How would you define doggone good customer service?
At Chewy, a company that specializes in online ordering and home delivery of pet products, it starts and ends with the way customers are treated when they call with a question or concern. Calls are always answered by humans — not a robotic voice.
Chewy’s new Dallas customer service center — where more than 250 people already work and up to 500 could be employed by fall — workers are encouraged to take the time to get to know callers. They send their customers’ dogs and cats handwritten birthday cards.
If a pet dies, a customer might be sent a bouquet of flowers. For customers who upload pictures of their dogs or cats into their online account, Chewy might send them a small oil portrait of their beloved beast. (Artists are commissioned to perform the task.)
This blend of speedy and affordable online retail sales backed up by old-school, unscripted customer service is likely a key reason why Chewy is growing so fast. The company, which started in 2011 with just four employees in a conference room-size office in Florida, was sold to PetSmart last year for a reported $3.35 billion.
The company by some reports could generate up to $2 billion in annual revenue, and is competing neck-and-neck with Amazon, which dominates the online retail home delivery segment in many categories (but not pet products).
And the pet products industry is way more than just a retail niche. Americans will spend an estimated $72.13 billion on pet products and the pet industry this year, according to the American Pet Products Association. That’s more than triple the amount pet owners spent on their pooches and kitties just 20 years ago.
Today, Chewy operates a call center with about 1,000 employees in Florida, and in May opened its second call center in Dallas’ Informart building just north of downtown (the iron and glass structure that resembles London’s fabled Crystal Palace).
Each Monday, about 30 new hires are brought in for training. They are instructed to throw away what they think they know about call centers, and instead focus on listening to the customer and thinking of ways to “wow” them. The new employees are encouraged to think of unusual, intensely personal ways to convey to customers that the company cares about them, and a “wow experience” team of veteran Chewy employees is there to approve any worker’s idea that requires an expenditure.
Long-time Chewy workers like to retell the story of a time when a customer was talking on the phone with a customer service representative about an order when the customer’s keyboard broke. The Chewy worker, after consulting the “wow team,” mailed the customer a new keyboard — compliments of the company.
“We want over-qualified people come to Chewy and, like everyone, they start in customer service and they build careers here,” said Kelli Durkin, Chewy vice president of customer service. “We encourage them to engage with the customer and have a relationship with them.”
The Dallas call center, which already employs a number of Fort Worth-area residents, is on the third floor of Infomart, where employees can enjoy a view of downtown Dallas and the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge through floor-to-ceiling windows. Snacks are available in a spacious break room — and the company, which already uses about half the 50,000 square feet it rented, already is making plans to fill the rest of the space before the busy Christmas shopping season begins.
Chewy also operates seven fulfillment centers, including one in west Dallas near Mountain Creek Parkway. There, workers fill orders for pet food, toys, medicines, scarves, snacks and other pet products throughout Texas and surrounding states.