This is a story about the best example of emotional intelligence I've ever seen in business, and it's also the best example that I've ever had.

The cute little puppy strategy is what we'll call it. Two years ago, after my family's pet cat died, the story began.

Before my future wife got her from a rescue organization, she was known as Bronxie. My wife first, our daughter second, and I a distant third. Bronxie was a member of the family.

She lived a long life, but in October 2020 she was in the sky. I took her to the vet after finding her on the floor, but they couldn't help her.

My wife went on our local social media groups and offered a few of Bronxie's more recycled cat supplies to anyone in need.

Something unexpected happened. My wife asked if we could return a couple of bags of senior formula cat food that we had purchased, since we wouldn't need them now.

Their response was two different things. It's the core of the strategy.

  • First, the customer service folks at Chewy offered condolences, quickly refunded the cost of our last order, and said not to worry about returning the food; they suggested donating it to a local animal shelter. 
  • Second, a few days later, there was a knock at the door and we found a nice little flower arrangement, along with a condolence card from

It's not the first time I've reported that Chewy does this when a customer's pet dies. My parents received flowers and a card from Chewy after their golden retriever, Riley, passed away.

The story is nice. This is a brilliant example of emotional intelligence in business because of the payoff.

Two years later, this month begins. We went to dinner with the babysitter on a Wednesday. At one point, my wife showed me a photo of a cute little puppy on her phone -- an impossibly small mutt at a local rescue.

You can tell the story's direction. We took my daughter to visit the puppy an hour after we got home.

All happened very quickly. We talked about getting a pet one day, but once my daughter saw the puppy, it was over.

My naming choice for this tiny puppy, who is much smaller than any dog I've ever had and couldn't hurt a fly, I'm not sure. There's a monster.

We went into new puppy-owner mode.

Two years ago, my wife and I gave away Bronxie's stuff and she was looking for puppy supplies in a hurry.

We used to go to the same doctor. I asked my wife if she remembered when Bronxie died and that online pet store sent us flowers.

Within a day after that, my wife ordered another $125 worth of stuff from Chewy, including puppy food, chew toys, a nail trimmer, and a little puppy Halloween costume.

I began to think about the first draft of the article after that.

I am aware that this all comes across as very pro-Chewy. It's an example of a point I've tried to make in almost emotional intelligence articles over the years.

  • Emotional intelligence is not just about having empathy or treating people with kindness.
  • Those can be nice byproducts, of course. But the core definition of emotional intelligence that I like to use is: the learned ability to leverage emotions, both yours and other people's, so as to make it more likely that you'll achieve your goals.

It's not like that. Let's take a look at my family's experience with a calculated eye.

  • First, as we dealt with a sad event -- the death of our cat -- Chewy responded with emotional intelligence: doing unexpectedly kind things in a way that provided respite from our feelings about losing a pet.
  • Second, we have to acknowledge that the kindness cost Chewy something--meaning cold, hard cash: for example, the wholesale cost of the cat food they told us not to return, along with the cost of sending the flowers. 
  • But third, I'm willing to bet that Chewy has done the math on this: figuring out the likelihood that a former customer whose pet dies will get another pet, compared to the cost of acquiring any new customer, and their lifetime sales value.

See what I'm talking about. The treatment and flowers are nice, but it's not a business. The business wants to get and serve customers.

When we lost our old cat, we were able to use our emotions in a positive way and make it more likely that we'd remember Chewy in the future when we got a cute little puppy.

Andrew Stein said it when I asked.

"Each interaction with a customer is an opportunity to delight them in a moment of joy or provide empathy in a time of grief ... These acts of enduring companionship ... allow us to create deeply personal and emotional connections through all the highs and lows of the pet parent journey."

Learning to say one thing instead of another seems to be the easiest way to improve emotional intelligence, according to my free ebook, 9 Smart Habits of People With Very High Emotional Intelligence.

Sometimes a reminder about why we do this is needed. That's what the cute little puppy strategy is all about.

The puppy needs your attention.