Customer service. A phrase which all too often conjures up distant sounds of tinny hold music, of receipt waving, of empty apologies and promises of a reply which never comes. More often than not, if one is contacting customer service, something has gone wrong.
Here at Marloe Watch Company, we aren't immune to that (but we will never put you on hold). Things do go wrong, sometimes - it's not unheard of, but it's really quite rare - because we pride ourselves on each and every interaction and, as detail-oriented people, we minimise the potential for any negative incidents as much as is humanly possible. As and when they do occur, we are here to respond as quickly as we can - within the hour is our standard.
But we aren't here to talk about how great we are. Genuinely. Because our reputation for excellent customer service doesn't come purely from us. It comes from our customers, and the community dynamic that they have helped us to achieve. Our positive business-customer relationship is very much two-sided; it comes from the open, honest dynamic that we have built with every customer. We don't think of customer service as damage control; we base our every activity around it, because without you, we are just people sitting at opposite ends of Britain emailing each other about watches.
Since day one, Marloe Watch Company has been dependent on genuine, human relationships. We launched our first watch on Kickstarter; a hand-wound, mechanical timepiece, in a very saturated market which, at that point, was becoming ever more dominated by smart watches. There was every possibility that our campaign would go unseen among thousands of others - that it wouldn't resonate with anyone, that nobody would want to part with their hard-earned cash to buy what we had created. We very quickly realised that we had to communicate - to tell our story, to explain how this watch had come about, and to connect on an honest, raw level which is uncommon within retail - especially within the world of e-commerce. We couldn't hide behind our keyboards and hope that people fell in love with our brand; we had to start the conversation.
We always wanted our designs to resonate with people; to know that the physical embodiments of our inspiration are treasured and valued just as we treasured and valued them when they were just flights of fancy. But we didn't know just how crucial, and how humbling, this level of interaction and community would become to us. Now four years down the line, having recently concluded a successful investment round, we are more aware than ever of the unusual space we occupy within the world of retail. Yes, we have customers who we have never spoken with; we sell online, and there are always orders where we have no need to chat to the customer, and we may never hear from them again - that's the nature of e-commerce, and it's perfectly fine. But we have so much more than that. Our customers have become a true community; and we wanted to take this opportunity to take a look at that evolution, and to express how it impacts our business.
Our Kickstarter and Crowdcube campaigns are great and probably the most obvious examples of how engaged our customer base is. Not only do they want to buy what we're selling, they also want to be a part of our company; to invest in our improvement and growth, and to grow with us. But there are many, more subtle, interactions and circumstances which drive home to us every day just how fortunate we are to have the community around us that we do.
Take, for example, the slight delay we are experiencing in shipping our Morar watches. It's definitely not a good thing; manufacturing quality control has taken longer than expected, and we won't compromise or rush that process, and so we must wait. We hate having to send out emails letting people know that we aren't going to hit a deadline that we had hoped to make; that they have to wait a couple more days for the watch that they've coveted from afar for so long. There comes an element of fear when one has to hit the 'send' button - the temptation is to run and hide in a store room, and to avoid ones emails for the remainder of the day. We anxiously visualise people around the globe sighing with disappointment, stretching out their fingers, and setting about their keyboard to give us what for. But that doesn't happen, with our customers. We received some very polite 'thank you for letting me know' emails, and a multitude of others which empathised - 'these things happen', 'you can't rush quality' - and it's once again clear to us that our customers just get us. They understand the process, and the journey that leads to their watch arriving on their wrist. They know we will have done, and will continue to do, everything in our power as a three-person team to get their watch to them as soon as possible, and they trust us with that process and judgement. That is an incredible feeling, as a business owner and as a retailer. To know that we are trusted, and understood, gives us the space we need to continue with the multitude of other tasks that we must achieve in any given day, without having to appease people who - and they'd be well within their rights - might react with negativity towards receiving such an email. We are incredibly grateful, especially on days like this, for having such a community of people around us who we get to call our customers.
As an online retailer, we don't get to meet our customers face to face as often as we would like. We do have the odd visitor to our showroom and HQ here in Henley-on-Thames, perhaps two or three a week, and we look forward to our inaugural AGM where we will meet with many of our new investors. Our (very beautiful, but relatively remote) location doesn't, however, stop us from having genuine communication with our community. Often we receive an email out of the blue, from someone who may have just received their watch and who wants to express how much delight they had opening the package, or from someone who has had their watch for a couple of years, who has watched our evolution from afar, and who just wanted to reach out and say hello. People have watched our videos and feel like they truly know Gordon - they have an understanding of how he works and who he is, despite never having met him. We receive ideas, inspiration, stories and design cues from people who have been inspired by an adventurer, a British icon, an experience of their own, or a place of great beauty and who want to see our interpretation of their vision. We wish we could make a watch for every one who sends across their ideas! We even receive hand-written letters, through the post - do you remember them? And we truly cherish them.
When it comes to feedback, we know we can rely on our network. The honest responses we get to new products, ideas, and initiatives helps us to shape our business in a way which ensures that it looks after our customers - the people who enable us to do what we do for a living. Knowing that people will be frank and vocal, will take the time to respond to us and provide feedback, gives us the confidence to try new things; to test waters, to let our creative juices flow, and to do things our way - the Marloe Watch Company way - even if we're paving a brand new path for ourselves. That can be very scary for a growing business, but we take each step with confidence.
As a small team, with each individual wearing many hats, we don't often have time for lengthy phone calls or meetings - but we always make time to reply to each and every communication. We know how fortunate we are to have such engaged customers, who play a huge part in the development of our company, and we will never take that for granted. You make us what we are; for every hour of hard work that we put into the company, we are repaid thousands of times over, in a multitude of ways.
We know people like our watches; we wouldn't be here if they didn't. Knowing that thousands of people across the globe love the object we have created is an incredible feeling in itself, and we are honoured every single time someone parts with their hard-earned money to own one of our watches. But we will never be prepared for the humbling, and very surprising, feeling that we get whenever someone also takes the time to reach out to us and tell us exactly why they like us - why they choose Marloe Watch Company. Why they take the time to talk to us, to meet with us, to reach out. These are the people who we do this for; the ones who fuel late-night, frenzied design sessions, who make coding battles with the back end of our online store worthwhile, who get us through frustrations with customs or banks or any number of life's daily challenges. That's what customer service means to us. Those are the customers we serve.