Outsourcing our personal, unpleasant tasks to people who can do it better, priceless.

There is new category of services that offer to take unwanted, irritating, time sucking tasks of your to do list. Tasks that you might not get around to doing even though there is a financial benefit to doing so because the hassle involved is too overwhelming. All these services ask for in return is a small percent of the financial reward, the one you were willing to forgo in the first place. Some of the services I’ve seen are:

A dreaded San Francisco parking meter.

A dreaded San Francisco parking meter.

  • AirHelp that helps passengers that were bumped from a flight or that their flight was delayed or cancelled get the money they are owed from the airlines. An app will even help you file a claim on-the-go, say when you’re stuck at an airport.
  • Fixed is a mobile app that helps contest parking tickets, currently operating in San Francisco.
  • 71lbs helps companies get back shipping refunds from FedEx and UPS when they don’t live up to their delivery guarantee.

Cable Tipster is the latest player in this group. It negotiates with cable/TV companies to get consumers the best possible rate for their needs. It goes beyond passively reacting to misstep by the government or big businesses by actively trying to get consumers better deals. Cable Tipster tries to “get a better deal on cable TV, broadband, phone and whatever other services your cable provider bundles and sells to you.” Unlike the above three services that try to get consumers a one-time refund or fee cancellation based a specific occurrence, Cable Tipster goes for long-term benefits.

The inspiration for all of these startups is the same, though. When consumers contact these businesses they are at a huge disadvantage. They don’t have the benefit of knowing all the laws in their favor, they don’t know what worked for other consumers, and they don’t know the “usual” bag of tricks that some customer service agents recite. Sometimes, they don’t even know how to get their problem resolved, from who to contact, who to talk to, or even what number to press in the IVR to get a live person.

In Cable Tipster’s case, negotiation is based on “two aspects intrinsic to the cable/broadband market: opaque pricing and the great lengths a broadband provider will go to to keep a subscriber.” The former is very hard to know as an individual but easy when you handle many such cases. The latter is just a function of how much patience a consumer for the call as the hold time and the actual call time can take hours.

All of these services tip the power balance a bit in the consumer’s side and make sense for the service that is automating them and gaining expertise to fight them better in the future. It’s the Uber for personal negotiation and it has the potential to cause big businesses (and the government) a lot of trouble.



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