Meeting with Laurent Cantin, Director of International Client Services, Patek Philippe

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March 2016

Laurent Cantin is Patek Philippe’s friendly and approachable Director of International Client Services, and he is clearly passionate about his work. He told us more about how the company organises its international service centres.

Laurent Cantin, Patek Philippe's Director of International Client Services
Laurent Cantin, Patek Philippe’s Director of International Client Services

Does Patek Philippe consider its customer service department a profit centre?

No, absolutely not. We don’t even break even, and what we charge often doesn’t cover the actual costs. We lose money, but our absolute priority is customer satisfaction. In order to make aftersales service a profit centre you’d have to industrialise. There’s no industrialisation here. I can’t claim that we have the best after-sales service in the world, but we do have unique skills, and any watch that comes through our hands increases in value. We have earned our reputation because of our restoration ethic. There’s nothing here that’s ‘cobbled together’.

How do you organise your international service centres?

We have 56 official service centres around the world, employing around 250 people, two-thirds of whom are watchmakers; the rest deal with administration and logistics. Last year we performed 84,000 interventions, including 30,000 full services. This figure is growing by 7 to 10% each year, and is far greater than our annual production [Editor’s note: currently 58,000 pieces].

It’s not uncommon to hear about very long waiting times for servicing.

Yes, it can appear to take a long time, but we fully acknowledge this because it is justified by our handcrafted approach, something we are very proud of, and by the high quality of our workmanship. We apply the same adjustment and control criteria as we do for our regular output. But I can assure you that our clients understand, and we have very few complaints about waiting times, which can be anything from one month to a year, depending on the particular problems of a given watch, and the condition it’s in. For instance, we have been sent watches that have spent quite a long time under water. Also, whatever the nature of the work we carry out, the watch is returned with a twelve-month guarantee.

Your inventory of spare parts is particularly impressive. Apparently you have enough to last 150 years.

Yes, we keep everything: components, diagrams and tools. Our goal – which is impossible to achieve in practice – is that nothing should ever be ‘out of stock’. In fact we achieve this 90% to 95% of the time, which is not bad at all. Every time a particular model is discontinued, we produce an additional run of components to cover our needs for the next 35 to 40 years. It’s expensive, but that’s how it is, at this level of quality. Having said that, the quality is also a result of our ongoing efforts to conserve and develop our most specialised areas of expertise. As well as maintaining the continuity of all the different disciplines, and refurbishing old machines, we make sure that the human skills are passed on, by training up young watchmakers to take over.

How do you structure your training programmes, here in Geneva and in your international service centres?

Our training team is based in Geneva, and from Level 2 (*) up, everything is done here. We train 200 people every year, and the training course is adapted to the mix of products that the watchmaker will be dealing with at the branch he comes from. We also run regular refresher courses. Whenever a new collection comes out, all returns come through Geneva for the first year, sometimes longer. This experience benefits the entire Manufacture.

And how do you guarantee the quality of the work carried out at your centres around the world?

We conduct an audit every year at each service centre, to evaluate not only the quality of the repairs they carry out, but also the standard of their customer service, their communication and the manner in which the pieces are returned to their owners. Recently we have also introduced ‘mystery visits’. This point is not negotiable, because service is one of Patek  Philippe’s ten core values. [Editor’s note: the full list is independence, tradition, innovation, quality and fine workmanship, rarity, value, aesthetics, service, emotion and heritage.

Source: Europa Star February/March 2016 Magazine Issue