How Chewy Built a $3 Billion Business Based on Customer Experience

"Every time I order through chewy I am blown away by the speed and quality of the service."
"I have never come across such an understanding company and one so willing to help and give advice."
"I think Chewy is the best thing since sliced bread."
"There is simply no better online business..."

The quotes above are actual testimonials from customers of the online pet supply retailer Chewy, submitted by the company in connection with its nomination for the 2017 Stevie Awards Customer Service Department of the Year (which it won). And, this is just a sampling of the effusive praise Chewy has received from its loyal customers. Clearly, this company is doing something right.

Stories about Chewy's commitment to not just customer service, but the full customer experience are, at this point, legendary. Among the testimonials Chewy submitted to the Stevie Awards was an email from a cash-strapped customer whose beloved cat died a day after her order for a two-month supply of expensive, prescription cat food arrived from Chewy. The customer reached out to Chewy on their site via online chat to ask if she could return the food. Instead, Chewy immediately refunded her order, asked her to donate the food to her local animal shelter, and—this is where the legendary part really kicks in—sent her a bouquet of flowers and a touching note of condolence. "Never in my life could I ever have imagined that I would be as deeply touched by the actions of a for-profit company, let alone an internet .com one, as I have been this week," she later wrote.

This grieving customer's situation wasn't a one-time fluke, either. In addition to condolence notes, Chewy customers routinely receive anniversary and pet birthday notes from the company, and Chewy has even sent a lucky few customers oil paintings—yes, you read that right, oil paintings—of their furry family members.

Unlike other companies who view service and support as a more reactive tool to address customer concerns, Chewy is taking an entirely different approach: they view each and every interaction they have with their customers as an opportunity to better those customers’ experiences. Or, to put it another way, Chewy has made the purposeful decision to borrow from the business model exemplified by online shoe giant Zappos—it operates, in effect, as a customer service company that just happens to sell pet supplies.

The strategy seems to be working. According to data cited by Forbes, since Chewy's founding in 2011, its share of the online pet retail market has grown to exceed that of Amazon. And, last April, Chewy's brick-and-mortar rival PetSmart paid $3.35 billion to acquire Chewy in an all-cash deal, reportedly the largest e-commerce acquisition in history. Experience, being a more subjective metric by nature, is seldom simple to quantify—but this record-setting  price tag shows just how much PetSmart values what it can learn from Chewy's customer service magic.

What's there to learn? Plenty, as Forbes contributing writer Paula Rosenblum discovered when she paid a visit to the company's new contact center in Hollywood, Florida last month. Here are just a few of the extraordinary ways she found Chewy implementing its customer service obsession:

  • Chewy shuns automated call answering. A real person answers every customer service call.
  • Chewy aims to answer every customer service call within four seconds or two rings and largely succeeds. (Check out this list of key metrics to keep track of in your contact center.)
  • Chewy makes a commitment to training its agents when they join the company and on a continuing basis, contributing to high morale, low turnover, and a great work environment that facilitates friendly, thoughtful customer service interactions.

In cementing brand loyalty through delivering amazing customer experiences, Chewy takes a page not just from Zappos (which famously made "customer service" the answer to the question "How could buying shoes online even work?"), but also from a long line of clothing retailers like L.L. Bean, Nordstrom, and Patagonia who have discovered that a company's simple acts of kindness and generosity, and a commitment to standing by the quality and condition of its products, can mean far more to its customers than a few cents in savings.

"Companies like Chewy are role models for others to look up to and learn from. It’s time to add Chewy to the list of customer service and experience rock stars like Zappos, Apple and Nordstrom. Their relentless focus on their customers earns them a spot in the customer service experience hall of fame."
Shep Hyken, customer service/experience expert and New York Times bestselling author of The Amazement Revolution

What seems particularly insightful about Chewy's adoption of a business model built around customer service, however, is that the company deals in a product category in which customers have a heightened emotional investment in their buying decision. It goes without saying that people truly, deeply, love their pets. Chewy's commitment to customer experience taps directly into the intensity of that feeling, in effect telling its customers that Chewy loves the customers' pets too. Once a customer associates the same feeling of devotion she has to her pet with her opinion of her pet product supplier, the result is an unusually strong and personal bond.

So, now that it has been acquired by PetSmart, where does Chewy go from here? Thus far, according to Forbes, PetSmart has taken a hands-off approach, giving Chewy the space to continue working its customer service magic. It will be interesting to see if PetSmart, which after all caters to the same customers with the same emotional investment in their buying decisions, can replicate the Chewy customer experience commitment not simply in its contact center operations, but across all in-store functions. As Chewy's story shows, the opportunity is certainly there to make a lasting brand-to-customer connection.

We love celebrating brands that put customer experience first. What companies do you feel are setting the bar for customer experience? Let us know by shooting us a message at hi@ujet.co and we’ll be sure to include them in a future shoutout!