Authenticity in Business: differentiating yourself in these uncertain times

Things are changing these days. Of course we’re always in flux, but during this pandemic we’re also in confusion. People either aren’t working, aren’t working in their normal business location, are having difficulty accomplishing normal tasks, or getting shuffled in reorgs; companies are reexamining their status quo and making shifts not considered just months ago. Norms and rules that worked are now suspect.

As we figure out what change means to us, I think there’s a central question businesses need to answer: How will we compete when our industry has new rules, new players, new outcomes and possibly new marketing and sales efforts to respond to, when we don’t know what will stick, what will arise, who our competitors are? Little, it seems, is as it was, and there’s literally no way of knowing what will be. Old standards don’t apply. Now what?


Because there’s so much confusion, because the norms are shifting, there doesn’t seem to be a clear way forward. I have an idea on how to use this time of uncertainty to differentiate yourself.

If you’re like most companies or vendors, differentiating yourself is one of your longstanding challenges. Although your offering is obviously unique, you most likely show up as more similar to your competitors than you’d like: the language, words, phrases, you use to describe your solution and market yourself might be considered industry standard; your website might use fonts, themes, phrases and syntax similar to others in your industry. You might use a more tactical approach that unwittingly sounds like everyone else, making it more difficult to differentiate. After all, if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, it’s hard to explain that you’re really a goose.

I suggest you use this time to differentiate yourself as a Servant Leader-focused vendor practicing win-win and integrity. In other words, as Authentic. Showing up as genuine, reliable, and trustworthy, with care, concern, and respect, would be a good place to start to become the new you, and certainly a great way to differentiate.


Here’s a case study where the company told me exactly who they were by their disrespectful actions – certainly in contrast to what they say on their site or in their marketing materials. Remember that companies, like people, are always telling you exactly who they are by their actions. And this company told me they had no integrity. They certainly don’t care about customers.

In the past week I spent upwards of 45 hours being abused by the absolutely dreadful Best Buy’s Geek Squad that I pay to provide me with tech support. Phones didn’t pick up; kept on hold for hours and then told by voice message to ‘call back at a later time’; 39 hours worth of holding, waiting, holding; 14 reps, 7 wrong transfers; hang ups. One time, after I’d been on hold for 45 minutes after 22 hours of frustration trying to get a simple problem fixed, the man who answered asked how I was doing and I burst out crying. And he hung up on me.

For 2 days I begged, yelled, screamed, waited, waited, waited, listening to that blasted audio telling me how much their customers matter to them, all the while unable to work because of the infuriating problem that remained unfixed.

Finally, at 5:36 in the morning, after waiting 13 hours after trying trying trying 26 previous hours, (to fix what turned out to be a four minute fix), the tech wrote in the little box that he’d tried to call (not true) but when no one answered (I was on the computer with phone next to me!) he was hanging up (even though he had all the details and passcodes!); I immediately tried talking/writing to him on the little screen but was ignored. Tears. Big tears of frustration. I called back one more time before throwing my computer into the river (I live on a floating home). A young tech answered, saw the problem and immediately fixed it. Four minutes.

I decided to complain, that just maybe someone cared like the audio messages told me they did when I was on hold. I placed many calls to the GM at my Best Buy store where I pay for service. She, Caitlin O’Something, refused to return the calls, but finally, finally, the next day I got a return call from the Tech Manager. Here was the conversation:

Man: I hear you have a complaint?

SD: I’m a client. I tried for 2 days – 45 hours – to get you folks to solve a 4 minute problem. I was treated very disrespectfully. Hung up on, kept on hold for hours and hours and hours. Lied to. Transferred over and over to the wrong people. Let waiting for service for 13 hours. Finally my initial problem was resolved but there are side problems still occurring. I want to speak with the GM.

Man: I’m a tech supervisor and work under her. I can try to see if I can get someone to help.

SD: Why don’t you start off with “I’m sorry.”

Man: Sure. Now let me see if I can get someone to help. I’ll try.

SD: Wait, what? No ‘sorry’?

Man: I understand your frustration.

SD: You do? You understand my frustration? How could you? I find that disrespectful. I bet you’ve never waited for 45 hours to get help from a service provider you paid for. Or been hung up on after waiting a full day? Or kept on hold for dozens of hours? Or been redirected over and over again. I’ve heard your hold recording and know it by heart by now. It tells me you care about me and care about my problems. It tells me my feedback is important to you. That you want to serve me. Right? So serve me. Telling me ‘you can TRY to SEE’ if you can help is not helping. You’re a senior manager, not an hourly worker. You’re representing the GM. Take ownership of the problem. You need to step up and take responsibility. Isn’t that your job? Stop telling me you understand what you cannot possibly understand, say “I’m sorry that happened, Ms Morgen. That shouldn’t have happened to a loyal client. I am a tech manager and will make sure you get the help you deserve. I will own the problem and make sure it gets fixed.”

Man: I’m sorry you feel that way.

And then he hung up on me.

That’s not customer service. That’s not integrity, or Servant Leadership. That’s just plain abuse.


The world is sort of shifting now, in favor of kindness, trust, integrity and authenticity. You can indeed make money by making nice. Here are some questions to ask yourself to see if you’re ready to leave the tactical behind and be willing to differentiate yourself with your care:

  • What do you need to believe differently to be willing to truly serve your customers? What does that mean to you? What internal ‘rules’ and ‘norms’ need to be considered? What behaviors could you offer that would exhibit that level of care? What’s the difference between those rules in place now and what you’d need to change? Maybe having real people available for customers to speak with? Or enough folks for support to avoid anything longer than 10 minute wait times? Or human being to call customers within an hour?
  • Do you know how your current rules and norms actually affect your customers? I’m sure Best Buy didn’t understand what their sweet promises during hold time actually meant. They don’t care about customers. Does your company? How do you show your customers you really care?
  • Are you willing to differentiate yourself by being the best service provider in your industry? To offer such good service that no one would ever think of going to anyone else, that your brand would be equivalent to CARE, or GREAT SERVICE? Most customers would be HAPPY to pay for great service, certainly preferring you over the competition.

In these days, having a good product, a good solution, isn’t enough. What are you willing to do to show up authentically? By showing up as a trustworthy vendor, by having integrity and a great service mentality, by truly seeking to facilitate Excellence with them, you can not only differentiate yourself, but make a lot of money by being nice.


Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon-Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. She can be reached at

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  1. Pingback: Making Money AND Making Nice: selling, managing, coaching, and leading with respect, kindness, and serving | Sharon-Drew Morgen

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