Some of you know that I use an electric wheelchair to get around. In fact I have used a wheelchair my whole life. You can get the whole story elsewhere. For now I just want to talk about my wheelchairs. The first chair I had was red. It had a wooden seat assembly with an aluminum frame. The next chair I got was made of titanium and had custom axis that allowed me to reach the wheels better. When that chair was brand new I remember it moving like a boat through water, smooth and fast.
I didn’t get my first electric wheelchair til I was in high school. It had a custom cushion and programmable joystick. With it I was able to go places that I had never been before. It gave me a new sense of freedom. I remember feeling a tiny bit of sadness when I traded it in for a new chair. But the new one gave me even more independence than the last, so all was not lost.
Every chair that I have ever used has been an integral part of my life. Which is why for the last 29 years I have only used one company to handle my wheelchair needs. I started using this company when I was a kid after my parents got their name from my doctor. When they built my first wheelchair they had a two room office. Now they have a sprawling office building that employs dozens of people. Because I have always relied on them to furnish my wheelchair needs, I have always considered them nothing short of family.
So you can imagine how I must have felt when I called them this week to schedule a tune up, when the receptionist told me, “I am sorry we don’t do wheelchairs anymore”.
What? Don’t do wheelchairs?? I immediately said to her, “What do you mean? I have been getting my chairs from your company for the last 30 years!! Let me speak to Dave!” Apparently, Dave – the same guy that I have personally known for 30 years, decided to retire, and with him the wheelchair division went. They now do prosthetic limbs, braces, orthopedic shoes, and other medical equipment.
I know it might sound silly, but hearing that they wouldn’t be able to provide services to me anymore, felt like a family member had passed away. Over the last 30 years I built a relationship with a company in a uniquely personal way. When that relationship ended, it affected me. I have lost a certain amount of trust in them, and to be honest I am not sure I would ever recommend their services now. They played a giant role in helping me find my own independence, and now they are gone, forever. I don’t think I have ever been this let down by a brand.
As entrepreneurs and marketers, it is extremely important to be mindful of the relationships that we create. Even though we may not view our companies and brands personally, others do. In fact your job as a marketer is to build these types of relationships. But its also your job to continue these relationships even as your company makes hard changes. Doing so will increase your chances of your brand spreading even when you have to disappoint your loyal customers. And also, its just the right thing to do, and that in itself should be the only marketing tactic you need.
[photo credit] The chair pictured above is the same make/model as the titanium chair that is mentioned in the first paragraph.