I recently spent two weeks learning what it is like to be a veterinarian at tails.com. As a veterinary student, I have always been curious about non-traditional veterinary roles in industry. I met Sean, the head vet at tails.com, through social media and asked him some questions about his role. I guess I had a lot of questions, because nearing the end of our video chat he asked me if I would be interested in shadowing him for a few weeks. Would I ever! Especially with my interest in animal nutrition, getting a chance to learn more about a company that creates tailor-made diets for dogs sounded perfect to me.
When you first step into the tails.com building, you immediately understand that it is a unique place. The stairway leading to the office is adorned with photos of dogs and there are complementary dog treats on a small table in the reception area. The office itself is made to look like a dog park; the floors are carpeted with green artificial turf, there are giant skylights which bring in natural sunlight, picnic tables are featured in the lunch area, and dogs are seen sitting beside desks waiting to greet passersby. It’s very clear‒ the people who work here LOVE dogs! This canine-focused atmosphere is very welcoming to a fellow dog-lover and got me even more excited to learn about the tails.com veterinary role.
Stepping into the customer’s shoes
To better understand the process involved in ordering a tailor-made diet my first task was to use tails.com website to order food for my own fictional dog. In connection with my Canadian roots, I named my dog ‘Maple’. She is a 1-year old female Newfoundland with digestive sensitivity. The algorithm recommended a unique blend made up of three different kibbles which would best fit Maple’s needs at that point in time. This diet would be gradually adapted to match her changing nutritional needs as she grew. Later that day I was able to go through the box of goodies that came with Maple’s order‒ a personalised bag of kibbles, tins of wet food, training treats, teeth-cleaning treats, and gourmet salmon treats baked with linseed. Now that I had the full customer experience, it was time for me to learn more about the technology behind making a personalised box on the tails.com factory tour.
My visit to the factory & blending rooms
My tour began with an induction from the Food Innovation and Performance Manager. We talked about how the diets are calculated, mixed, and packaged to match the dietary specifications for each dog. The Quality Improvement Specialist showed me how each kibble is designed to meet the European Pet Food Industry Federation standards and is matched to established specifications. Diet formulation takes into account breed, age, weight, body condition score, and activity level of a dog as well as health issues, dietary allergies, and even preferred flavours. On the factory floor, I got to see everything in action. For each bag of food, kibbles are carefully weighed out by hand before being added to a large mixing vat for individual bagging. To reduce wastage, kibble crumbs which would normally settle to the bottoms of the food bags are collected and sent away to be used as fish food. Food bags are heat sealed and labelled with the dog’s name before being packed into delivery boxes and loaded onto the shipping lorry. Every step of the way is digitally coordinated with a unique barcode for each dog. This system ensures that factory employees are preparing shipments that match up to the customer database in the most efficient way.
Shadowing the team
Back at the office, I got a chance to meet with more members of the tails.com team. I shadowed the customer experience specialists to see how called-in questions and concerns are resolved over the phone. The specialists are trained by the resident veterinary staff to handle all kinds of dog queries including questions about nutrition, behaviour, and welfare. If the health of the dog is involved, a nutrition-specialist registered veterinary nurse is asked to review the situation and either make changes to the kibble formula or recommend a veterinary visit. It was great to see the dedication to providing a good customer experience. Not only are the first-line specialists well-versed in basic dog care, they are also given an allowance to send customers gifts to celebrate milestones or condolence cards when a dog passes away. After the time I spent with them, I can see that the entire customer experience team are truly passionate about providing support to their customers. Just like everyone else in the office, they love dogs‒ part of my afternoon with them was spent comparing photos of their favourite tails.com dogs!
Dogs, dogs, dogs…everywhere!
After my first few days at tails.com, I was already feeling like a valued part of the team. Everyone who I met with was friendly and very helpful in teaching me about the company. I was constantly stopping at people’s desks to pet a dog and we all had good fun discussing the silly antics of Noodle, the kleptomaniac Cavapoo, or Biggie, the Yorkshire Terrier who runs around the office looking for cuddles. Between meetings, there was time scheduled for the office dog squad weekly walk. I joined Bear, Zeus, Frank, Cooper, Noodle, Ruby, and Mowgli on a trip to the local park for an off-lead romp. It was also a good opportunity for me to take a break from sitting at my desk and enjoy some fresh air. The dogs all had a fantastic time chasing each other in the sun and, of course, they found a muddy riverbank to play in before the walk was over.
Exploring the veterinary role at tails.com
To get the authentic tails.com veterinary experience, I was involved with some activities that the head vet Sean would normally engage in on a weekly basis. Because tails.com strives to provide evidence-based nutrition, Sean will regularly review scientific literature and ensure that the latest nutritional research is taken into account in dietary formulation. I was tasked with doing a literature review of canine longevity which I presented at an official boardroom meeting. As head veterinarian, Sean is also the official voice of dog health and nutrition in tails.com educational videos. For my own video debut, I headed to a nearby park with Frank, the resident Dachshund, to have a chat about why a dog may be barking on the lead. I was definitely nervous to be speaking on camera but, in the end, the social media team created a video which I was happy with and would hopefully be helpful to dog owners wanting to learn more about canine behaviour.
Data driven, customer-focused
Later that week, I met with a data scientist who showed me how customer feedback and dietary data is gathered and statistically analysed. This information is used to dynamically improve diet formulation and the customer experience. With the wealth of knowledge available, correlations are able to be made in respect to breed, health, size of dog, palatability, and even the impact of interactions of different kibbles as part of a diet. Ultimately, the goal is to further develop the product range and improve the kibble blending algorithm to be able to increase the customer base by being able to suit the needs of more dogs.
Through my time at tails.com, I was able to see that they really take their core values to heart. They are customer-led with an excellent customer experience team and easy-to-navigate website. They are innovative with their use of expert inputs, such as animal nutritionists and veterinary professionals, to continually improve their diet formulation. The feedback-driven nature of their algorithms ensures that they are dynamic and adaptive to keep on producing diets that are both nutritionally suitable and tasty.
Why tails.com is different
Tails.com is a unique solution to the question of “what should I feed my dog”? Although there are numerous off-the-shelf food brands catering for a single factor like breed, flavour preference, life stage, food sensitivity, these diets prioritise a single nutritional need. However, more than often dogs have multiple nutritional needs. Tails.com ‘s solution puts dogs first by recognising that each one is different and builds a unique diet including all of their needs. I thoroughly enjoyed my time working with the whole team and I look forward to seeing them grow as a company in the future!
Marie Francesca Menniti
Final Year Veterinary Medicine Student
Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies
University of Edinburgh