Removing awkward conversations as a business model

I recently took a trip to Southeast Asia. It was a fantastic visit, filled with spectacular food and impressive sights.

But I also came away with a healthy dose of bargaining fatigue, driven by the seemingly requisite haggling that accompanied every transaction. I understood the role of bargaining in the local culture, and the importance of securing the best deal for a product (with a background in sales, I appreciate the art of negotiation.) And there were certainly times where I felt like I was getting a good deal.
But the act of having to haggle for every item in nearly every situation was overwhelming and—as I talk about in our podcast—at times exhausting.

As someone who enjoys quid-pro-quo negotiation, I still found myself struggling at times to keep up with the necessity of bargaining during every transaction. It reminded me of other uncomfortable dilemmas that crop up in our daily lives, where we often wonder if there isn’t a smoother, more frictionless way of handling our everyday business.

What, for example, would happen if I had to bargain not just for a bottle of water or a souvenir but a major life decision, like putting a new roof on a house?

Actually, selecting a home contractor is a lot like bargaining. Simply choosing a contractor requires in-person consultations, back-and-forth phone calls, and often developing a professional relationship—only to have to face the inevitable awkwardness of negotiating over price. Courtesy and friendliness can keep us from asking tough questions, probing for further details, or even pushing for a more budget-friendly approach. Too often we cave, accepting prices outside of our range, simply because we want to avoid the stress of haggling.
Suddenly, what seemed at first like a luxury—avoiding an awkward conversation about finances—becomes a real need—ensuring I get the best possible price for an important service that could make a real difference to my life.

From putting on a new roof to making sure you don’t overspend on a carefully-set budget, sometimes important goals are more difficult when bargaining comes into play. Finding a way around these awkward conversations—most often about money, and how much a customer is or isn’t willing to spend—are actually key outcomes for many consumers. Not everyone is a born Bangkok bargainer, and for those who aren’t, it can cost us in the long run.

Enter services like MonsterQuote, which seek to help take the emotion out of negotiation for home repairs and contractor services by providing you with a “Personal Design Sherpa” that interfaces between you and the bidders.

Or consider an app like MyCheck, which splits a restaurant bill via smartphone, avoiding all messy inter-table negotiations. Of course, as the New Yorker pointed out, it’s not a perfect system—but, for diners who are less assertive about their finances, it can be an asset to make sure you’re paying (only) your share.

And though you might not think about it, perhaps one of the best known apps around serves as a way to avoid awkward conversations about money.

That would be Uber, the ride-sharing service which delivers a car and driver to your door through an entirely computerized interface. Unlike many car services that require a lengthy array of phone calls to schedule a pick-up and to pay for a ride, Uber conducts all the financial business via the smartphone, and makes you aware of the cost of the ride up front, before you step inside. By contrast, a conventional cab ride could involve negotiation over the route, the fare, and sometimes even the payment method before you even hit the road.
There’s no argument that there are upsides to bargaining and haggling. A skilled bargainer can walk away with a much better deal than the face value price, and in many parts of the world it is both an insult and a detriment to the merchant if a customer doesn’t haggle. But for people who struggle with bargaining and negotiation, avoiding difficult and costly conversations is a need waiting to be solved.

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