Dream Beard and Chewy.com empower customer service representatives to show empathy toward customers and do what they think is right.

Every e-retailer says it wants to excel in customer service. There are those that do their best with what they have. There are those that devote resources above and beyond industry norms. And then there are those that really commit.

Representatives of two very different retailers in the third category made presentations June 6 during a session about “high-touch” customer service at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition in Chicago.

Dream Beard, Chewy.com, customer service

Ryan Lane, founding owner of Dream Beard (left) and Kelli Durkin, vice president of customer service at Chewy.com.

Grooming products maker Dream Beard LLC and pet supply retailer Chewy.com have committed to making customers feel appreciated and each works at it in its own way. But, in each case, a key factor is trusting customer service representatives—on the phone, via live chats or via email—to be empathetic and do the right thing.

Ryan Lane, founding owner of Dream Beard, said his goal is to maintain a real human connection with customers.

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“We all build walls around us that make the Great Wall of China look like a white picket fence,”  Lane said.

Lane said Dream Beard tried to break down that wall by empowering customer service representatives to do what they think is right for customers, and to interact with them on a human level. “As long as they aren’t being mean and are being positive, I don’t care what they say,” Lane said.

Lane said he personally tries to eliminate the wall between himself and his customers, in part, by writing thousands of handwritten notes to customers. In 2017, he started a podcast series that explores issues like health and well-being, society, religion and spirituality. Lane said he started the podcast not long after taking a six-month hiatus from Dream Beard’s Instagram account. “I needed something real,” Lane said of his decision to start the podcast.

Dream Beard launched in 2012 selling beard oil. Within four months, the retailer was selling in more than 35 countries and now sells in more than 80. Since its launch, Dream Beard also has expanded its offerings to include men’s grooming products that aren’t beard-specific, along with apparel, seasoning rub for steaks and other items.

Chewy, which PetSmart Inc. (No. 50 in the  Internet Retailer 2018 Top 1000) acquired in April 2017, answers customers who call or initiate an online chat within six seconds and responds to emails within half an hour, said Kelli Durkin, Chewy’s vice president of customer service.

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Like Dream Beard, Chewy wants its customer service staff to be empathetic with its customers—who, after all, buy Chewy’s products to care for a pet they love, Durkin says.

Durkin says Chewy looks to hire customer-service employees who are friendly and self-motivated, want to “wow” the customers they deal with and show an interest in moving up in the organization over time. Chewy then trains those employees at in-person training sessions, instead of online. She says the training is aimed at “changing their brains” so they feel free to treat customers warmly and do what it takes to make them happy.

For example, during one live chat between a shopper and a Chewy customer service representative,  the customer was making an enormous number of typos Durkin said. Eventually, the customer admitted she was using a broken computer keyboard. The customer service staff grabbed a spare keyboard off the shelf and mailed it to that customer.

“You can’t put a price tag on how a customer feels,” Durkin said.

Chewy, founded in 2011, booked online sales of $900 million in 2016—prior to being acquired. That year, it accounted for 57% of online pet food sales, according to Internet Retailer estimates.

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