HelloPeter – and its owner Peter Cheales – is in the firing line from a group of consumers and some companies who feel that the website is an extortion scheme which forces companies to pay to respond to consumers.
Criticism has also been leveled at the information supplied by the website about its traffic and statistics. An anti-HelloPeter website, hosted at http://hellopeter.wetpaint.com/?t=anon, was started highlighting many of the criticisms aimed at the website in the past.
HelloPeter has been accused of being an extortion scam by both consumers and companies. In one online discussion the writer says “HelloPeter allows anyone to make accusations, but the accused, innocent or not, must then pay HelloPeter to clear their name. The problem is that it hurts innocent businesses while HelloPeter turns a blind eye.”
Another online comment reads “Nothing short of extortion. He is often on SAFM where he does a paid for ‘talk show’ about service with the presenter. It is so false it is sickening. He likes to make out he is the consumer champion but really he is only interested in lining his own pocket.”
These concerns are echoed by many companies who feel that Cheales’ decision to make companies pay to respond may not be the best route to follow. The consumer site has also been criticized for its decision to only list companies who pay in its ‘Compliments’ list while only non-paying companies appear in the ‘Complaints’ list.
According to the Anti-HelloPeter website the minimum cost to become ‘A company that responds’ is R13 500. “This is the lowest category of subscription, and if you are a regular responder you need to take an upgraded package, which can be as much as R60 000 per year,” the website states.
Many companies feel that they should be allowed to defend themselves and address consumer concerns without having to pay for this privilege.
Cheales however previously disputed the minimum fees given by the Anti-HelloPeter website, saying that his fees are certainly not unreasonable.
Consumers have also accused the site for deleting comments, something which can get a disgruntled customer hot under the collar. In one such case – aimed at HelloPeter itself – Cheales simply replied “Sunday afternoon and I really can’t be bothered to respond to childish drivel – Peter”, something which drew sharp criticism from some observers.
HelloPeter has further been questioned about providing misleading website statistics to the press and its own visitors.
In a recent media report, Cheales says his websites receives ‘10m hits a month and 2000 complaints and compliments about SA companies posted every day’. According to the HelloPeter website there are however only around 2000 comments posted over the last 10 days, equating to around 200 comments per day.
Cheales explains: “[The number of comments] in a day varies so dramatically, and spikes enormously when newsletters are sent out. The numbers also include direct emails that we receive from Consumers that are not familiar with the modus operandi of the site, believing that they need to email us with their comments, rather than posting Comment directly on the site.”
The website was also previously accused of supplying artificially high comment viewing statistics. In reply to one consumer questioning the accuracy of these counters, Cheales said: “We have literally hundreds of thousands of people on this site at ANY point in time. Indeed, from the time you post your comment, to the time you read it, we’ve notched up a score of just under a thousand. See if you can beat our record.”
This is however impossible as the website only received 16 575 monthly unique visitors during the month of the complaint (hundreds of thousands of people on this site at ANY point in time will results in millions of unique monthly visitors).
Cheales responds: “The counter on the old site proved to be a catastrophe – an utter disaster, and caused us a huge amount of embarrassment. We suspected major coding problems on the old site generally, hence the reason for the total revamp last year and the reason for the removal of the counter.”
The latest HelloPeter website statistics – which were supplied by Cheales to MyBroadband without having to ask – indicates that the website currently receives 34 416 Unique visitors per month (measurements based on unique IP addresses).
While many companies and consumers criticize Cheales, many see him as a consumer champion encouraging companies to provide better customer service.
Cheales previously pointed out that the website and its services come at no cost to consumers, and that he made certain that companies foot the bill.
The HelloPeter revenue model is open to criticism, but it does ensure that the website is doing well financially and provides consumers with an effective platform to report poor service and receive help from ‘companies who respond’.
For many disgruntled consumers this website remains a valuable avenue to try and get some joy in the customer service department.
Love it or hate it, Cheales has created a profitable platform built on consumer activism – something which many unhappy customers appreciate.