Seasoned speaker, best-selling author, and founder of Hellopeter.com, the largest customer service website in the world, Peter Cheales, chats to Heavy Chef about how the idea for the website came about. We also find out how reports are monitored and filtered, and he shares his top tips for businesses in 2013. Peter also reveals the new features that are in the pipeline for Hellopeter.com.
How did the idea for the Hello Peter Service forum come about?
I talk at conferences on customer service around the world. Delegates would approach me afterwards and tell sorry tales of woe, citing specific examples. In 2000, during the crash of the Dot-Coms, I had an idea to put those sorry tales of customer service experiences on a website for all to see. I invented the blog before the word ‘blog’ was ever in existence. With one gigantic difference; I provided the suppliers with the opportunity to respond. Whereas with a blog it is just a ‘discussion’. In other words, the difference is that Hello Peter focuses on ‘problem-solution’, rather than ‘discussion’.
However, the main problem with customer service experiences is that they are extremely subjective – what great service is for me might be bad service for you. Therefore, by creating a ‘problem-solution’ format, viewers can not only sympathise with customers, but also with the supplier concerned.
Is there a filtering or monitoring system that evaluates the worthiness of a complaint?
It is often difficult to write the emotion that goes with a bad service experience. The issue is not just in delivery of the goods or service, it’s in the experience. Therefore, viewers might deem the report to be petty but in fact it is the experience that caused the writer to pen the report in first place.
A report is published instantly, but we do have hundreds of thousands of editors in place – in addition to my own staff. At any point in time, we have over 250 000 editors! The editors are very brand loyal – they are the users of the website and they assist in filtering the reports. You can click on an inappropriate link and then we investigate further. So, the users of HelloPeter.com are our most loyal fans but at same time they make the site work. They work the site. The second editing facility is done through the suppliers themselves. They use the site mechanisms to alert us to a problem.
Was the initial purpose of the forum meant to be helpful or harmful to brands? How to you perceive it to be now?
The initial purpose has always been to assist companies, not to berate them. The initial idea was to provide an unbelievably cheap way of obtaining research and feedback from customers for the companies concerned. Hello Peter provides raw data regarding the customer’s experience with that company. The research is not forced or conducted by a team, it does not identify segments of a market, it’s just pure feedback. Research by specialised houses can be extremely biased. This is not biased. It is people who have had a good or bad experience. Period. Raw data. Companies take heed – those who do, do extremely well.
How does the payment system for brands work? For example, if there are no complaints for that brand in a particular month, do they still need to pay?
All companies who respond on HelloPeter.com pay an annual admin fee. It is R427.50 a year. In addition, there is a sliding scale in accordance to the number of reports that they receive over a twelve month period. This is bracket based. So for example, insurance companies and banks with many reports will pay more per year than the corner café.
How active is the Hello Peter website every month?
Firstly, it is important to note that users are more prone to complain than compliment, that is part of the human condition.
So, for companies who respond: 70% are complaints and 30% are compliments. For companies who don’t respond: 85% are complaints and 15% are compliments. The Hellopeter.com website receives 600 000 visits per month, and spend an average of 6 minutes on the the site.
What top two tips would you give businesses that will ensure they are on the path to offering a world-class service?
My top tip for CEOs in 2013: lock your office, throw away the key and do not enter for one month. Spend time with customers. Pretend you are a customer of your company. The higher up in an organisation you go, the more participation you should have with your customers. Unfortunately, many CEOs and middle management deem it beneath them to interact with customers and leave that critical function to front line staff. Do not rely on the internet; ensure direct contact with your customers.
Secondly, ban meetings – during working hours. Meetings are great, when no customers are around. Become accessible to customers. Totally accessible.
Do you have any new projects in the pipeline that you would like to share with us?
There are no new products that I’m launching – yet. But I’m working on a number of features for the Hello Peter website. Two aspects include; providing more facilities for companies who respond, and using other social media tools to carry the HelloPeter.com message.
In today’s environment, our focus should be on how to utilise the experts. We in South Africa constantly polish our halos, but compared to serious social media out there, we are like dust in a storm. So I’m constantly pursuing ways of interacting on a more powerful basis with the big players out there like Facebook and Google. But not in the cliché way – there are much more powerful ways. These social media platforms must be viewed as channels, very powerful ones at that. My focus is not like other website owners out there – it is not about scoring likes or Google ranking. That is cliché and pointless. Too much emphasis is placed on that. There are far more powerful methods of utilising the ‘big guys’.
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