Surprise birthday was a success. #auntsofinstagram #americangirl #chicago

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I got a flat tire while driving my niece around, a few months ago. It was only my third flat tire in my adult life. We were on a highway. Because I lack life skills, I had to call roadside assistance.

Before waiting too long, a nice guy in a truck pulled up alongside my rental car and offered to help. He told me his name, gave me a few details about his life to let me know that he wasn’t a serial killer, and changed my tire in about 60 seconds.

Super fast.

Words cannot express my gratitude. I’ve never had a flat tire with a seven-year-old-girl in the backseat of my rental car. She peppered me with 100 questions, and it was a little stressful.

Are we going to get hit by a truck? Who’s going to help us? How much longer in the car? Who are all these people in the other cars? Why is our rental car red? Were there other colors? Why doesn’t my mom’s car have a backup camera like this car? Should we get out and walk? Is there a Starbucks nearby? Could we get a cake pop?

Thankfully, my Good Samaritan had us ready to go in a matter of moments.

In my head, I was already planning on sending this guy a big thank you box of goodies. Maybe some flowers for his wife. I don’t know. But I wanted to show my appreciation. But he told me, “There’s no need to thank me. In fact, don’t reach out to me.”

It turns out, this guy once helped a young woman who was hit by a car. She got a sketchy lawyer and tried to convince a judge that he was part of the accident. He almost stopped helping people on the side of the road after that. He continued because he’s a good man. But — and he made it clear to me — he didn’t want to be found.

And I was like, wow, that’s awesome. Thank you. To be honest, I was relieved. Not every experience in life needs to lead to a relationship. In fact, not being obligated to someone is sometimes the best gift in the world. It’s nice when someone does something nice for you and doesn’t expect anything in return.

There’s a myth out there that you can’t have a good experience without first having a good relationship. Companies are obsessed about it, right now. Recruiters want relationships with prospects. Marketers want relationships with customers. Grocery stores want a relationship with shoppers.

And, while a relationship is nice, that myth is wrong.

Good experiences can come from people and brands that act with integrity, behave with good intentions, and deliver on their promises. That’s it.

Relationships are important, but they’re two-sided and take a lot of work. They take accountability and honesty, too. And not everybody wants a relationship with you. In fact, sometimes not having a relationship is the best experience.

So just keep in mind that relationship-focused business models are great, but it’s not applicable to every customer or prospect who walks through your (virtual) door. And no five-point plan for customer experience can overcome someone who is clearly saying, “Thanks but no thanks.”

When you hear someone tell you to back off, respect it. That’s what I did with the guy on the side of the road, and his act of service with no strings attached was the best part of the gift.

But now I know that I really need to learn how to change a flat tire.

5 Responses to Not Everybody Wants a Relationship
  1. Marilyn

    I’m pretty sure if you do learn how to change a tire, it will take you more than 60 seconds and you will break at LEAST one nail. ;-).

    Let the roadside assistance people keep their jobs and do what they do well.

  2. Robyn

    Sometimes, the people who help you – or the people you help – just want to know there’s still kindness out there. Not looking to make a lifelong friend, but still maybe a lifelong good memory.

    BTW – I taught myself to change a tire on my car so I could feel more confident driving the backroads.

  3. Denise

    I change tires the same way you do, with my AAA card. I am not going to stand, squat, etc on the side of the highway changing a tire. Thank goodness for cell phones, roadside assistance and good samaritans!

  4. Rick P.

    Had this same experience in Nova Scotia, sitting on the side of the road with a dead motorcycle (battery, other electronics). First people to stop offered me sandwich, next person who stopped (on a bicycle) diagnosed the problem in about 30 seconds, and the third person — fellow motorcyclist — took my dead battery, rode to town, brought back a new battery and wouldn’t take any money for it. People can be truly amazing and so often want nothing in return.

  5. Carmen Hudson

    Catching up on your blog. Love this story! Had a similar feeling in New Zealand. We showed up at a winery that was closed. As in, business was shuttered. There were a few employees there, doing whatever you do when your winery closes. Because we had ubered over, and didn’t have a real plan, we were kind of stranded. Not a real emergency, but what next? Then the nice lady at the winery offered to give us a ride to a different winery, also near a delightful restaurant where we could have lunch. She was so nice. As I climbed out of the car, thanking her profusely, I wished there was something else we could do to show gratitude. But our relationship ended right there. Nothing left to do but accept her gift. Maybe pay it forward one day.