Cup of Joe: How To Kill A Relationship With 30 Years Of Wheelchairs



WheelchairSome 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.

  • http://karenruntz.wordpress.com Karen Runtz

    How could a company be this careless, essentially turning their back on a loyal customer who helped them build their business. If closing that division was a business decision they needed to make, then they should have done something to notify existing customers of that decision prior to Dave’s retirement, letting them know about options, and including a write up of Dave’s career with them, wishing him well in his retirement, and giving customers who had built up a relationship with him the opportunity to say goodbye as well.

    • http://joehall.me/ Joe Hall

      Exactly Karen.

  • http://twitter.com/mona Mona Nomura

    “And also, its just the right thing to do, and that in itself should be the only marketing tactic you need.”

    Love that, and this piece — thanks for sharing.

    • http://joehall.me/ Joe Hall

      Thank you Mona for commenting. #wehatebatteries

  • http://www.theistudio.com Judith Kallos

    I’m sorry to hear about that Joe — but it just shows we live in a culture of “it’s all about the money” to the exclusion of all else. They could have at the very least partnered with another company then offered to get you in contact with them so their long term customers could have a smooth transition. But apparently it was all Dave — it shows just how important one person can be huh?

    I wouldn’t be able to recommend them either — what it they decide to drop another line and leave others hanging?

    My entrepreneurial mind can’t help but think either someone or another company will see this as an opportunity.

  • Alan Bleiweiss

    wow. no notice. no letter. no email. left it for you to find out when you called. That’s sad. Yet typical corporate mentality in the 21st century. I understand that businesses have to make changes as they do what they need to for business sake, but just wow…

  • http://www.conceiveplus.com Alex Lanni

    As Karen has rightly said it is definitely shocking for a company to close down manufacture without caring to inform to its loyal customers.

    “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.”
    I agree that the company is not worth being referred as later sometime down the years it might stop manufacturing ‘the prosthetics’ causing same agony to a number of others all over again. And indeed the company may not feel but the patients do feel like a family for the company they have been loyal to for years.

  • http://www.temecularealestatesearch.com Joe McDermott

    That suck’s Joe. I know how I feel when a company I’ve bought from for a long time decides not to support the product I liked…and these were nowhere near the type of relationships you must of had for a product that is so personal.
    I was in the RV manufacturing business for years. We were very heavily invested in owners clubs as a source of repeat business. At club functions it was amazing to me how offended some motor home owners would get when they found out we discontinued their model or floorplan…it was like we snuffed out a family friend. It was only after being a consumer for many years that I began to apprecate the decisions I was making as a marketer. It’s easy to overlook the importance of customer loyalty. Best of luck in finding another company you can build a relationship with.