Cable companies haven't exactly made it easy for their customers to cancel service -- last year, a recording of one couple's arduous efforts to end their Comcast (CMCSA) service went viral and prompted an apology from the CEO.
So a couple of enterprising young software developers have decided to make the cancellation process a little easier. They've created a web site called Airpaper that helps people cancel Comcast cable service without a lengthy phone call that typically involves navigating an endless phone tree maze in hopes of reaching an actual human customer-service representative. The $5 charge just about covers the cost of providing the service, say creators Eli Pollak, 26, and Earl St Sauver, 24.
"We really want to make this kind of tedious process go away," says St Sauver.
The site works by using a less obvious option for canceling Comcast service. Instead of calling to cancel, the cable carrier also allows customers to write a letter requesting an end to service. The Airpaper site collects the required personal information from a customer and sends a letter to the appropriate Comcast office closest to the customer, the founders explain. So essentially, users are paying $5 for someone else to do the inconvenient task of writing and mailing a letter for them.
The site has been nearly overwhelmed with traffic -- the founders won't disclose how much -- since going live on Friday. To announce their service, St. Sauver and Pollak initially just posted a link on Hacker News, a popular site among techies run by venture capital firm Y Combinator. The news next spread to Reddit, prompting another wave of traffic.
"We've seen incredible interest," Pollak says. "An easy Comcast cancellation has really captured people's interest in a way that even surprised us."
The developers say the Comcast canceling service is just one example of what they hope to accomplish with Airpaper. At a prior job, the two worked on software to interact with forms from state insurance departments. They quickly found themselves entangled in incompatible formats and wildly different requirements from the 50 different departments.
"There are a huge of amount of things, whether it's compliance or going to the DMV, folks are required to do that eat up huge amounts of their time and don't need to take as long as they do," says St Sauver.
Comcast didn't respond immediately to a request for comment.
With 22.3 million cable television customers and 22.5 million Internet broadband customers, Comcast is the largest U.S. cable provider. The company lost a net 69,000 cable TV customers last quarter, though many more likely cancelled. The "net" number Comcast reports combines cancellations and new service sign-ups to produce a number reflecting the combined impact.
Comcast suffered a public relations nightmare last July, when writer Ryan Block recorded a portion of his call with a customer service representative. Everytime Block asked to cancel his service, the rep verbally parried his request. A few months later, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts admitted he was "embarrased" and "disappointed" by the rep's behavior on the recording.
St Sauver says he had a similar experience in March. He was moving to Thailand but had to spend half an hour on the phone to get his Comcast service cancelled. Moving to Asia "is apparently not enough to get instantly cancelled," he says.