Greencross CEO on what it takes to be customer-led in a crisis

CEO of Petbarn and Greencross Vet businesses shares the many customer-led innovations it's been able to rapidly orchestrate during the COVID-19 crisis

Greencross CEO, George Wahby, is a great believer in focusing all your organisational energy on providing the best customer experience you can. Which is exactly what the company has been doing to navigate its Petbarn and Greencross Vet clinics and hospitals through the COVID-19 crisis.

“If you’re focusing just on results, you’ll never get them or the experience you’re looking for,” he tells CMO. “Don’t get me wrong, returns are important – we’re not able to do what we do and grow and providing better experiences without those returns – but returns are an outcome of providing the best possible CX in the most efficient and effective way.”  

In this vein, Greencross has spent the past six weeks debuting a raft of digital, community and engagement-inspired initiatives aimed at addressing customer needs during this tough time.

The first of these was a zero-contact promise across its click-and-collect service offering across Petbarn’s 200 stores nationally. Individuals are sent a notification when the order is ready with a phone number for store. As they arrive, they phone and quote their order number and the team will come out and load their car boot.

Another innovation is minimal contact vet consults. These allow pet owners to arrive and have their pet taken by a nurse or doctor and seen to without stepping into the clinic itself. All consultation is done via the phone, and staff bring the pet back out to the owner once the consultation is over.

The most recent initiative to debut is a partnership between Petbarn and Uber to offer store-to-door same-day delivery services. Launched initially in Melbourne and expected to roll out nationally in the next few weeks, the service is a direct response to delays in Australia’s post delivery network caused by the spike in online purchasing. Those who order by 4pm can get their order that day within a 10km radius of a store for $9.95.

Alongside this, the retailer’s Petbarn Foundation and Uber are offering 20,000 free deliveries to the elderly and disadvantaged who are unable to leave home due to COVID-19. This is complemented by other community support services including food deliveries to clients suffering financial hardship who are unable to afford keeping their pets, plus services via its vet clinics.

In the past week, Greencross also launched Webvet, a 24/7 teleheath service giving clients one-on-one digital consultation opportunities for pets for $39.95. Should they need then to bring their pet into a clinic or hospital, the costs comes off the final bill.

Then there’s the behind-the-scenes work, including live chat and price match with the customer care team. At time of writing, the company had 9500 chats with customers to support their needs.

Business foundations

Wahby attributed Greencross’ ability to action so many initiatives to the culture and passion of the business. He said its mission of making the world a happy place through pets has truly come to life in the COVID-19 situation.

“I’d be surprised if we were able to do what we needed to if we hadn’t gone through the COVID-19 situation we are facing. It would have taken a lot longer and we would have thought over things longer,” he said.  

“We got a strong team together in these areas of specialty and were quick to respond. For example, with the Uber delivery scenario… The fact there were so many issues with requested deliveries meant it was taking longer for clients to get essential needs through home delivery service and are demand had increased dramatically.

“We knew it wasn’t a great customer experience. So, we asked ourselves: How do we provide the great CX utilising our extensive network? That’s when we thought it’d be awesome to partner with someone like Uber, Ola, or a delivery service that can come to our stores, pick up the product and deliver to customers straight away.”

Greencross engaged with Uber, and a cross-functional team made up of Uber and Greencross staff nutted out a plan that launched two weeks later.

“We looked at what they can provide, and what our capabilities are,” Wahby explained. “And when you look at it, we offer click-and-collect within 60 minutes. What’s the difference between that and the new offering?

“All we had to do was add that last mile to it, and we’ve provided another great service. It’s more expensive than $9.95, and we are subsidising it. But that’s how it came about – we didn’t want to let the customer down because of the bottleneck in the home delivery system. We thought let’s think outside the square with a customer hat on, and look at how to solve that problem.”

Another factor helping Greencross realise rapid innovation is the support of its private equity owner, TPG, which Wahby said was committed to thinking long-term.

“Our view is to just focus on the CX, looking after pet parents and pets, during this time, supporting our customers, because that’s what we need to do during these times. What falls out after that, falls out,” he continued.  

“When we’re coming up with all these initiatives, very rarely did we stand back and go no, we can’t afford to do that. We just felt we had to do that because it’s what we need to do in order to provide that experience.”  

It’s also worth noting innovations such as zero-contact click-and-collect and minimal contact consultations aren’t system based, they’re process and education-led. To achieve these, Greencross ran training seminars with store managers on Microsoft Teams and staff in vet clinics to detail how to make the pivot.

“We were communicating with the business on a more than weekly basis just to explain how we’re looking after the team and as a result of them, what expectations we have for how they look after our clients,” Wahby said.  

“With Webvet, we already had the technology but it hadn’t been put it into practice. It took us two-and-a-half weeks to look at it properly and work out how to bring it to life. We have accident and emergency clinics already operating 24/7 providing care for pets, so it made sense to make sure we can provide that service and access.

“What took most of the time was the design of the website and links all the way through in order to make it seamless.”

Switching IT from internal need to customer centricity

What’s also been key to Greencross’ efforts is reprioritising IT resources in areas of most importance during COVID-19. Wahby said this has seen the company delay other projects and focus energies “on the things that are going to make the most difference”.

“It’s amazing when you look at the things you have been working on prior to this, and go, you know what, how important are those initiatives really? We have stopped doing a number of things as a result,” he said.  

“Most of these were internally related and aimed at making us more efficient in terms of processes. But there are a lot of customer-facing things we need to do first. We agreed, let’s put the customer lens, get those done first, before we worry about making our lives easier internally.”  

Helping inform Greencross’ customer approach in the crisis is strategic work undertaken by Wahby when he joined as CEO in July 2019. This was aimed at ensuring the organisation’s way of working was customer-led.

“We made it clear our motto is about the pet and pet parents always. That’s been driven through the organisation and is linked with our purpose,” he said. “During this time, that principle has helped us accelerate that thinking through and we were able to pivot over the last 4-6 weeks as a result.”  

Wahby expected Greencross to be a stronger and faster company as a result of the actions it’s taken in the COVID-19 crisis.

“We can prove to ourselves when we really want to drive initiatives quickly, we can. A lot of us have taken that and seen that while it’s difficult times, it’s been quite rewarding,” he added. “We want to take those learnings and take them with us moving forward in how we operate in future.”   

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