The arrival of social media has given everyone a megaphone to complain loudly and hold companies accountable for poor customer service.
Now there are several startups that are helping people do more than just complain when a flight is delayed or a cop issues an unfair parking ticket.
Nicolas Michaelsen likes to call what his startup does “justice as a service.” Michaelsen founded Airhelp with Henrik Zillmer, Greg Roodt, and Morten Lund in January 2013. The company helps passengers reclaim money from airline companies after flights have been canceled, delayed, or over-booked. Airhelp connects to Gmail accounts and searches for airline tickets up to three years prior. If a ticket qualifies for a refund, Airhelp will bring it to the airline’s attention and take 25% of whatever money is reclaimed.
Most people don’t realise their rights or know how to fight big companies when they’re wronged. For example, most people who fly within Europe don’t realise that if their flight is delayed more than 3 hours, they can claim $US800 from the airline, pending there is no extraordinary circumstance such as a terrorist threat or inclement weather. If you’re flying domestic in the United States and get bumped from a flight, you can claim up to $US1,300 from the airline.
Airhelp has worked with 45,000 passengers to give them money they may not have known they were owed. The company, which now employs 25 people and recently completed the Y Combinator startup accelerator, says it has taken airlines to court 50 times and it has won all 50 of the cases.
“We started with an assumption that people wanted this service,” Michaelson told Business Insider over Skype.
One month after Airhelp launched it was featured in the Consumer Rights Show in Europe. Essentially overnight, 3,000 people visited Airhelp’s makeshift website and asked for help with previous airline tickets. Michaelson remembers working all day and night for one month straight to answer all the inbound interest. He estimates that 26 million passengers are eligible to receive refunds from airlines every year.
“There is this huge trend in companies that are empowering consumers,” says Michaelson. “It’s a natural evolution. With social media … consumers have the power to make or break a brand. This is the next step where you’re actually able to enforce your own rights.”
With social media, consumers have the power to make or break a brand. This is the next step where you’re actually able to enforce your own rights.
71lbs is a similar-minded company that helps businesses reclaim money they’re owed by delivery services such as FedEx or UPS. A new startup, Fixed, is helping San Francisco residents fight parking tickets with its mobile app.
David Hegarty and DJ Burdick cofounded Fixed last fall after Hegarty received five parking tickets in three weeks. Hegarty knew how to contest tickets, but he realised that his friends didn’t know and often just paid the fine.
“I’m a stickler for protesting all my parking tickets,” he told Business Insider over the phone. “I really think it’s a racket by the city. It’s become a form of revenue. When you start giving officers quotas, people lose respect for the [authorities issuing] parking tickets,” he says.
In San Francisco, there are a number of ways to get parking tickets contested. Fixed’s team of seven look for errors on the ticket write-ups; sometimes police neglect to fill out mandatory line items, which gets drivers off the hook. The startup also uses Google Street View to look at signage where tickets are issued; if a parking sign can’t be seen by a reasonably observant person, tickets can often be waived.
Without much effort, the startup got noticed by Square founder Jack Dorsey who tweeted about it along with Ivanka Trump. By the end of that week, Hegarty says 25,000 people had signed up for Fixed’s waitlist.
In March, Fixed launched its iPhone app, which asks users to take photos of their tickets. For every ticket Fixed gets waived, it charges 25% of the fee the person would have had to pay. If Fixed doesn’t get the ticket waived, it will pay the ticket with a pre-uploaded credit card. Hegarty says his team processes about 300 tickets per week.
The startup recently raised a $US1.2 million seed round from Y Combinator, Merus Capital, and angel investors. Hegarty hopes to expand Fixed to the nation’s top 100 cities within two years.
“There are a lot of times where the little guy gets screwed,” Hegarty says of his startup’s mission. “For most people it’s really hard to fight [a big company] the first time…That’s a perfect problem to get solved by software.”
Companies aren’t thrilled by the companies Hegarty and Michaelson have created. But they’re starting to realise the importance of keeping customers happy.
“Every time I go to the airport I’m like, ‘Is this the time they’re going to deny me boarding?'” Michaelson laughed. “At first they weren’t very happy about what we were doing. … But they have started to understand they have to be proactive about this. Keeping existing customers happy is worth more than acquiring a new one.”