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Chewy CEO: ‘Customer Care is the Right Mantra to Focus on’

Stories about poor customer service are, unfortunately, legion, but it’s doubtful many of them concern Chewy. The ecommerce pet retailer with more than 20 million active customers doesn’t use an IVR (interactive voice response) system, but 96% of all customer service calls are answered in four seconds or less.

Perhaps most important, and most unusual, is that the company doesn’t measure Average Handle Time for customer service calls — a metric that often incentivizes customer service agents to limit call times in the interest of productivity. Instead, service reps are encouraged to focus on the quality of customer interactions, even if that means spending more time serving them.

“We have a 3,000-person customer care team, and they need to be both empathetic and empowered to act on the customer’s behalf,” said Sumit Singh, CEO of Chewy. “We have veterinarians that have stayed with customers for more than two hours to provide education, awareness and comfort to pet parent customers.”

The metrics Chewy does focus on back up its approach to customer service: “The cohorts that have interacted with customer care have a higher lifetime value and longevity than other customers,” said Singh. “It proves out mathematically and experientially that customer care is the right mantra for us to focus on.”

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Singh shared his perspectives on the keys to successful leadership and customer experience during the NRF 2022 keynote titled “Balancing Growth and a Customer-Centric Culture.” And the North Star for the Chewy business, one Singh believes others should mirror, is to act with empathy, kindness and, in some cases, curiosity.

“We try to come at what we do from a point of view of compassion,” said Singh. “That’s an important attribute in dealing with customer scenarios, both in happy times but even more when both customers and team members have been under stress.”

Equating Chewy Interactions with a Trip to Disney

Chewy’s growth also has been helped by friendly, playful interactions (much like one would like to have with one’s pets). Singh has said that he wants every interaction with Chewy to be like going to Disney World.

“When I’ve compared the experience with going to Disney, it’s easily understandable as [a place that is] consistent, coherent and completely guest-oriented, and it leaves you wanting to come back for more,” said Singh. “Pets are the only category, outside of kids, where customers refer to themselves as ‘parents.’ We’re essentially trying to make a parallel to the ways Disney keeps the magic alive.”

The retailer has been expanding into areas beyond pet products in order to create a comprehensive Chewy experience and a more end-to-end journey for the customer. For example, Chewy has successfully expanded into pet health care, telehealth and pet insurance Additionally, Chewy serves both pet parents and veterinarians, which inspired the  development of the company’s Practice Hub for vet offices. The Hub not only allows vets to sell their own products and “petscriptions” on the Chewy.com marketplace, but also provides them with help in areas such as office management.

“Vets are looking for solutions where they can market to 20 million customers, but also to raise education and awareness,” said Singh. “Millions of our customers have used our services to connect with a vet, and we see ourselves as helping vets improve capacity, lower their cost of operations and generate better outcomes.”

The Practice Hub is just one part of Chewy’s focus on pet health. Singh noted that pet insurance penetration in the U.S. averages just 2% to 3%, much lower than rates in the UK, Europe and Australia.

“Pet insurance leads to better accessibility and affordability,” said Singh. “We stepped into this field as a way to democratize this space.”

Will Chewy Put its Paws into Physical Retail?

Asked by the session moderator Bob Safian, a host of the Masters of Scale podcast, whether there might be a “tangible representation of Chewy” some time in the future, Singh sounded open to this and other possibilities. “Our mission statement is to be the most trusted and convenient resource for pet parents, and that statement doesn’t specify online only,” said Singh. “Ultimately, experiences are going to be omnichannel, but we want to consider them thoughtfully, not just follow someone or rush into a space, particularly if it takes us away from our mission orientation.”

Singh noted that the company’s definition of pet parents and partners extends to animal shelters, breeders, boarders, groomers and even dog park friends. “That means we’re not just talking about B2C; it opens us up to B2B,” he said. “I also believe the brand is extensible outside the U.S., and I’m excited about those opportunities.”

Wherever and however Chewy grows — Safian even mentioned hotels — the retailer will continue to focus on putting its customers, two- and four-legged, first. “Customer-first is our number-one operating principle,” said Singh. “The rest of the nine principles don’t have a ranked order, but customer-first is always first.”

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