By Hannah Berman


Because my savvy friend Nechama always knows how to get a bargain or to strike a good deal, I complained to her about the exorbitant cost of my cable. My monthly bill is $248, but despite the fact that this covers telephone, television, and internet, it still seems unreasonably high. Nechama and I use the same cable service, and she told me that her charge had been the same as mine, but she got it reduced. She called and not only got her monthly bill down to $158, but she was also given a $100 gift card. She simply omitted several television channels that she didn’t want or need. Nechama said I could do the same but warned me that it might not be easy. She had to make three separate calls and speak to three different people before getting satisfaction. “If you don’t like the deal you are being offered by the first person who takes your call, just hang up, call again, and speak to somebody else.”

Elated by the prospect of getting my bill reduced by $90 each month, I placed the call. It was to be the first of many. What followed was something close to torture. My calls went on for more than three hours and were actually painful. Having a root canal without Novocain might have been more pleasant. I lost count of how many calls I made and how many different people I spoke to. No two people provided the same information. After I agreed to remove several stations, the first person I spoke with said that my bill could be reduced by $25. I hung up on her. This was not a meaningful reduction.

Remembering Nechama’s words, I made more calls. Even making the calls was not a simple task since I was never immediately connected to a live person. My response was an automated system asking if I wished to hold on for the next available representative or if I wanted a call back. Twice I opted for the call back, but when that call came, it was another recorded message saying that if I was “valued customer Berman,” I should press button number 1. I pressed 1 but it was not recognized by the system, and I was offered alternative options, none of which pertained to my reason for calling. My patience was wearing thin. I get powder gel manicures, so biting my nails was not an option. But it was tempting! I wondered how they treat customers who are not “valued.”

After getting the same result on my next try, I called again, but now I was wise to them so I didn’t opt for a call back. Instead, I agreed to hold until there was an available person to speak with.

What follows is an overview of what I had to deal with: One woman said she could bring my bill down to $195 plus tax, and another also said $195 but that it did include tax. One man said my bill would be $208, another said $205, and a third said it would be $217. Some of these included tax, others did not. But I refused to give up. If Nechama could do it, so could I! After three hours and twenty-eight minutes of fruitless and frustrating calls, I spoke to a woman who said my bill would go down to $186 plus tax. I grabbed the offer because I wasn’t certain there would ever be a better one.

Every person I spoke with was polite and pleasant. Each one said that he had no idea why I had received misinformation in the previous call but assured me that this would be the last call I would have to make as he would provide the correct information. Ha! On one call, after speaking with a lovely-sounding gentleman for more than ten minutes, we were disconnected, and he never called me back. I felt knots forming in my stomach, but I called again.

There was more to the process of reducing my bill. I could give up one of my cable boxes. I have three but use only two, and removing the third would save another $10 each month. Nechama said she had done that as well. The company had sent a bag to her with a mailing label on it. She put the box in the bag and mailed it back. However, when I asked for that, I was told that bags are not supplied unless there is an exchange being made. But there was no exchange. This was strictly a one-way deal since I wouldn’t be receiving anything from them. Two other people said they most certainly could send a bag to me, but there would be no mailing label on it. Both agreed to send a mailing label to me via e-mail, but when I opened those two e-mails, neither one contained a link or offered an attachment. I persevered and eventually spoke to two more people who said that they could indeed send a bag to me and that it would have a mailing label on it. As of this writing, no such thing has arrived. Some of the reps I spoke with said that I had to return the bag via FedEx, and others said I could just drop it off at a post office. The knots in my stomach were growing.

I called again to ask if I could skip mailing the box and simply return it to one of their locations. I was told that the closest location to me was in Brooklyn. That was out of the question since, based on my experience with this outfit, I couldn’t be sure that there actually was a cable office there. By now I trusted nobody. Finally, one lady said I could secure a mailing label by going online. It worked! I went online, got a label, and printed it out. The label indicated that, indeed, it must be returned via FedEx. I could forget the nonsense about bringing it to the post office. So I will get a container, attach the label, place the box inside, and send it back. But I have yet to do this because right now I’m still too worn out by having had to deal with the many fruitless phone calls. They sapped my energy. When I recover, I will get behind that unwatched television, unplug the box, and bring the package to a FedEx office.

I never did ask for that $100 gift certificate that Nechama had gotten because nothing is worth dealing with those people again. No two people provided me with the same information. That’s the way it was, and most likely, that’s the way it will remain.

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at or 516-295-4435.


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