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November 19, 2010

44 easy asks (part III)

...and now, the final installment.

31. When you're not convinced by a charge, bill total, line item, explanation for service/treatment, etc.

"I noticed there's a 2% convenience charge on my bill. We didn't talk about that before the oil change. What's this for?" (Next: move to strike.)
"Hi, I'm a little confused. Why is the total $84? Maybe I didn't add it up right?"
"Would you mind talking me through this bill? I'm not understanding how the services break down."

You won't look like a miser for making sure you're not being overcharged. Moreover, you have every right to know where your dollars are going. For some reason, it took me a while to get over this. Now I ask whenever I have doubts.

32. When something is fishy or concerning:

"Did you lose something?" (To the man looking through your neighbor's rose bushes -- inspired by a true story!)
"Excuse me, can you tell me where the highway is?" (To the woman with an Alzheimer's ID necklace crossing the street alone, to make sure she knows where she is or prep an offer to help.)

33. When someone around you is being mistreated:

"Could you be more gentle? My daughter's arms are very tender from all the blood samples and IVs."
"You keep yelling at everyone. Do you need some time to yourself?"
"Do you think it's ok to sell people chairs that fall apart after the first day? My husband works hard for every dollar and when he pays $40 for a chair, he hopes it will last at least a week."

Asking, here, is a gentler way to address a problem than pointing a finger and accusing someone. I'm not saying it's the only way, or appropriate if something awful is unfolding before your eyes. But it's one more option, and a potentially lighter touch that can also be effective.

34. When someone around you is struggling:

"How can I help?"

35. When asking would make your life easier and not cost the other party anything:

"Do you have Verizon? Great! Could I use yours for a quick call to my sister, who's on Verizon, so she can pick me up, nice stranger on bus?"

36. When it would make your life easier (or someone else's) even if it's inconvenient for the other party:

"Can we meet tomorrow instead?"
"Can you open another checkout stand?"
"Can your store assemble this for us?"
"Could you please not speak so loudly?"
"Can you please bring some cups to the party?"
"Can you mark things more clearly so others don't make the same detour?"

Asking can clarify a lot of confusions, since maybe the other part doesn't mind accommodating you in the least. This is valuable in both retail and non-retail contexts.

36. When something is really annoying you:

"Do you think you could stop talking so loudly/drumming your fingers/leaving your laptop that loud? Everyone else is trying to sleep. I don't mean to be 'that crazy uptight lady,' but we're all just exhausted."

If you're nice and not demeaning, chance are the other person didn't realize she was being offensive. And if she did realize it, your friendly attitude will make it easier for her to withdraw while saving face, instead of digging her heels in.

37. Whenever you can swing a (humorous?) customized discount:

"Could I get an end of the day discount?"
"Grad student overdraft fee forgiveness program?" 
"Do you have an 'I love your chairs but I can't afford them' sale?"
Basically, this involves reading the situation and making a sweet/amusing request for a better price.

38. When you're a regular:

Nonchalant:  "Malissah, hey! So you got those new scarves in? Loooove 'em, girl! So, give me the dirty truth: What's the best price you can give me? You know I never pay retail here. Hahaha!"

Candid: "Sam, I've been coming here for years and you know more about my finances and sex life than my sister does at this point, so I have to ask you something: Can you give me a break on highlights for a while? I just can't afford $80 every six weeks, ever since I started working part time.." [Perhaps Sam would rather keep you at $50 than lose your business entirely, hoping you'll stick with him when your budget is better.]

39. When you've really hit it off with the salesperson:

"Hey there. Welcome to Magical Mittens!"
"Hi! How long have you guys been open on Saturday mornings?"
"We just opened last weekend."
"Really? Congrats! It's such a smart move, since I'm always walking by on weekends. I'm going to tell all my friends."
"Awesome, thanks!"
"Oh, these gloves are adorable. What are the chances you'd let me have them for $30?"

40. When you can turn the salesperson into an ally:

"I need to find a wedding present for my boss, and I have $100 to spend, I know most of the things in your gorgeous store cost more, but this is her favorite boutique. Maybe I could get her two smaller things, or... what do you think? I'd appreciate any suggestions."
"What colors does she like? What's her home style like?"
"She's always wearing blue, and her husband-to-be is a sailor."
"We just got in the cutest blue candlesticks, shaped like anchors. I bet they'd love them. They're over $100, but I'll see what I can do about the price. We have a sale starting tomorrow -- let me check if these are included."
41. When you can offer something in exchange: 

"Any way you can help bring this price down? I'd love to tell my Facebook friends or tweet about you or whatever, to say thanks." (disclaimer: I have never offered blog publicity in exchange for a discount. I have offered to spread the word to friends or Yelp if someone is generous.)

42. When you really, really need something and money (or access or ability or permission) is an obstacle:

(This is different from having a discretionary budget. This is about urgent needs.)
"I need to get back inside the terminal. I left my ID inside the plane. Please let me in, or send someone for it? Is there anything you can do?"
"I'm sorry but TSA regulations stipulate --"
"I'm about to give birth! And my car just drove itself into a hydrant! And my house is on fire! This is urgent!
"Ok, come this way."
The bottom line is this: if something needs to happen, asking is a smart place to start.

43. When the other party has nothing to lose:

"You quit? Congratulations!"
"F*ck this joint."
"Totally. So listen, I can finally ask you for this favor. Tell me how much Frank earns, please!? You have access to the payroll data, don't you?"

44. When the other party has something to gain:

"I really love this car, and you are $4,000 away from breaking the record for a Sunday night. How about you sell it to me for $4,001. Hell, $4,002. And then we can both go home satisfied?"

The list has grown since I started:

45. When you're dealing with an aggressive asker:

"Can you bring me a coke?"
"Can you move the car?"
"Can you give me $100?"
"Can you listen to me complain about my job for 2 hours?" 

If someone else asks you for things repeatedly, it's only fair to reciprocate. :)

46. When you've been asked:

"I can't lower the price to $200, but how about I give you free delivery?"
"I can't drive you after home after Thanksgiving, but can I give you Rupert's number? She's lives that way."
"Why do you think this desk is worth less than $50?, even if it is Craigslist."

47. When you're asking for someone else:

"My mom would love a table by the fireplace."

48. When you're buying any kind of package:

"Let's see, so for the consultation and plan you're charging $200, the project management is $200, your time and labor after that is $1200. That's $1600. I need you to give me a better price."

49. When you've seen others asking for the same thing, even if you hesitate for some reason:

"Can we get an extra chair for our purses?"
"Can I take off the Friday after Thanksgiving?"
(If other patrons, or your friends, or coworkers, ask for something, why shouldn't you?)

50. When you have the hunch that it just can't hurt to try:

Sometimes an issue seems complicated, but it's so, so, so simple. Just go for it!

"Can I ask you a question?..."
"Is there anything you can do to lower this price?"
"Any chance x could become y?"
"Would you mind if I...?"


These can and should be combined! Read people, read situations, get context, get experience, and get creative.

I left out "please" and "thank you," but these are a must. I'm not just talking about old fashioned courtesy (which is underrated) but also genuine appreciation. If someone goes out of his or her way for me, I'm grateful and I show it.

Remember that the other party can always say no, so leave the guilt at the door. (If you think that's not the case, and you're in a position of power or at an unfair advantage, skip asking.)

Many of these methods require some discernment. For example, taking advantage of a going-out-of-business warehouse sale when the owner is desperate to make ends meet and pay his mortgage, versus getting a great discount from a powerhouse liquidator who's jacking up prices preemptively and putting people out of work. Use your judgment, savvy reader. Ask responsibly.

And remember: You're worth it!!! Ask away!!

In too many cases, there's no good reason not to.

And if you're not getting enough rejections, you're probably not reaching far enough.
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