I usually don't care about brands. In most cases, I couldn't tell you if the grocery store five blocks away is a Giant or a Safeway. I just go there because it's the closest. In other areas, there is one acknowledged brand that leads the way – like the iPod – and I don't even consider anything else. But that is more a function of their brand, not my affection for it. I'm not one for brand loyalty and simply don't care the vast majority of the time with one exception that didn't occur to me until this weekend*.
A year or two after I graduated from college, I made plans – both flight and car rental – to visit my alma mater for a weekend. Unfortunately, the flight got in late and most of car rental agencies were minutes from closing. I got to the counter, gave the confirmation number, and immediately received the bad news. Since I wasn't 25, I wouldn't be able to rent… At no time did they contact me and give me warning or confirm the information, they left me without a vehicle at 10pm over 60 miles from campus and weren't willing to even suggest any alternatives. After a heated debate, a woman at the Enterprise counter spoke up and noted that they rent to anyeone over 21. I took my business there and haven't considered anywhere else since. I even get coupons for the other guys and simply don't bother.
Yes, I know that it was simply a company policy that couldn't be broken. While annoying, I didn't hold that against them. The part that was unforgettable – and somewhat unforgivable – was their willingness to leave me stranded in an airport. No amount of customer service would have saved that first sale, but just a tiny amount of customer service would have found a solution. Just a tiny amount of customer service would have kept them in the running for my future business. Just a tiny amount of customer service would have generated a call or email warning me of the situation days in advance.
* The trip was for the wedding of a longtime friend and budding security expert Sid Stamm. You might have seen some of his work discussed in recent news coverage of sniffing and pharming.