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Is Helpful Or Harmful To Brands? Founder, Peter Cheales, Explains Posted in Heavy Chef News, Concocted by Wendy Tayler, 10 comments
Published on 10 January 2013

Seasoned speaker, best-selling author, and founder of, 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

Photo courtesy of 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 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 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 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 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’.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Peter. Take a look at the customer service website here. To find out more about his conferences and books, click here.

Read more posts by Wendy Tayler

Wendy Tayler

Wendy is the Editor in Chief at Heavy Chef. After 3 years cooking up a storm at UNISA studying English and Communications, Wendy decided to mesh her passion for writing with her love of digital. She firmly believes the world is moving into the online sphere and can be found writing, tracking down great names for interviews, or singing her heart out at the World Wide Creative studio.

Follow Wendy on Twitter

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  1. Jess Green says

    Hello Peter

    What a shameful way of trying to do something good. Yes, people do need to complain and they do need to get a response. And one way of looking at it is to make those complaints public.

    But to actually charge companies to reply is simple extortionist. If one’s company doesn’t pay HelloPeter to answer a complaint, then that company name is tarnished? Ridiculous.

    Lastly, the myriad of banner adverts makes the mind dizzy. I seriously hope that a new solution will arise in the next few years.

  2. Petunia Mlambo says

    Im glad that theres a place where we as consummers can voice out our frastrations about the lack of custommer service we receive in big camponies such as burnard raaff and ass. they just think that they are the big shots and untouchable! yes they may be, but at the end of the day we as consummers make them!!!!!

  3. Johan says

    Hello Peter is one of the worst companies out in the market. Hellopeter dont understand the small companies and retailers and actually damage small and upcoming companies so badly that they have to close down sometimes. Hellopeter should be closed down completely

  4. Cat la Foy says

    HelloPeter is a brilliant website. I would do not do business with any company until I have checked HelloPeter. Many complaints are not justified but I can see that by the complaint/response. I have logged compliments for many of the companies on your top 10 list: ABSA, MWeb, Telkom, etc. I suggest that people log compliments for good service!

  5. Cat la Foy says

    Comment Johan, I can understand your concern. It is very wrong for anyone to log a complaint on HelloPeter until they have tried to resolve the problem with the supplier and small companies should not need to pay to respond. I have logged many compliments (under a different name) and usually for the small companies who usually provide the best service! My big gripe is that big legal companies are allowed to subscribe to HelloPeter. The lawyer is not responding 3 months after the court won’t respond for 3 monthsLawyers respond to zero

  6. Cat la Foy says

    Comment … to complete the sentence… if the lawyer does not respond after 3 months, surely I have the right to log a complaint on HelloPeter without the lawyer threatening to sue me unless I withdrew the complaint and apologised. Check any complaint against the legal “profession”. Almost every time, the complainant withdraws the complaint and apologises. I think that the fees charged should be based on the number of complaints logged. R10 a complaint? HelloPeter would make a lot more money, the big corps will pay thousands and the small companies can afford to afford to defend themselves. Just an idea …

  7. Craig David says

    It is kak company and the owner is a faget and his ma se poes

  8. Mahalia says

    I’ve read several excellent stuff here. Definitely price bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how much attempt you place to make the sort of excellent informative site.

  9. Jason says

    I have read your advertorial on HelloPeter and have to say that the type of reporting on this website is tantamount to extortion. Anyone may lodge a complaint for whatever reason without the necessary proof to back it up, and this gets published. The problem here is that the so called ‘transgressor’ does not have the opportunity to comment unless a membership fee is paid, together with a full company profile and personal particulars of the directors/owners. It’s is called negative reporting and is extremely dangerous in a growing economy where the input of the SME’s is so desperately needed. Peter is likened to a thug by many. Although I agree with the concept of naming and shaming, it does however become a bitter pill to swallow when the playing field is not leveled or both sides being given an equal opportunity to respond prior to publication. This is where Peter makes his money, off the peddling of bitterness at the cost of so many smaller entities. What you fail to grasp, is that the bigger entities such as Vodacom, Woolies, Banks etc, whom are all companies that respond and pay their annual fees to do so, actually derive good PR from this. They have customers and always will so its quite ironic that they even need to respond. The smaller guy may not even notice a report on the site until the damage is catastrophic. And why be forced to pay to respond, even if the complainant is not telling the truth. Your response is listed under ther complaint anyway, so the seed of doubt is already planted and a potential client will move to the next supplier out of caution. It’s not good, and is outright unconstitutional.

  10. Anton says

    The Hello Peter site is so user UNFRIENDLY – look at a site like TripAdvisor. There is little opportunity for companies to share good reviews and there is no comparison gauge for the consumer to establish ‘best in class’ suppliers. I suggest you create a community based platform that is friendly to all and rewards people to made good reviews as well and why be scared to allow companies to respond. Allow then a free or basic listing that gives then a certain number of responses and then they can buy more but to simply cut out one side of the supply chain is short sided and does not allow the consumer a objective overview.