Karens For Hire handles customer service complaints for frustrated consumers
“It would never come,” said Ray, 29, a federal worker in Denver. “I would be in tears on the phone.”
And so, defeated as many are by an increasingly automated, outsourced, and dehumanizing economy, she called on a Karen.
Ray already knew the get-me-the-manager Stereotype “Karen” – privileged, empowered and demanding – when she saw a TikTok video about a company called Karens for Hire (“We Karen so you don’t have to”), which promised to harness the power of accomplished plaintiffs in the service of the beaten customers, abused tenants and anyone else with a dispute that has exceeded their own ability to complain.
As the holiday season floods the economy with returnable goods and on-demand refunds, the Pennsylvania-based group hopes to bring some edgy energy to the stuffy world of consumer advocacy groups. They join the ranks of those who line up on the side of the stranded, including countless “On Your Side” local news segments, the Better Business Bureau, and nonprofits such as Elliott Advocacy and Clark Howard’s . Consumer Action Center.
“People today expect to be treated terribly by big business,” said Howard, a longtime Atlanta-based consumer champion on radio, TV and podcasts. “Sending a group of Karen after them could be their worst nightmare.”
Ray thought the Karens for Hire video was just funny until she told a friend about it the next day. Suddenly she stopped.
“Wait a minute, I could use someone like that with Aetna,” she said.
Ray found the company website and read encouraging reviews. The average fee of $65 seemed well worth it. She sent a request for help.
“Your estimated wait time”
His plea arrived at a 19th-century brick house on one of Pittsburgh’s grand boulevards. Here, in a drafty ground floor apartment, Chris Grimm, 44, and Fallon Zecca, 35, are trying to start a small business and also revolutionize the way we complain.
One December morning, Zecca is where she often is: waiting. “Your estimated wait time is four minutes,” said a voice from the speaker on her dining room table. Her personal best is three hours on hold (with Air Canada), but this time she’s on the phone quickly with a travel broker dragging her feet to reimburse a frustrated traveler.
“Hi, this is Fallon from Karens for Hire and this is my third call…” Zecca said, launching into a recap of her client’s complaint: a last-minute canceled flight that forced her to rent a car and driving hours from Toronto to Pittsburgh. to avoid running out of work.
Across the table, Grimm – his business and romantic partner – was poring over the fine print of a solar panel deal. A family in California tried for months to figure out why their rooftop array was producing less than a third of the expected voltage, leaving them with low bills of $200 a month. The company that sold and installed the system had stopped responding.
“They have a good record,” Grimm said, pointing to the provision that promised monthly bills of just $19. He had the owner’s hotline in hand and now he was typing his arguments on a laptop with “You must believe” written on a post-it note next to the keyboard.
Karens for Hire, which includes two other part-time attorneys and one retainer attorney, has received more than 2,300 requests for help since its launch last spring. The table is littered with scribbled notes and figures, the detritus of hundreds of deals gone wrong, of disputes large and small, corporate and local, petty and deep.
The ranks of angry upset grow as some companies decide it’s cheaper to attract new customers than to keep old ones.
“Over time, the attitude of companies has changed from ‘We want to resolve a conflict with customers’ to ‘We want to drive the customer away,'” said Christopher Elliott, a consumer columnist whose Elliott Defense non-profit assists over 10,000 people a year with business complaints. His columns have appeared in the Washington Post.
Many of those who have turned to the Karens send for help only after bruising their foreheads against the brick walls of Airbnb, Facebook, Ticketmaster, T-Mobile, car dealerships, service providers. Internet access, insurance companies, moving companies and contractors.
Others have sought help from the start, either too busy or too intimidated to make their own way.
Many of the group’s clients are recent immigrants, aware that poor English or a strong accent are a disadvantage in the daily battles of American commerce.
Among the cases in the active file:
– the Massachusetts seamstress gets stiffed by a celebrity chef who wore her creation to the Met Gala but then refused to return or pay for it.
— the woman trying to end her $4,500 contract with the “It’s Just Lunch” matchmaker after asking out a man who loved hiking and was matched instead with a man who mostly wanted to try on women’s shoes .
– the low-income Memphis tenant, a disabled single mother, was evicted from her apartment in apparent violation of tenancy laws.
For the latest case, Grimm provided the woman with a pro bono tutorial on protecting federal tenants and how to enlist HUD’s help. He had just helped a New Jersey woman write a letter to the Kia dealership reluctant to replace her engine.
Many of their clients don’t need a mercenary complainer so much as basic instructions on how to complain.
“People don’t know how to defend themselves,” Grimm said.
For these two, it comes naturally. They both describe learning to speak early in rowdy families in Pittsburgh.
“We are Italians,” explained Zecca. “We don’t really have a voice inside.”
They both became essential repairers for relatives and friends who had products to return or refunds to demand.
“If something was broken, my mom would just throw it away,” Zecca said. “I would say, no, they sold us this product that didn’t work, and we’re taking it back. These companies want to make it difficult, so you give up.
Both have experience working in grievance-prone companies, including technology and healthcare. Zecca still works full-time for a medical software company. Grimm was once a clerk at the Apple Store and spent six years behind the service desk of a Mercedes dealership, where he saw low sales but the highest customer approval ratings in the company.
“I used to tell people that they didn’t have to do unnecessary work all the time,” he says.
The Karens for Hire light bulb went out in early 2022. ‘We could do this as a business,’ they said one evening, laughing at Zecca’s involvement in his boss’ months-long battle with Home Depot about a botched refrigerator installation.
Grimm, who had recently quit his job with a case of burnout at the service center, built a website heavy with references to Star Wars and the Marvel universe (just like their house). A video someone posted on ICT Tac about the signs they put up around Pittsburgh – “Karens for Hire, Entitled to Help” – generated a flurry of inquiries and an article by Yahoo finance.
They knew hanging on to “Karens” — the aggressively hair-styled white matriarchs of the meme menace — would be eye-catching, but also provocative, marketing. Not everyone is having fun.
They were featured last summer by local CBS-affiliated morning show “Pittsburgh Today Live” only to find the segment disappeared online. Someone had apparently objected to the Karen concept. The station, KDKA, did not respond to a request for comment.
“We’re not talking about yelling at the barista,” Zecca said. “We want to harness Karens’ power for good.”
Indeed, some who have tried to join their team have been too Karen.
“How stupid are you? It’s not that hard to figure out,” one contestant said in a test call before Zecca could rush the mute button and take over.
“It’s never the fault of the person answering the phone,” Grimm said. “This person is getting joke pay just to get yelled at.”
Instead, like other Defenders, the Karen hunt higher up the chain of custody. (Elliot Advocacy, for example, maintains a public database CEO phone numbers and emails.)
Grimm was unlucky with a monopoly ISP in Arkansas that had driven a family crazy by failing to connect them after more than three years of phone calls. Then he asked the woman to hand over her phone to a visiting technician and whispered the department head’s phone number. Grimm and this executive eventually located the system failure that was thwarting the process and the cycle was complete.
“I put a lot of lunch hours into this for three years,” said Amanda Boshears, 35, who paid the Karens $50 for the service.
Tasha Ray was also exhausted trying to extract this letter from Aetna.
Ray’s brother and his disabled mother in Atlanta had been waiting for weeks for her to be admitted to a treatment center. But an old policy from a decade ago prevented the center from processing his Medicaid application.
When Zecca took over, she found herself in the same chess carousel, call after call, that produced assurances that came to nothing.
Finally, she composed a tweet, tagging Aetna with mental health advocacy groups, shaming the company for delaying treatment she didn’t even have to pay for. “Our client has been trying for months to get a paper that says he doesn’t have coverage with you. Why is it so difficult?”
The company responded immediately, asking for details and giving Zecca a special email address. The next day they sent the letter.
Ray was thrilled, then shocked when they said she owed them nothing for an effort that spawned a 54-message-long chain of emails.
“I still sent them $100,” Ray said. “Honestly, just knowing someone else was stalking them was a huge relief.”
For her, it was more caring than Karen.