Reinventing customer service at Piaget

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January 2013

Some companies see after sales service as a grudging obligation, one they would rather not fulfil. Sure, they’ve sold the watches, but they don’t really want to see them come back.

For Piaget, the attitude is something altogether different. Europa Star was fortunate enough to talk with Piaget’s director of customer service, Didier Théraulaz, about how the brand handles this critical part of the watch business.

Didier Théraulaz
Didier Théraulaz
Piaget’s director of customer service

Attitude is important
“After sales service is not the first priority in terms of turnover sales, but it is a priority for the clients and the image of the brand,” says Théraulaz. “In the structure of the company, customer service is under the direct responsibility of the CEO, Philippe Leopold-Metzger. I report directly to Mr. Leopold-Metzger—what he wanted when he created this department, customer service, was to change from after sales service to something more client-oriented.
“Usually, in the industry, after sales is very passive,” he continues. “Ordinarily, watch companies design, produce and sell watches, wait for quite a while, then sooner or later the client will come back with a problem. We wanted to be more proactive. For the client, after sales service can be a very negative experience, and as a result, it’s not positive for the brand’s image. We want to take this negative and change it into a positive.”

Starting with the sale
Education about service starts at the time of sale. “Our goal is for the sales professionals to be at ease explaining why service is needed, and why it is an asset of Piaget. When the client buys from Piaget, we want to use after sales as a tool in creating a relationship with our clients.
“Regular service helps to preserve the value of the watches over time and we believe that it is good for our brand image.
“Now, we inform the client when we sell a watch with a leaflet that explains service, that the watch will need maintenance sooner or later.”
In addition, Piaget regularly mystery-shops its boutiques and retailers to make sure their sales associates handle service clients appropriately and are able to convey the key messages when talking about service. The point is for Piaget to proactively communicate with its clients about watch service, trying to head off a problem before it occurs.
“Either we can wait until a problem occurs and the negative experience follows, or we can contact the client three years after purchase and remind him he bought a Piaget watch and as a mechanical product, it needs maintenance,” Théraulaz details.
The maintenance service costs a set amount of money. If the watch is working fine, Piaget makes sure it is still waterproof, checks the oils, and if there is nothing special, Piaget only invoices for a maintenance service. Should something more serious be found, a representative of Piaget contacts the client to explain the situation.
Piaget just started this programme of contacting its clients, and by no means has the response been overwhelming. “The rate of return has been limited, but at least it is starting to work,” Théraulaz admits. “More and more the clients are responding to it. The response rate will never be 100 per cent, but it is getting better.
Piaget acknowledges that the company, and the industry in general, has to do a better job of educating watch owners about the need for regular, preventive service. “That’s why we have created this leaflet so our sales associates can talk about the service needs of the watch,” Théraulaz says. “It’s not easy, however, to talk about maintenance when we sell a watch, while keeping the dream alive.”

Reinventing customer service at Piaget

Piaget service centres
Piaget operates 22 service centres around the world, plus the service centre at the headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Some retailers are equipped to service and repair Piaget watches, but in order to have control over such a crucial process, Piaget has invested in its own service centres.
“Piaget has about 60 full time technicians all around the world in our own service centres, so we can do the maintenance locally, and we try to turn a regular complete service around in 30 days,” says Théraulaz. “If the watch has to be sent back here to Switzerland, it takes much longer. We want to do as much of the service in the local markets, and we manage to do 95 per cent of the service and repairs locally.”
Explaining the need for time is important, as clients are used to same day service with their cars and other products. “The turnaround all depends on the work needed and the spare parts required—we might have to order the parts from Switzerland, for example,” Théraulaz explains. “Usually, our clients have several watches. When they buy from Piaget, it’s usually not the first luxury watch they buy. We started proposing a replacement watch to the clients, but most of them didn’t need it.
“Our clients are less interested in the lead time, but what they expect is that if we say it will be one month, we have to respect the deadline we set,” he continues. “If after sales is already a negative experience, taking longer makes it worse.”

Quality first
Turnaround time is an important concern, but so is getting service and repair right the first time. “Our first priority is the quality of the repairs,” says Théraulaz. “Our objective is to deliver a good quality repair, which is not always easy, because every watch is unique, and each watch has a different story. Our watchmakers have to be trained on a number of different movements—we have 30 different movements in our current collection, but we have 130 movements in the history of Piaget that need to be worked on. We have trainers throughout the world that train our watchmakers locally. The quality of the spare parts is assured, because as an integrated manufacture, we can reproduce whatever we need, we don’t rely on external suppliers for the movement, the case, the bracelet or for most of the components. We have documentation as well when we create a new product. When the first piece hits the market, the technicians are ready to service it. For some products, we need special tools, and these are developed during the development of the watch, so these are sent to our repair centres. We also have the customer service department integrated in the development of new products. We don’t want to repeat any current or past issues in future products.”
According to Théraulaz, Piaget has had no trouble finding watchmakers to work in after sales service, as it’s a challenging and very interesting area of concentration. Unlike serial production, every watch that comes in to be serviced is different, and figuring out what the problems are is a bit like solving a mystery.
“For a watchmaker, developing new movements is a very good job, but when maintaining watches, one watchmaker does the entire work,” he details. “Usually, the watchmakers we have in service are among the best in our company. They have to know so much, and they have to treat each watch as a special story. We can attract qualified people because the job is very interesting, there can be surprises, and it is really challenging. I discovered that the watchmakers like what they do because it’s not always the same.”
In the countries where Piaget is seeing a shortage of watchmakers, the brand in partnership with Richemont and Wostep has developed schools to train their own watchmakers—Institute of Swiss Watchmaking (IOSW) schools in Shanghai, the USA and Hong Kong.

Reinventing customer service at Piaget

Continued contact
Customer service is about meeting the continuing needs of Piaget’s customers. “The fact that we are able to care about our products and client, rather than just being interested in the money, is a positive message,” Théraulaz says. “We don’t look at customer service as a profit centre—what we want in the end is to cover the cost, we want it to be break even, which is not the case yet. After sales service is costly—the infrastructure, the stock, the personnel, the support team, the documentation, the training and more.
“Our commitment to customer service shows to our clients that we will be here 20 years from now to service their watches,” he continues. “We can service almost 100 per cent of the products sent back to us for service. Recently, we had a high jewellery watch sent back, and it was destroyed—we couldn’t even figure out what happened to it. It had to come back here to the manufacture in Switzerland, and we prepared the estimate, and it was so high, several hundreds of thousands of Swiss francs, but it was a high jewellery product already. We sent the estimate, explaining the reasons. The client first said no, then five months later came back to us to give us the go ahead. The result was that the watch was almost like new. The restoration can be seen as an expensive service, but when the client receives it back, it’s like a new watch.”
Piaget will soon introduce a new box designed specifically to deliver watches back to clients after service. This is just another example of Piaget’s commitment to making the customer service experience a pleasurable one.

Opportunity rather than obligation
Customer service can be seen as a drain on resources, but at Piaget, “everyone agrees that we have to invest in customer service,” Théraulaz says. “Now, we are developing a new quartz movement, because with the old quartz movement we had some after sales service problems linked to the obsolescence of the technology. We have the resources to do this. I have never been forbidden to do an investment to improve our service. We recognise that this is a priority.”

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

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