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Got a beef with Comcast? Hire a 'chat robot' to do your haggling

So you don't feel like haggling online today over your Comcast bill?

Thomas Smyth, a 26-year-old San Francisco entrepreneur, has an answer: Download his automated self-learning chat robot to do it for you.

"We are trying to do one thing: Get your [Comcast] bill lower," Smyth said. "As the bot has more and more conversation, it figures out what works and what doesn't and improves based on that feedback. My understanding is that the script is pretty tight on their side."

Smyth's five-member company, Trim, in San Francisco's Mission District, is part of a new wave of start-up companies that utilize artificial intelligence to help millennials manage their personal lives and finances. It's also part of a broader advancement in companies focused on developing human-like computer tools such as natural-language recognition or driver-less cars.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said earlier this year in Philadelphia that he believes artificial intelligence will be important for the company's future. But perhaps he wasn't thinking in this way. Some also believe that Comcast could develop its own chat robot to talk with customers, which opens the possibility of two chat robots talking to each other over a customer's bill.

Among the companies in the Trim space are Digit, which helps people save money. "Every few days Digit checks your spending habits and removes a few dollars from your checking account if you can afford it," the company's website says. Its blog is loaded with young people saying they saved hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Fin, meanwhile, schedules phone calls or meetings between individuals by communicating by email without human intervention. "Very cool," said Smyth, a Fin user.

Trim, a company with $2.2 million in seed funding, also has launched online services that can cancel unwanted subscriptions or recurring payments, such as a membership to Hulu, and seeks to recoup overdraft bank fees for those who use it.

As Trim looked at expanding its services, employees thought about which companies frustrated their consumers the most. "Comcast is at or near the top of the list, and banks are not too far behind," Smyth said.

While not dead last, Comcast's customer satisfaction ratings rank near the bottom in national surveys. Dissatisfaction with the company's service became public and virulent in 2014 and 2015 after Comcast proposed acquiring Time Warner Cable.

Since then, the Philadelphia company has said it will spend hundreds of millions of dollars and hire at least 5,000 additional technicians and customer call center employees to improve.

But people still complain, and billing charges are a sore point. Subscribers call Comcast, and interact with it through Twitter, or online chat.

Smyth said that Trim employees quickly realized that Comcast's online customer service chat employees stuck to a narrow script that Trim's chat robot could learn and converse with.

Comcast spokesman Jenni Moyer said that the company was aware of  Trim and that the chat robot seemed to work.

About two dozen users have submitted reviews to a Google website since the Comcast chat robot was launched in early November.

Said one reviewer: "As a graduate student, I have neither the time nor the social skills to negotiate down the Comcast payments I can't afford. Trim saved me $15 a month ($25 if I had not upgraded my internet speed) and got me a $20 one time credit! Watching the chat bot do its magic was the most hilarious and satisfying 15 minutes of my week."

Smyth, a Comcast internet subscriber, said that his chat robot got him a $10 credit. So far,  about 1,600 people have used Trim's chat robot, which can be downloaded within the Chrome browser for those who enroll with Trim.

"It all happens right in front of you," Smyth said. "You can watch or you can get up. And at any time you can switch out of auto-pilot to manual so you can take control of the conversation."

Now, Smyth said, Trim is looking to expand the chat robot to other companies at which  people don't have the best customer service experience, including other cable companies, wireless carriers, and banks, the biggies in poor customer satisfaction.