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Brand loyalty can live and die fast

In Philadelphia we’re really lucky to have car sharing. I am not sure which city had it first, but I am pretty sure Philly was one of them. It started with PhillyCarShare, a not for profit company who set out to make car sharing an effective and affordable solution for city drivers. I’d like to walk you through how they took me from being a loyal customer to driving me to the competition.

Since I heard of the concept (and the company) I was extremely excited. The only problem was that I already had a lease, so other than the occasional use from my wife, we never really experienced it. Once we moved to center city and gave up our lease, we decided to give PhillyCarShare a try. We’ve never looked back.

For those of you who don’t have car sharing in your city, here’s how it works:

  1. Go on the website and reserve a car close to you with the time frame you need
  2. Head over to the car and unlock it with your rfid card
  3. Drive it around and return it when it is due back

I think everyone can agree that the concept rocks, but let’s get to the point of the post. Not only was this a great concept, but PhillyCarShare (the company) was extremely impressive when it came to customer service, availability of cars, and attention to detail. I really can’t think of many companies that have impressed me so much, which quickly made me a loyal customer.

Then Zipcar came along

When Zipcar showed up, PhillyCarShare had its first competition. Being the loyal customer that I was, I immediately viewed Zipcar as an outsider; a national company that had no chance in Philadelphia. They seemed less community driven than PhillyCarShare and frankly, I didn’t even give them a chance.

Philly Car Share gets new management

Within the past few months, we’ve noticed some drastic changes from PhillyCarShare. From what I hear the original owners left (or something) and new management stepped in. Since that time, I have never seen such a sudden change in quality and customer service. First, they decided to remove free plans (hourly rates only) by sending an email on Friday evening, which took effect the following Tuesday (shady). Then, we started to notice less cars, cheaper cars, and even cars that are beat up and not fixed for a long time. It was extremely disappointing.

Considering other options

With all the problems, I went from a fanatically loyal customer to a “shopping for options” consumer. It amazed me how fast a company can slip, without much room or options to get those customers back. As I started looking at their competitor for the first time, Zipcar seemed like a great option. They now have excellent cars, a great reservation system, and many automated ways to interact with your reservation.

We signed up for Zipcar but decided to keep PhillyCarShare while we evaluate. As it stands now, Zipcar seems to be the better option.

You can’t afford to slip

What I learned from this is that no matter how good you are today, you still have to work your ass off to keep that brand loyalty. Small things can add up over time that leave a negative impression, but are hard to see from the inside. It’s important to listen to your customers and learn their overall experience, and most of all, focus on doing every small thing as best as possible.