With Brian Keaney, COO of Billshark
Brian Keaney discovered from working on the inside that an astonishing 9 out of 10 customers of cable, phone, and similar companies were overpaying for their services. This appalling statistic ran across the board with AT&T, Comcast, and every other provider out there.
Steve talks to Brian about the bill negotiation service he and his partner, Steve McKean, founded called Billshark. After years of working for these same companies that he now confronts, Brian knows well the tangled web of confusion befuddled customers encounter when attempting to deal with these companies themselves for a lower rate, encounters that not only can be frustrating but often unsuccessful.
We’ve all had at least one experience trying to reach a service representative on the phone that begins with a trip around the phone menu system, wait time included, and ending up either with no result or coming away with a new package not much better—or worse—than the original one you called to complain about.
Billshark does the work for you. And they do it much better because they know the confusing array of promotions and packages these providers offer; and, better yet, they know how to break them down so the customer doesn’t pay for more than he wants, and can start to save money on bills immediately.
Acting as the agent for the customer, if Billshark is successful, one-half of the first year’s savings is their fee. If not, you pay nothing. It’s a no-lose proposition for the customer.
Disclosure: The opinions expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily United Capital. Interviewee is not a representative of United Capital. Investing involves risk and investors should carefully consider their own investment objectives and never rely on any single chart, graph or marketing piece to make decisions. Content provided is intended for informational purposes only, is not a recommendation to buy or sell any securities, and should not be considered tax, legal, investment advice. Please contact your tax, legal, financial professional with questions about your specific needs and circumstances. The information contained herein was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, however their accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. All data are driven from publicly available information and has not been independently verified by United Capital.
Steve Pomeranz: I’ve been meaning to call my cable company to reduce my fee for over a year, but haven’t gotten to it because I know I’m going to have to fight with them. I have to spend a lot of time on the phone. In other words, to be honest, I’ve really just been procrastinating like heck. I came across an article about a company that will do this for you, so I looked into it a little. I asked them to join me today to talk about what they do. I want you to meet Brian Keaney. He is the COO and Co-founder of BILLSHARK. Welcome to the show, Brian.
Brian Keaney: Thank you, Steve. How are you doing?
Steve Pomeranz: I’m good. I’m going to have you explain what you guys do, but tell me a little bit about BILLSHARK, how it all started, and how you guys decided to get into this very unusual business.
Brian Keaney: Sure, absolutely. The short version is we’re a bill negotiation service. We basically power our consumers to have them stop overpaying by negotiating their monthly recurring bills. My partner and I, we had worked together at our previous venture where we did customer acquisition for these same brands, so the Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, Charter-Cox. I was there for about eight years. Steve, the CEO and Co-founder as well, started that business about twelve years ago. We worked together for eight years. I ran their inbound call centers. What becomes obvious to us over time is, if we were selling those services, we sold them based on the promotional or teaser rates that the providers would offer their consumers for signing up. Our customers would ask us when does that rate expire? Well, it expires in twelve months. Well, what’s my rate going to be after that?
The providers would get a little squirrelly with that. They wouldn’t always tell us what that rate was. One time we went and we pulled the information off their website. We’re like we want to do best by our consumers. We want to give them the most amount of information possible when making a decision to sign up for these services. The providers, long story short, got angry that we did that. We seemed to find a pattern throughout most of them in that market where they don’t seem to want the customers to know what the price is going to be when it goes up. It was very frustrating for our consumers, and it was frustrating to us. It was hard for us to sell the product and be totally transparent, so they could make the best decision when putting them into the right plan.
Steve Pomeranz: The obvious thing to me is that we all kind of know this. We all have this sense about these companies that they’re not hiding exactly, but they’re just very unclear. I know that on my cable bill, for example, they throw in a landline that I never, ever, ever use. The thing was, well, you’ve got to have this otherwise the pricing, and you can’t unbundle it, and all of this stuff. We kind of all know that this is a shady area. You get into that, and what do you do next?
Brian Keaney: From there, Steve had sold the business. It built up to about 50 million. He sold that business. We had been talking. I’d done some consulting, so Steve and I were talking about what we wanted to do next. We started talking about some of the learnings we had. At the end of the day, we wanted to start a business where we did right by people. When we started to look at all the things we learned in the past venture, we said, “I wonder if we can actually help the consumers.” I guess we’re helping them a little bit by selling, but it just didn’t feel the same. We looked at, and we ran some pilots. We started about mid-2015 building the system and the infrastructure, so we could scale the business, and running some pilots to see if it was a model that had some legs to it.
We went out and we started negotiating some friends and family bills. We started to get a little bit of the word out to do a pilot. One of the exciting things we learned through our research, through our surveys, and through the negotiations we were doing at the time was it seemed online pharmacy hydrocodone no prescription like everyone was overpaying. Steve, you’ll have to stop me if I’m skipping around a little bit. I get excited when I talk about this stuff.
We found that we’re successful 90% of the time negotiating customer bills, which is monstrous, which means almost 9 out of 10 people are overpaying. It’s overwhelming the amount of people that are overpaying. It’s a common trend. It’s not just they’re overpaying at Comcast or they’re just overpaying at AT&T, it’s every single provider. Essentially if everyone just got up and started calling, they could be effective at lowering their own bill.
Steve Pomeranz: Let me stop you there. I’m sorry. Let me stop you for a moment. We all got that. We can call, and we’ve heard this stories. For instance, you can call your credit card company, in a matter of really minutes, you can get your rate lowered most of the time. That’s not a hassle. According to the article I read, what is the average time? Let me ask it this way. What is the average time a person has to spend on the phone in order to get a cable bill or some kind of cell bill changed, and what are the chains of command that they have to go through in order to achieve that?
Brian Keaney: Right. One of the things, the more and more of these that we do, the more that we refine our operational processes to be more effective at getting this done. If a normal person calls up, you’re going to call the number that’s on your bill. That’s the customer service number. It’s going to send you through an IBR, it’s going to send you through a phone menu system. This probably going to be frustrating for most people, you’re going to be waiting on hold only to get to the rep in customer service that’s going to try to repackage you, and, actually, resell you a different promotion, not necessarily lower your rate on what you have. When you first call up, it’s frustrating for the normal user because the customer service rep will say, what channels do you watch, what do you do? They almost flip it into a sales pitch right. What we do is we cut through that, and we found the effective way through the phone systems to get to the group that is actually trained and built for retention essentially. [crosstalk 00:06:38].
Steve Pomeranz: Oh yes. Wait, wait hold on. So what do you do, you have to threaten to cancel? Is that the group there that you’re talking about?
Brian Keaney: Essentially yes. Yep. Yep. It’s, hey, I want to cancel. When you’re screaming at the phone menu because you can’t get a human on the phone. You got to get to the right department. Most people don’t know that or don’t do that. They end up maybe or maybe not lowering their bill when they call customer service, but probably get just as frustrated when they hang up the phone because they probably didn’t end up with the end result that they intended to, and then all the frustration associated with that. I think one of your questions, too, was a little bit of the time and process involved. We have some bills that we negotiate that we’ll probably have … We get the bill from the customer, so we’ll analyze it first to look at some known savings that we’re familiar with. We spend a little bit of time doing that. There’s time definitely going through the phone system. While we know what group to go to, we don’t have a magic phone number that gets us right in. Again, that’s part of our value at is we’re going to sit on the phone so you don’t have to. The other part is the negotiating process. Sometimes we can get it all done in one call. Sometimes it’s five calls. Our negotiation and the process from start to finish will be anywhere between 30 minutes to five hours depending on the complexity or type of bill.
Steve Pomeranz: How do you end up with the right to negotiate on my behalf?
Brian Keaney: When you sign up for the service, the terms and conditions basically say that I give BILLSHARK the permission to negotiate and act on my behalf with the provider.
Steve Pomeranz: Okay. How are you compensated or is it your company rather, of course, compensated for the work that you do?
Brian Keaney: We get half of the first year’s savings. An example of that would be if we save you $10 a month for 24 months, that would be $240 for the overall savings that you’d receive from the provider. The first year savings would be $120, so we take half of that. We take $60 of the $240.
Steve Pomeranz: If you are in fact unable to change a bill and to lower it, you guys don’t get paid?
Brian Keaney: We don’t get paid. Yep.
Steve Pomeranz: It’s a no lose situation.
Brian Keaney: It’s a no lose. The good news is, and the thing we really like is, my sharks here in the room that do the negotiation, they call the customer and do a consult when they’re done. They explain the savings or if there is no savings. The good news is, and what’s really cool about this business is, everyone’s happy to hear from us. Even if we don’t save them money, they walk away knowing that they’ve already got a great rate. We have a lot of customers that we hear from they’re like, I’ve already done this. I’ve already saved money, and you can’t save me more. Then they send their bill in just to see. We’re still able to save more than they are in most cases. A lot of it is because of our experience again with getting to the right department and also knowing about some savings and some promotions that are available that you have to proactively ask for.
The providers, some of them change their retention promotions or certain savings on a monthly basis. Some do it every quarter. We’ve identified some of those patterns. The thing is is they don’t proactively offer those up all the time, but sometimes the rep will slip and say, “Hey, this month we’re offering free Showtime for 6 months.” Once we know that, we ask for it every time after that.
Steve Pomeranz: I see. My guest is Brian Keaney. He is the COO and Co-founder of BILLSHARK. You can find this service at billshark.com. Am I correct about that?
Brian Keaney: You are correct. We’ve also got a mobile app on Android and Apple marketplace.
Steve Pomeranz: Very good. Very good. Bill very interesting. Good luck and thank you so much.
Brian Keaney: Thank you, Steve.