“The issue is quite simple: one has got to, in today’s environment, respond to your customers. The only differentiating feature between you and your competitors is your level of service,” Cheales, founder of South African website Hellopeter.com, told CNBC Africa on Monday.
“As your product and your services become more and more identical to those of your competitors, you only have that level of service to differentiate yourself versus your competitor’s worth.”
Customer service is quickly becoming a top-end function in a company, and no longer delegated as a task for lower-level staff. The advent of social media has allowed for consumers to interact with brands, retailers and businesses more directly.
Websites such as Hellopeter.com have provided a complaints and complements platform that has changed how companies can interact with their consumer and their competitors.
“I created Hellopeter.com in 2000, before the world ‘blog’ had been invented. It was before Facebook, it was before Twitter, so I created an interaction between supplier and consumer thirteen and a half years ago,” Cheales explained.
“It’s now the biggest social media consumer platform in the world. We receive on average 8,000 hits a minute, 18 million a month. We receive on average about 5,000 reports about service every day.”
Consumers can record their positive or negative service or product experiences on Hellopeter.com, where the retailer or business in question can respond.
The site is specifically designed for consumers to provide feedback on services, and so far 22 per cent of all reports have been on good service, with the remainder being on bad service.
“If you’ve got a bad experience with a company, with a supplier, you’ll get on to Hellopeter.com. You’ll write about that experience and generally speaking, the supplier will respond to that complaint within a three-hour period, and resolve the situation within a 24 to 48 hour period,” said Cheales.
The website currently has over 2,000 company subscribers who pay a fee to receive consumer complaints against their services. Only companies that are subscribed to the site are able to receive contact details of the happy or disgruntled user through an authorisation process.
Companies that currently have the strongest positive reputation on the website are within the insurance sector, which Cheales explains is partly due to a highly competitive industry.
“We’ve got Auto& General, MiWay, OUTsurance, all the top players in that market utilising Hellopeter.com very well. Over the years the website has gained an impact for creating a response,” said Cheales.
Companies that rank the worst in terms of poor response and high number of service complaints are quasi-government departments such as South African Airways, Telkom and local municipalities.
“They’re monopolies and they’ve also got the lethargic point of view of ‘I don’t have to do it.’ There’s a lot of that entitlement in those organisations. Unfortunately it is the one sector that I’ve had extreme difficulty in coming on board, because of the complete neglect,” he said.