Chat a porter

  • Focus
  • Monday, 18 Apr 2016

Call us human service matchmakers, say Ang (left) and Lee.

Helpr is a chat-based personal assistant service that will help you with any request, from paying summonses to buying newly launched products and moving furniture — all within reasonable bounds, of course. KELLY TEY reports.

YOU don’t need to be a boss to have your own PA or stay in a hotel to get concierge services — not if you have Helpr on your phone.

Chat-based rather than app-based, this “personal assistant” is one number you can text to help get things done.

Founded by partners Ang Kok Seong, Lee Eujean and Wafiq Rodzuan, Helpr aims to take tedious tasks off customers’ hands, from queueing to pay summonses to buying newly-launched products, personal shopping and delivery of items.

Occasionally, they do get some creative requests.

There was one where they helped to buy 47 Christmas presents for one recipient, helped someone to carry out an apology, and even got a request to help acquire a pet tiger (which would be cool but illegal and impossible).

“We’ve even had a request to find someone’s missing sibling once,” says Ang. Said brother was eventually found to be sleeping at home.

Unlike any similar services the market, this service has an added human touch. According to Ang, this is part of the next wave of business model called Chat Commerce.

Instead of having a specialised app for the service, you use an existing messaging app.

“Through instant texting, we find it easier to analyse what you need and get you what you really want. The response time is faster as we get to ask the right questions to give you the right solutions,” he explains.

And that’s why they don’t need an app.

You access Helprs service through WhatsApp.
You access Helpr’s service through WhatsApp.

Ang says Helpr came about because they noticed that on-demand assistance was scarcely available.

“There is hardly a platform where customers can get instant confirmation on the feasibility, availability and options for their needs,” he notes.

Helpr was inspired by a text-based startup in the US that helps you get things done when you text them.

“We found this model to be very interesting, so we decided to try it out and see if it would actually work here,” says Ang.

One of the challenges Helpr faces is that customers don’t know what to request.

“When you provide an everything service, people don’t know where to start. We have even enlightened customers and enterprises on how outsourcing is the new way of getting things done efficiently to increase productivity,” he reveals.

“Everybody has personal or business needs. They just need to know what they need, and we can show them what we can do.”

Another challenge is establishing runner connections.

“Our model heavily leverages on logistic partners. We work with a lot of providers, niche and on-demand professional logistics solutions and the bigger players,” Ang points out.

Helpr also has its own small pool of in-house runners to perform more complex tasks.

Ang and Lee say they are what you might call a human service matchmaker.

“Take us as the middlemen. People text us because they want to skip all the hassle, like going online, doing research, creating accounts, getting the right people to perform tasks and such,” says Ang.

To use Helpr, you first need to send a request. They will then immediately calculate cost by analysing the time, distance and complexity.

The service has even travelled to the US, New Zealand and Hong Kong.

“Because our platform is on WhatsApp, the requests are borderless. People from foreign countries contact us as they have affiliates here in Malaysia, or vice versa,” says Ang.

However, Ang stresses that they do not particularly market Helpr in other countries.

Paying bills and despatch tasks form a big part of what the company does.
Paying bills and despatch tasks form a big part of what the company does.

“We don’t have plans to invest on that yet. Our focus remains in the Klang Valley and Malaysia.”

Recently, Helpr has been popular with interstate demand for furniture shopping.

“One of our emerging categories is personal shopping with furniture giant, Ikea. There is a huge demand for us to help shop and deliver to Sabah, Sarawak, and Brunei because there’s no Ikea there,” Ang discloses.

“While this is fairly popular, we commonly serve needs such as paying bills and despatch — offline demands that are not virtually accessible,” says Lee.

Helpr gets about 150-200 requests a day, but the partners say usually only about 60% to 70% are transactional.

“There are cases where we can’t monetise it, like if someone texted to ask for recommendation of a certain place. It doesn’t make sense to charge. This is where we need to be cautious. This business model tends to be like a hotline, and requests will come in whether we can monetise or not,” says Ang.

So far, Malaysians have been kind, he maintains. There have been no requests that are pranks or scams. And it works both ways. Trust is very important for this business model.

“Customers ask us things because they have faith in us. In some cases, it’s not about monetising, like a request for a simple recommendation,” says Ang.

“The key thing is that we must learn to draw the line,” he adds. “For personal problems, we don’t give answers; we recommend professional solutions.”

“There are requests that we just cannot take,” chips in Lee.

“Things like cooking for others, because as much as we have the right tools, ingredients and recipe, it might go wrong.”

For the same reason, Lee says Helpr would never offer to drive a car for its customers nor deliver high-risk things like diamonds and wads of cash.

“We can’t offer services we don’t have expertise in, and we don’t perform tasks that are not in the best interest of customers,” she asserts.

Furthermore, requests need to comply with the law.

Nonetheless, Ang says they are very focused on customer experience.

“That’s why having a 4.8 out of 5-star rating on Facebook is something we are very proud of. The stellar reviews are our portfolio, which speaks to potential customers skeptical of our services. This gives us credibility,” he says.

Ultimately, the partners say they are just doing their best to fulfil requests.

Helpr is looking to raise another round of funding to accelerate their business and build better systems for smoother transactions, as well as to source for talents in software and business development.

They also want to work with other SMEs in the near future by offering concierge service.

“This is something we definitely want to explore,” Ang stresses.

Helpr can be reached at 012-233 4550, and generally operates from 9am to 7pm.

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