How Not to Handle a Repair Job

A friend of mine had a terrible experience at a Fast-Fix watch repair shop—and we can all learn a few things from it

A couple of months ago, my friend Tamara, a television writer based in Los Angeles, sent me an email asking for a watch-repair recommendation. “I just got a vintage Mickey Mouse watch and wanted to get it tuned up,” she wrote. “It’s running, but it probably needs a good once-over.”

When Tamara and I spoke, she filled me in on the backstory. It’s a doozy.

Last July, she bought a 1939 Ingersoll Mickey Mouse watch for $106.80 on eBay and took it to a Fast-Fix repair shop in the Westfield Century City Mall to get it tuned up.

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A screenshot from eBay’s confirmation email to Tamara

“I didn’t buy the watch because I’m a collector of Disney stuff or timepieces,” Tamara explained in a follow-up email. “I bought it for a totally random reason: It is the watch Bob Geldof’s character wears in Pink Floyd’s The Wall and the album/film has an emotional significance in my life.”

She told me the watch was running when she received it (and she had the documentation to prove it), but that the seller had suggested she take it into a repair shop because he wasn’t sure if it was keeping good time. Fast-Fix quoted her $300 for the tune-up and told her it would take two months because the parts might be tough to find, she said.

Two months passed and Tamara called to check on the watch. A store manager told her it would be another two weeks. She followed up in that time only to be told two more weeks.

“This two-week deal goes on for some time and eventually I go into the store to just pick the watch up,” she said. “It’s taking waaaay too long and I’ve decided to take it elsewhere. When I get there I talk to the same salesman I initially dropped the watch off with, who suggested it may be better to replace the movement. I agree. Two more weeks the salesman tells me. We’ll have to order the movement. Great.”

Yet another two weeks pass—by now it’s October. The watch still isn’t ready. Tamara endures some more back and forth with the manager before she finally gets fed up. “They had kept my watch for so long, and I just wanted to take it elsewhere,” she said. “I called the store and told the salesman that answered that I no longer wanted the movement replaced. When I get to the store the manager tells me the movement’s already been ordered and the watch will be ready with the new movement tomorrow. Sigh. Fine.”

When Tamara returned to the store to pick up the watch once and for all, she noticed some rather alarming things—for starters, the seconds subdial was missing. “The salesman tells me the seconds hand won’t run with the new movement so they didn’t bother to put it back in,” she says. “So there’s this ugly hole on the bottom of the watch face. I ask for it to be replaced. I also notice that the crystal is loose in the watch. The salesman tells me the new movement is smaller than the original movement so it doesn’t hold the crystal in place. I can’t believe it was returned to me like that. The salesman says he can glue it in place for me. It’ll take two hours. Sigh.… Then I notice that the movement is rattling around inside the casing. They did absolutely nothing to secure the movement inside. Unbelievable.”

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A shot of Tamara’s Mickey Mouse watch before she took it to Fast-Fix

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A shot of Tamara’s watch after she picked it up at Fast-Fix. You’ll need to zoom in to see how askew the dial is.

Tamara decided she wanted a refund for the $300 she’d paid and turned to Fast-Fix’s corporate office to resolve the matter. “The only bright spot in the story is that the people there were absolutely lovely and empathetic,” she said. “It took a while, but corporate got the franchise owner to agree to a refund. All I needed to do was bring the watch into the store so they could take the new movement out and put my old one back in.”

At the store, however, things turned ugly. “I was told that because I didn’t specifically ask for the watch to be returned to me in the same condition as I dropped it off in they simply replaced the movement and didn’t reattach the winding stem,” she said. An argument ensued before Tamara took the watch and left.

On May 22, I contacted Fast-Fix to get its take on the encounter via email. To his credit, Gerald Weber, chief executive officer of Boca Raton, Fla.–based Jewelry Repair Enterprises Inc. (dba Fast-Fix Jewelry and Watch Repairs), replied to my email inquiry within hours with a note saying he’d asked the franchise owner, Mikhail Zeeb, to respond to me directly. Disconcertingly, however, Weber pointed out that “there are two sides to every story. We go out of our way to provide exemplary service. I spoke to [the store manager] and to Mikhail Zeeb, our franchisee. The story is substantially different from their side.”

The following day, I got a voicemail from Zeeb and returned his call. He told me that when Tamara brought her watch in last summer, “there were no parts available for that watch so we offered to find a part for it. It took six, seven months; the watchmaker kept looking for it. They weren’t available.”

Zeeb took issue with Tamara’s claim that the watch was running when she brought it in, and told me that she was “lying through her teeth.”

I was stunned. How a business owner could make accusations like this about a customer even after I explained that she was a friend of mine made no sense. He was unprofessional and hot-tempered. Clearly, I wasn’t going to be able to determine exactly what happened that day at Fast-Fix. The he-said-she-said nature of this whole saga was too much to parse. But based on my own conversation with Zeeb, it was clear he misunderstood some fundamental things about customer service.

For example, when I asked Zeeb why hadn’t he returned Tamara’s calls, as she had told me, he said: “I called her twice and nobody picked up. I usually don’t answer customers. I have other things I want to do in my life.”

Bingo. In that one sentence, Zeeb communicated everything I needed to know about the customer-service culture at his franchise. If the owner couldn’t be bothered to deal with an upset customer, how could we expect his employees to handle the situation in a respectful manner?

I’ve known Tamara for nearly 15 years: She’s hardworking, smart, funny, and successful. While I wasn’t there at the store to witness the encounter with the manager, the fact that the repair job had stretched on this long and gotten both sides into such a tizzy means a straightforward watch repair was allowed to spiral into a heated battle, permanently alienating a Fast-Fix customer. What can we learn from the experience?

Communicate! If a repair job is quoted as two months and stretches on for many more months, be sure to make it clear to the customer right away. Don’t put the onus of figuring that out on your clients.

Be realistic! If finding spare parts is proving difficult, or even impossible, be transparent, and lay out alternative strategies. Customers will appreciate the honesty.

Model the behavior you want to see your employees emulate. The culture of a store begins with the owner. 

Seemingly most obvious of all: Don’t fight with your customers. Even if they’re wrong. In an age of Yelp and posts that threaten to go viral on social media, the old adage “the customer is always right” is truer than ever.