Business musings

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For my 30th birthday a couple of years ago, my family joined together to give me a TAG Heuer watch, which I absolutely love. From a design and brand perspective, it’s perfect and it makes me smile each and every day—just as good design should.

Sadly however, it has needed to be serviced by TAG Heuer twice under warranty—both for minor faults but still not really what you’d expect from a luxury watch.

Yet, it may surprise you but it’s not the fact that I’ve had to send it back twice that bothers me. No—it’s the fact that when I put it in the post I know that I won’t get it back until around three weeks later. Three weeks! That’s three weeks wearing my old watch which is missing its bezel, has a worn surface, and generally looks very old and tired. Three weeks without my TAG.

Ignoring the fact I shouldn’t have to send it away in the first place, the fact that it takes three weeks to turn around—when the only issue is a minute speck of dust under the glass—is simply unacceptable.

And the strange thing is that, however much you spend on a watch, this situation doesn’t change. Whether you spend £100, £1,000, £10,000 or £100,000 on a Rotary, Breitling, Rolex or Omega, you’re still looking at a 3 week wait—even with next day delivery at both ends!

Maybe the watchmakers expect you to own several expensive watches: “Oh, I’ll just wear my spare Rolex today.” Or maybe they just don’t care.

I suspect, however, that it’s more likely they have simply accepted that this is how it’s always been. Just as sofas normally take 10 weeks to deliver, taking 3 weeks to fix your watch is just the way it is.

But my guess would also be that if they were to assess the value chain through which the watch itself passes, I can’t imagine that it would take a total of more than four hours to complete the work needed to remove said speck of dust…

  • Send postage- and insurance-paid envelope to customer
  • Customer posts watch to service centre with next day delivery
  • Receive watch at centre
  • Assessment of watch carried out
  • Disassemble watch
  • Fix watch
  • Reassemble watch
  • Return watch to customer with next day delivery

However, having experienced TAG Heuer’s online watch status system (which only gives minimal updates at best!), this is my best guess at what actually happens…

  • Send postage- and insurance-paid envelope to customer
  • Customer posts watch to service centre with next day delivery
  • Receive watch at centre
  • Enter watch onto computer system
  • Put watch on shelf
  • Wait a bit
  • Take watch off shelf
  • Assessment of watch carried out
  • Update computer system and order new parts
  • Put watch back on shelf
  • Wait for parts to arrive
  • Take watch off shelf again
  • Disassemble watch
  • Fix watch with new parts
  • Reassemble watch
  • Update computer system again
  • Put watch back on shelf
  • Wait a bit
  • Return watch to customer with next day delivery

To double check my theory, I also had a look at TAG Heuer’s website.  Although a full service has the potential to take longer, even allowing for an hour’s ultrasonic vibration cleaning, I would be surprised if such a service would take longer than four to six hours. And, in my case, no cost estimates were needed nor did TAG need to contact me as the watch was under warranty. I was similarly astounded to read that TAG Heuer’s master watchmakers can “draw from a stock of thousands of items,” suggesting that they don’t even need to order the parts as they are all held on site!

From experience, the fact that even a simple, pressurised battery change takes the same amount of time as a more serious issue also suggests that the length of time involved is not caused by the quantity of work but rather an ineffective process. And, quite possibly, a lack of motivation by the watchmakers concerned to change this situation.

Until such a point in time as the manufacturers concerned decide that lightening quick after sales service is a key differentiator and opportunity to create competitive advantage, it would seem that, as consumers, we’re just going to have to keep that cheap Casio in the draw for emergencies. Or alternatively, wear our spare Rolex, darling!

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