12 Apr 2023

How to talk about money

Money has long been considered a conversational taboo in Britain, and people will think you are rude and intrusive if you ask direct questions about salaries, savings or house values. We are all experts at assessing other people’s worth, calibrating their expenditure and estimating their income bracket, which many of us do completely unconsciously when we first meet ­– it is all part of an elaborate social dance, where we satisfy our natural curiosity about each other by making indirect enquiries and asking leading questions.

But in these cash-strapped times, when we have all been hit by inflation and rising household bills, many of us have become much more open about household expenditure. We complain about, and compare, utility bills and we despair when we are confronted by their relentless rise.

Many of us feel compelled to take the bull by the horns by confronting our various suppliers by haggling over costs. The British, with their long history of evasiveness about money, are not natural hagglers, and many people feel squeamish when having conversations about money. These discussions, like most social transactions, will be eased if you are polite and courteous, so follow this advice if you are ringing up utility or broadband companies and trying to secure a better deal:

• It’s not shameful to bargain: Try and rid yourself of any lingering feelings of embarrassment about haggling. With multiple suppliers of utilities and services all vying for our business against the backdrop of rising costs and inflation, we are all obliged to shop around and drive a hard bargain ­– it’s how the system works.

• Civility counts: This is a social transaction, and you are much more likely to secure a discount if you come across as calm and friendly, and you establish some kind of relationship with the company’s representative.

• Don’t call when angry: If you are feeling furious about price hikes your sense of grievance will be apparent, and you may fly off the handle, which will be counterproductive. Defer the call until you have calmed down.

• Do your research: Equip yourself with all the facts, which will give you confidence and strengthen your argument. This means investigating market rates and taking a close look at alternative suppliers. It is helpful if you can cite up-to-date quotes from competitors; the customer care adviser will know that you really mean business.

• Talk to the right person: Open your call by saying “I’d like to talk to someone about my contract – I’m considering moving to another supplier” and you will soon find yourself directed to the right adviser.

• Be prepared to carry through: If you accept at the outset that you are willing to walk away from your current deal and find an alternative, you will sound genuine and heartfelt when you say you are considering leaving. If you just use the threat of leaving as an empty bargaining tool, an experienced customer care adviser will detect that there is no real danger of you going elsewhere.

• Don’t start on a negative: Kicking off with a litany of complaints about the company will only put the customer care assistant on the defensive. Save this ammunition for later in the call, especially if you feel you are not making progress.

• Be clear about what you want: This might simply be a reduced price, but decide beforehand if you would find alternative offers (reduced contract length, cash bonuses or freebies) persuasive.

• Play the loyalty card: If you feel that, as an established customer, you are being de-prioritised, politely, and regretfully, point out that you feel your loyalty is not being adequately recognised or rewarded.

• Don’t beat about the bush: Try not to use circumlocutory or indirect language, eg “I was wondering if it might be able to offer me some sort of a discount” etc. Use straightforward, direct language “Are you able to offer me a better deal?” or “Can you offer me a more competitive price?”

• Don’t be afraid of silence: It is easy to interpret silence as non-cooperation, and to react by softening your tone and reducing your demands. If there’s an awkward pause, just wait patiently for a response – it is quite likely that the customer care adviser is investigating the discount options that are available to them or checking with their manager. 

• Say thank you: No matter how the transaction went, thank the customer care adviser politely for their time – sometimes you will be offered a better deal after the call has terminated so try and leave the conversation on a positive note.


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