Until recently, I don’t think I would have considered myself to be emotionally attached to brands. But something happened this summer that changed my perspective: I stopped using a service from a brand I had a relationship with for close to 5 years. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a big deal on its face, but it was frustrating, and dare I say, painful to endure. It was almost like a real-life breakup between two partners. We both tried to salvage the relationship, but in the end, it just didn’t work out.

The company’s offering was highly personalized, providing me value through convenience, product variety and customer service. In other words, a stellar customer experience. In fact, I was willing to pay a bit more to use this service instead of going with less costly (but also less convenient) options. Until recently, I would have considered myself an advocate for this brand. I would gush about its service to my friends and family when the relevant topic came up in conversation. In other words, true word-of-mouth marketing.

But after four-plus years of an excellent offering, issues crept up. Two of the three value attributes I identified started to deteriorate. What was once a convenient service became a regular hassle to deal with. When I connected with the company’s customer service team over email and on the phone to get my issues resolved, they would constantly give me the runaround — something I didn’t encounter in the past. I tried to weather this turbulence for several months to see if things would get better as the brand burned all its equity it had built up with me. But alas, they didn’t improve. I made the tough decision: I broke up with the brand.

The story doesn’t end there. My once-effusive praise to my friends and family about this once-loved brand is now replaced with laments about how it all went wrong. I’ve moved from encouraging them to try out the brand’s service to active discouragement (or moving from promoter to detractor, in NPS-speak). This hard-won advocate is now anything but, and several years of earning my trust and my business disintegrated in just a few months of missteps.

I’m generalizing this story because my goal with this blog is not to shame an individual brand. Instead, I want to echo what my colleague, Augie Ray, astutely pointed out in his recent blog post: True brand loyalty is not simply transactional, it’s emotional. Developing and delivering a holistic customer experience generates loyal customers that love, recommend and defend your brand. On the flip side, falling short of the loyalty you cultivate can be emotionally taxing on your customers. An obsession with meeting and exceeding customers’ high expectations will help you sustain healthy relationships and prevent fraught brand break-ups.

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