Service, please! – A new watch business section in Europa Star

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December 2012

In the world of watchmaking there is a continent, somewhat obscure, on which the media projectors rarely cast their light—much too rarely. What we are talking about is “service”. The press is full of talk of brands and the excellence in their know-how, technology, design and products. Yet, once the product is sold, it often seems like that everything stops there. So many comments come to us from customers who are profoundly disappointed, even sometimes disheartened, by the way in which their preferred brand manages its after-sales service. Unacceptable delays, risky repairs and prohibitive prices are among the complaints that we hear.

Worse still, it is apparent that not all clients are equal, depending on where they live. When reading the very instructive Letter from China by Jean-Luc Adam, who manages our office in Shanghai, it is quite clear that after-sales service in China is at best vague and at worst non-existent. Too busy filling the shelves of retailers and trying to put a watch on the wrist of every Chinese citizen, many brands have sub-contracted the less glamorous side of their business—after-sales service—to companies that deal indifferently and anonymously between “watches in plastic and watches in platinum”.

The side-effects of this reprehensible negligence are beginning to be felt. Chinese blogs are full of Kafkaesque stories, sometimes to the point of forcing certain brands to back-pedal to silence the growing rumours. Brands run a real risk in neglecting after-sales service. It is a danger for them to be so concerned with the client before the sale but then forget about them afterwards. Having quality after-sales service is a question of trust, of long-term growth and ultimately of the survival of the brand.

There are a number of questions to be answered and numerous obstacles to be overcome in order to set up a satisfactory after-sales service. Should it be considered as a “profit centre” or as a costly ethical obligation? How can a company build good and efficient service when it is difficult to find the necessary qualified watchmakers whose training is so expensive? How can a brand improve the quality control of products in a climate where the pressure to continuously come out with new ones is so great? Is the number of watches returned exploding? Should a brand distribute the component parts for repairs to third parties, or try to control everything in-house?

These are the questions, among others, that we discuss in this new and, henceforth, regular section in Europa Star, that we inaugurate with this issue. We will provide both good and bad examples, since not everything is as bleak as we have just described. Good practices exist and, let’s be honest, customers must also assume their share of responsibility when things don’t run as smoothly as they should. While all car owners are aware that they must regularly take their vehicle in for servicing, it is not always the same for owners of watches, whose “engines” run 24 hours a day. But explaining to a client who has just spent thousands of dollars on a watch that he must regularly have his timepiece serviced—and that it will cost him—is not the most enviable task. This information should naturally, however, be part of the “before-sales” service.

Service is a long chain that begins at the factory, continues with the retailer, and then is carried out in the anonymous workshops where the products are sent. More transparency in the operation and nature of after-sales service will by no means hurt the watch industry. Quite the opposite. Providing better transparency by revealing the good and the not-so-good practices is a modest “service” that Europa Star aims to offer to the watch community.

Read the other articles in this section from this issue:

Source: Europa Star December - January 2012-13 Magazine Issue