Broken Watch, Broken Culture


by Eric Elliott

This story starts with a watch. This watch isn’t special;  it's no Rolex or Patek Philippe. It's just a regular old Timex. 

This story isn’t really about the watch though. It’s about how, in just moments, a business can alienate customers if they place too much emphasis on short-term sales, losing focus on customer values and the long game.

The Watch Story

A few years ago while I was working towards a graduate degree, my wife had to support the both of us. We were getting by, but we weren't living the high life either. So when the holidays came around that year and I unwrapped a Timex watch that she had scraped together enough money to purchase for me, I was touched. 

Unfortunately, what with my tendency to bump into things and time being what it is, the watch was eventually in need of some repair. The battery eventually died and the crystal of the watch had cracked. 

Fast-forward to this Christmas. My wife decided that it was time to get my old watch fixed. So, during peak shopping season, she battled holiday traffic, got ample parallel parking practice, and trekked from shop to shop looking for a jeweler worthy of the task.  

Unfortunately, jeweler after jeweler was totally unwilling to repair my old time-piece. Even after explaining it's sentimental value, many of the area's jewelers would not even consider fixing the watch because it was such an inexpensive piece.  

One jeweler was particularly flippant and condescending about the entire operation. They just couldn't understand: 

Why would you pay to have such a cheap watch fixed when you can just buy one of these new watches instead? They're only $600. Oh, and by the way, would you like to get a wishlist started so that your husband can come in and see what you'd like this year for Christmas? 

Needless to say, my wife didn't stick around and she definitely didn't start a wishlist.  

The Moral of the Story

I get it. I've worked in sales too. When the holidays roll around and you want to end the year on a high note it's easy to over-emphasize the sale, especially when a healthy commission is on the line. 

By doing so though, you're missing out on a major opportunity to build rapport and trust with your customer (at what time of year do you have the opportunity to build relationships with as many customers as Christmas?!). You're trading loyalty for, in the case of the jeweler above, $600. If your customer's loyalty is worth so little to you; if you take your customer's motivations and feelings for granted for such modest gains, you've got major problems on the horizon in the socially-driven, and very crowded modern marketplace. 

When the jeweler in this story failed to acknowledge my wife's motivations and tried to pressure her into buying a new watch, not only did she lose a sale at that moment, but any subsequent sales with us. My wife's birthday is coming up soon; so is Valentine's day. Our anniversary is a few short months away. On top of that, we've been to several holiday parties and we've told this story to multiple acquaintances, all of whom now share a similar opinion of the story's antagonist. The jeweler has risked a whole lot of social equity and community loyalty for the opportunity to sell one person a single timepiece.


The Long-game: Using Your Humanity to Build Loyalty and Trust

Among millennial consumers, trust ranks right up there with brand recognition as one of the main drivers of brand recognition. In fact, it ranks almost as high as the quality of the product. According to recent poll results released by NewsCred, 

The most important driver of brand loyalty for millennials is a great product at 77%, followed closely by brand recognition and trust at 69%.

With those numbers in mind, it only makes sense to focus on building strong relationships with your customer base by providing a robust customer experience built upon empathy and thoughtful listening. Customers trust brands that care about them as human beings and not just a sale. 

If you refuse to truly listen to your customers and fail to acknowledge their needs and feelings, you're leaving one of your most powerful tools in the toolbox: your humanity. The brands that matter and the brands that last focus on building a rapport with their customers. It's natural for customers to engage with a decent human being that they feel a connection with. On the flip-side, it's easy to walk away from Salesperson #37 and never see them again. It's also hard not to give the benefit of the doubt to someone that you trust and that you've developed a strong relationship with, which gives a certain amount of room to take risks and/or fail. If you're Salesperson #37, though, you either need to be 100% on point or you need to be forgettable. Because if you're otherwise, it means you f@cked up and I'm going to have no problem letting everyone know about it.

Building a Culture of Caring: Service Over Sales

Customers engage with the brands they care about, and they care about the brands that care about them. So it's imperative that caring about the customer is built into the culture of a brand. 

A culture that cares starts with the people in HR. If you want a workforce that cares about the customer, then service needs to be built into every phase of the HR process. When you recruit, considering placing a preference on applicants that have a demonstrated history of community involvement. As you on-board new employees, make sure they see your company's service culture in action and ensure they see how it benefits everyone. 

On the sales floor, abolish the script and take customer service off of the clock. Worry less about your word-track and more about communicating truthfully with the customer, making sure you resolve their problem regardless of how long it takes. Doing so will encourage front-line representatives to interact with customers in a more genuine, human fashion. Also, try incentivizing service over sales by linking bonus structures with customer feedback.  

Most importantly, as with any aspect of company culture, caring needs to come from the top. If the people in the C-Suite don't care about the customer and if they can't be bothered to listen to their customer's needs, then why should anyone else?


Ultimately, your customers' decision to buy or not to buy is just that: a decision. That decision is driven by your customer's motivations, aspiration, goals, and yes, their feelings. If you and your company genuinely listen to your customers and strive to understand where they are coming from as rational human beings, then you will be on the road towards relevancy and engagement. If, on the other hand, you want to focus on the short-term gain and see each customer as just another tick towards the fulfillment of a monthly quota, you will be limiting your brand's ability to grow. You will also be driving your customers off of your sales floor and into the very open doors of your more caring competitors.  

What do you think? Has a sales person ever treated you like you had dollar signs on your forehead and, as a result, lost your business forever? We'd love to hear from ya!