43

I understand the new service provider is probably looking to make sure they match the services and value my company is currently getting from their competitor, but should I share an old bill with them for this purpose? They've asked for an old bill. Yes, I am looking to replace the relationship with my current service provider because it hasn't been optimal, and I'm sure competitors are willing to undercut each other to get the business. But in regards to this competitor's request,

  1. Is it ethical?
  2. Is it lawful?
  3. Is it to my advantage?
  4. Is this commonplace, accepted practice?
  • 4
    You should make sure your contract with the previous vendor doesn't block you from sharing it from anyone else. – David K Jun 24 at 16:25
  • We are under contract. I'll check for any clauses about this. But I'm also working on exiting that contract early and I hear there are ways; I've got people working on that. – ShieldOfSalvation Jun 24 at 17:12
  • Note that in the UK a "utility bill" is an accepted and sometimes required form of proof of address - almost an identity document! – pjc50 Jun 26 at 13:55
  • That also applies in the US (using utility bills as proof of address)--except my question is regarding a business account, not an individual's. – ShieldOfSalvation Jun 26 at 14:50
128

Items 1, 2 and 4 are what you'd hope them to be - it's ethical, legal, and relatively common-place.

That said, Item 3 is where you should be concerned. And to help illustrate it, I'm going to translate it to a different situation (with the same basic point)

Scenario

You go to an interview for a new job, and the interviewer asks, "So, what's your current salary and your salary expectations for the job?"

Everything you read about this will say: Do not answer this question. The reason is simple: it's letting the company know what sort of minimum salary you'd accept. Now, maybe they were expecting to pay you between 50-60, and your answer of "62" makes them think they'll have to do better. But, more likely, they had a band of '60-75' and your answer tells them they don't need to bother going towards the upper end of the band: you'll be happy getting an offer for 64. So they offer 64. You're definitely not getting 75, even if you'd be worth that.

It's the exact same situation. The cable company is effectively asking you your "current salary" - only in this case, it's your monthly cable bill amount. Now, maybe your bill is low enough that they'll go lower than they'd ordinarily offer to beat the competitor's price... but it's also possible they'll use that information to offer you a rate higher than what they would've in a vacuum!

Generally, you should treat the two situations the same.

  • Company: "So how much are you currently spending per month?"
  • You: "Does that matter? I'm asking how much it'll cost if I switch to you."
  • Company: "But we can't beat their price if we don't know what it is."
  • You: "Then offer your lowest price. If you don't beat them, I'll stick where I'm at."
  • Company: "We need to know what their price is to continue."
  • You: "No, you don't. I want your service. I want to know how much it is per month. How much is it?"

... etc. You should only give that Current-Bill-Info in one situation: where they've given their good-faith price and it's higher than your current monthly bill, and you want to try to use your bill as leverage to lower their offer. But that's the only situation they should be privy to that information.

  • 6
    Good answer. To further illustrate and complement your example, here is a suggested reading: Does the first person to mention a number in a salary negotiation lose? – DarkCygnus Jun 24 at 20:11
  • If they absolutely insist in order to "make sure they're offering the same services you have now", you can always send them a partial bill, cropped to show the list of things you're paying for but none of the prices, personal information, etc. It would be hard to justify asking for more information after that. – bta Jun 25 at 1:00
  • Having the same services from the previous service provider maybe it's not what you want on the new, because you had paid for unused or unwanted services. Maybe one has an hosting provider that allow to use an instance of a RDMBMS that isn't now useless but is paid, or a lot of disk space it's available but not needed, one could change offer because need to downsize and change requirements. – Michele L'Intenditore Jun 25 at 9:42
  • 10
    If they offer you their "lowest price" and it's still above your current provider, you can always tell them that and when they ask for your bill again (they probably require evidence that you're not just trying to push the price down) then you can show them. I agree with Kevin though, definitely get their "Best" first. – Bee Jun 25 at 10:13
  • 1
    @busman I can't see that being a legitimate concern. What would stop employee of company A for putting his house on company B's service and getting that information himself? As a new client they would also know approximately when their ID # was generated; and so if ID#'s did relate to customer base, this would get them a better number anyways. – JMac Jun 25 at 18:26
7

Yes, but BE CAREFUL.

Avoid getting scammed. Be extremely wary of door-to-door salesmen or unsolicited phone calls (if that's the way you were approached). Note that they could be lying about the company they work for.

If the representative asks for a utility/phone bill, that bill may contain enough account information for them to switch you to a new service without your consent (in which case, your new bill with that new company will skyrocket, if only for the reason that if they lie to you about one thing, they won't have any other qualm about lying about other things). Or in some other cases, that bill or the information it contains could be used for identity theft.

That being said, assuming you've done your due diligence and you're pretty sure it's not a scam. Even then, I would suggest that you black out your account number, your address, any of your private business info, and your full name from the bill, take a photocopy of that blacked out document, and only provide that photocopy to them (either that, or tear off the private information, but look at both sides of the paper before you hand anything over).

Otherwise, here are my answers to your other questions:

Ethical? Legal?

Yes and yes (assuming it's not a scam).

Is it to my advantage?

It could be.

Notwithstanding the already excellent answer from Kevin that I won't repeat here.

The first benefit of providing a copy of your (properly blacked out) bill is a matter of convenience. And the second benefit is discovery. The fact is. This is not a salary negotiation. The stakes are a lot lower to you. And explaining all the options to you may take extra time that you simply do not want to give.

For instance, replacing your old boiler may save you thousands of dollars in energy savings and in government incentives. Or repairing your leaky swimming pool may save you equally as well. But these topics may simply never come up if the competitor doesn't see your bill.

Is this commonplace, accepted practice?

Yes.

Unfortunately, it's commonplace for both non-scammers and scammers alike.

4

I'd be more concerned with sharing personal info of my own than the company.

In my area I recently changed internet providers. The new one asked for a copy of the bill, and gave me a discount if I provided it. I had no issue with doing so, and simply blacked out the acct #. That was none of their business. But I had no issue with them seeing what their competitor charged. It only benefits the customer if businesses know what the others charge and compete for the business.

  • 2
    I was in the same situation recently, and they did not ask for the bill, fortunately, or otherwise I would had tell them to get lost. I am the customer. They also already know how much the competition charges, those are just pointless mind games or power trips, which are inadequate for someone who is providing you a service. Bills are private. – Rui F Ribeiro Jun 25 at 11:37
1

I understand the new service provider is probably looking to make sure they match the services and value my company is currently getting from their competitor, but should I share an old bill with them for this purpose? They've asked for an old bill.

Yes, of course. It done all the time.

You say "Here is an old bill listing the services I get from my current company. Show me how you can do better."

And once you change providers, you do the same thing next time you wish to put those services out to bid.

0

Is it ethical?

Why wouldn't it be? This is no different than price matching at the grocery store. "Show us our competitors coupon and we'll beat it."

Is it lawful?

Why wouldn't it be? It's your bill from the vendor. You can show it to anyone you like.

Is it to my advantage?

If it gets you a better price, then yes.

Is this commonplace, accepted practice?

In my experience, yes.

  • 1
    Why wouldn't it be? It's your bill from the vendor. You can show it to anyone you like. Not always the case - many service contracts prohibit sharing billing information. – dwizum Jun 24 at 16:59
  • @JoeStrazzere I believe that (eg) Oracle regard their license fees as commercially sensitive information, and don't allow customers to publicize them. Note that the OP is asking about business services, not private services. – Martin Bonner Jun 25 at 12:47
  • 1
    I've never had to deal with Oracle. It is possible that my belief is mistaken! Your experience may be anecdote, but it certainly trumps my "I thought I read it somewhere". – Martin Bonner Jun 25 at 20:14
-1

Is it ethical?

You should check your contract with them. If there are no contracts, you should be good to go.

Is it lawful?

Probably not but only if you signed a contract.

Is it to my advantage?

Probably not. They want to make sure their competitor isn't offering something they don't. Take for example if your bill had below that they are working on a new product soon. They could see that and try to gain insight on what it is and what they offer. Overall though you should know what you want from the service and what you're expecting. So you can go to a competitor say you're getting X, Y, Z services and want to see what they have to offer.

Is this commonplace, accepted practice?

Generally not but I have seen a bill matching for services like cell phone or internet. But even then your bill isn't so much that they want to look at it but just to verify that you are switching and not trying to just get a good deal.

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