Swatch: Big Companies Behaving Badly

It is very poor strategy in our connected world to create a monopoly after sales service structure to price gouge your customers because you think you can. Swatch, the abbreviation of Swiss Watch that now owns many of the major brands including Tissot, Longines and Omega refuses to support your local jeweller in the High Street to repair and service any of their watches. You only have one choice which is to send your watch to Swatch. With no alternative comes poor service and high prices.

Three Months to Repair a Watch – Not Good Enough

In October last year my adored Longuines watch stopped working after 15 years. It had been the replacement for the Tissot watch my mother had bought me for my 21 birthday. My mum died back in 2004 so I’d rather fix than replace my watch. We have a delightful jeweller in Woodend. The proprietor is the sponsor of the Woodend Cricket Club and highly respected in the town. In a small town the local traders look after their customers.

Instead of capitalising on the goodwill of small businesses in every High Street in towns and suburbs across the nation Swatch refuse to provide jewellers the tools, parts and service guides so they can do what they do best; looking after their customers. When my watch stopped working last October my jeweller informed me he couldn’t service my watch because Swatch demanded that owners of their watches deal directly and only with Swatch.

Not wanting to travel to Glen Iris on the other side of Melbourne I was told I could send my watch by registered mail for service. No, they couldn’t tell me what it would cost as they would need to examine the watch first. Fair enough. So I sent my watch. A few weeks went by and nothing. Upon enquiry I was informed quotes can take up to 6 weeks “our service department is very busy.” Just before Christmas I get a letter. That’s right an old fashioned letter delivered by Australia Post. Using the email address on the letter I replied immediately questioning the high price of repairs but with no other choice had to authorise the repairs. No response. I telephoned to enquire about progress. No progress sir, you need to send your credit card details for payment before repairs can begin! I email a digitally signed pdf with the requested details immediately.

A month later I get a message on my mobile phone; your watch is ready for collection from Glen Iris! I called back asking why my earlier instructions to return the watch by registered mail were not followed. That’s not in our system sir but yes they would send it. A week passes no sign of my watch. When I called “Grant” ( we have become very familiar over the past couple of months so we are now on first name terms) informed me we can’t send you your watch you haven’t paid for the repairs. Exasperated I exploded you have my digitally signed credit card authorisation! Grant meekly responded, we couldn’t open it we can’t open pdf files as we don’t have that software.

As Adam Smith set out in Wealth of Nations in 1776 competition for customers drives innovation and quality of service. Where monopolies are permitted there is no innovation and usually very poor customer service. The anti-trust laws evolved to break monopolies and consumer protection laws to protect the customer. Being the sort of chap I am I usually take action when I see things are not right and being on first name terms with Grant I asked for the name of their Australian Managing Director. I am not allowed to tell you was Grants indignant reply. Thanks Grant I’ll Google it was my reply.

Well what did I find? A lot more than the name of their Managing Director!

Companies Performing Poorly in One Area Usually Perform Poorly in Many Others

Kevin Rollenhagen is the executive board member responsible for Australia where I can read a message from the CEO who tells me that the Swatch Group is exceptional (bad at customer service that is I add) but there is no opportunity on the old fashioned website to send a message, make a complaint or in any way begin a conversation with Swatch. Clearly they are a very ‘old worlde’ company.

Surprise surprise what was the next link in Google “Swatch Accused of Price Fixing in Australia” followed by another link to a story in the most authoritative daily newspaper in Australia The Age that “Swatch is ripping you off: ex boss“.

So why would Swatch create this culture of such poor customer service? Why would they not see that the local jeweller would more than earn his handling fee ( and more if he was accredited by Swatch to repair their watches)? Perhaps they see having well informed and knowledgeable jewellers across the nation as being able to push back and demand better service? Perhaps they see customer service costs as a burden a drain on their profits? The world’s got news for companies like Swatch your not much longer for this world! Customers who got poor service in years gone by told a few friends but today with Twitter, Facebook and other Social Media platforms they can tell 100′s of thousands if not millions.

The Australian Information Industry Association, of which I’m the Victorian Deputy Chair, actively works to get the big global companies (IBM, Microsoft, Google, SAP…) in our industry to work closely with small businesses. This collaboration has been most productive. Small companies innovate and grow or they die. They provide expertise and drive that can be leveraged by large global businesses. The CollabIT programme which has a LinkedIN Group for companies to find trusted relationships has been very successful and is strongly supported by the Victorian Government. There is clearly a need for a similar programme in the watch and jewellery business.

What examples have you of poor frustrating customer service or where companies think they can bully their smaller suppliers or customers? Please add them here through the comments section below.