistake, a smoking lawnmower, an underwhelming chimney service, an inappropriate medical procedure, and creaky sofa. Pretty cool, huh?

And pretty simple, so why are so many people so afraid to do it?

Probably because they fixate on the fact that people who ask for discounts don’t always receive them. But they forget the fact that people who don’t ask for discounts almost never receive them. And they never consider three critical facts:

  • You deserve it. You paid for a particular bundle of products of services that you did not receive. So something is due back for the crummier bundle you did.
  • It’s better for them. If they’re a small company or sole proprietorship, they will probably feel better about the combination of discount plus positive word-of-mouth than no discount and a verbal thrashing. If they’re a large company, they’ll at least appreciate your reduced propensity to ding them on social media.
  • You need it. If you just paid for something big that will eventually need repairs or replacement, you really need some money back now to afford it in the future.

So the next time a purchase falls flat, I would advise you to set aside your frustration and at least consider the possibility that it represents a golden opportunity. Of course, this advice comes with some serious and crucial caveats: People who get greedy, go out looking for things to fail, or say something failed when it didn’t are acting unethically, not following the advice offered here. And yet, when things do fail, as they sometimes (often) do, we need to know how to respond. I hope I’ve offered one response that can turn this storm cloud into a sunny day.

Have you ever negotiated a discount after a product or service failed?

If you want it, just ask!

One of the simplest and yet most complicated principles of negotiation success is this: If you want something, you have to ask for it! It’s one of the simplest principles because it sounds pretty obvious. It’s one of the most complicated because few people actually do it. Put differently, most of us—myself included—want important things that we don’t request. And while that can sometimes represent a mark of maturity, we frequently fail to ask because we’re either embarrassed or erroneous in our belief that everyone else already knows our greatest hopes and desires.

So let me take this opportunity to be explicit: When you want something subjectively important, making life negotiable requires you to ask. And let me give you a simple and somewhat silly example from the last week that nevertheless makes the point.

I like to jog, and my jogging shoes recently developed the nasty habit of slicing and dicing my ankles. Badly needing a new pair as of 1/6/16, I turned the coupon drawer upside down in search of a DSW coupon. Despite the fact that DSW sends me coupons weekly, if not daily, I could only find two that had expired: $20 off (expiring 12/13/15) and $5 off (expiring 12/31/15). Though DSW’s full prices were not going to break me, I could already feel the onset of cognitive dissonance from an ill-timed, full-price purchase. My psychological health required a discount, but I had no current coupon to support one.

Now, most people in this situation would feel embarrassed to ask for a discount because they don’t really deserve one—and I have to admit that I felt a few pangs as well. But thinking that this was an apt topic for a future post, I decided to request one anyway. And I did so in a specific way: It was 10 am; I decided to go right away before they could receive any other annoying requests. Upon entry, I sought out someone with apparent managerial authorities, immediately and before offering any indication of my acute need to buy. Putting the 12/31 coupon on top—to emphasize both its relative recency and its relative affordability—I greeted the manager politely yet sheepishly, admitting (honestly) that the holidays had somehow distracted me from my DSW coupons. Could she somehow find it in her heart to honor one of them?

“Just this once, I can honor the $5 coupon,” she said. “Great!” I thought. Yes, I could’ve greedily pushed for the $20 coupon. But I wasn’t in it for the money; I was making this request because it felt important to avoid the feeling of foolishness attending a coupon-less trip to DSW.

Now, this was admittedly not the world’s most consequential negotiation. No climate accords were reached nor denuclearization plans formalized. But it nicely illustrates the point that, if you have a specific hope, wish, or desire, you’d better make sure your counterpart finds out. Think about it: what DSW manager in her right mind would’ve greeted me at the front door and spontaneously offered a discount? It just doesn’t happen. When you want something, you have to ask.

So why don’t we do that? Sometimes, we think other people can read our mind. More often, though, it’s because we’re embarrassed to make a request, particularly if we don’t think it will be granted. And here I like to highlight the bottom line from this post: If you ask for it, you may not get it. But if you don’t ask for it, you almost certainly won’t get it.

So in the spirit of a more negotiable 2016, I would encourage you to be a little more open about your hopes, wishes, and desires. Worst case: you’re no worse than you were beforehand. Best case: you’re better.

Have you ever asked for what you want and been surprised by what you get?