Cutting the Cord on the Cable Company Shell Game

Despite what Lily says, not all customers get the same deal. Instead, the most loyal customers may earn the worst deal.


Loyal customers don’t complain. Inertia is the 300-lb wrestler pinning them to their couches, remote controls in hand. Besides, who wants the hassle of changing cable companies? The process has become as unsavory as buying a car.

Two years ago, I called the customer retention department of our cable provider. I was looking for pricing closer to what we paid when we signed on. After receiving a silver-tongued apology, I was told no promotions were available.

Enticed by offers from one of its competitors, we changed channels.

Immediately, the cable company we left began sending us promotions for much lower rates than we’d been paying. We’ve received them weekly ever since. Regardless of its offers to buy out our contract, a deal was a deal. And ours was reasonable.

Two years later, the contract lapsed. Our bill jumped then increased again—to nearly twice the original price.

I had seen this coming at the outset when I told the sales rep I had little interest in playing a shell game once the contract expired. He said the company didn’t want to lose customers and I should call the “loyalty line” for a price adjustment. He assured me we would get it. Chasing promotions seemed a needless waste of time, but at least we had recourse.

Now, two years later, I phoned for a more competitive price. But, after an extended hold, the cookie jar was empty.

The following month, I called and ramped up the rhetoric about switching providers.

On hold again, I wondered: Is the rep scanning our unwatched recordings to assess whether my threat is idle? Reviewing our account for profitability? Or consulting the wizard behind the curtain?

“I’m sorry, Mr. Bishop, but we have no promotions at this time. We do appreciate your business. Feel free to reach out again next month.”

So, I did—after cutting a deal with another cable company at nearly half the cost.

“I’m calling to terminate my account.”

“Let me transfer you to our loyalty line.”

On hold, my antennae detected the unmistakable signal. I finally had the company’s attention. But its attempts to woo me drew poor reception. I had already signed off. Even if the company’s “no” didn’t mean “no,” mine did.

Who do you think called to solicit our business the day after we terminated it?

Switching cable companies was more bother than simply working the phones—which was bad enough. The new company sent the wrong box and made billing errors. Account activation failed. Equipment had to be returned. And now we must learn new channel numbers and adjust to another remote.

Meanwhile, we’re experimenting with streaming.

Maybe these cable companies will figure out that people are tired of the conditional promotions, the upsells, and the aggravation—and that disloyal programs are eroding their subscriber bases. They ought to power down fruitless advertising and turn on sustainable prices. That would save everyone time and money.

Lily has one thing right: Giving different deals on the same services wouldn’t be fair.

But that’s exactly what happens.

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