Differentiate yourself through honesty

This is Part 3 of a 5-Part series: Joy of Honesty in Business.

Dishonesty is so rampant we can hardly be bothered to take offense.

A previously recorded message insists that our call is important, but apparently not important enough to answer.

A letter arrives marked “Important! Open Immediately” — a sure sign of unwanted solicitation.

A privacy policy surreptitiously allows a company to sell our email address; we’ve given up the fight; say a prayer to the patron saint of spam filters.

A vendor sends you a mail-merged thank-you note; your last name is misspelled and in all-caps.

A corporate mission statement places customer satisfaction first, then throws up layers of bureaucracy to distance customers from those with the knowledge and ability to solve problems.

Almost all our business interactions are tainted with these half-truths, actions incongruous with words, all smoke-and-mirrors. Half the time it feels like companies are doing just enough to not outright lie… but only just.

Do you want to be different from 99% of other companies? Be honest. Be genuine.

I’m not the first to recommend this, but how do you go about “being genuine?”

  • Admit when you’re wrong, quickly and genuinely.
  • As soon as something isn’t going to live up to your customer’s expectation — or even your own internal expectations — tell them. Explain why there’s a problem and what you’re doing about it.
  • Send hand-written letters. Second-best send typed but personalized letters.
  • Newsletters and blogs should contain useful, interesting articles, not just plugs for your product.
  • Instead of pretending your new software has no bugs and every feature you could possibly want, actively engage customers in new feature discussions and turn around bug fixes in under 24 hours.
  • A human being answers the phone, as fast as possible.
  • Emails are answered in under 15 minutes by a human, not an automated reply. If it’s going to take a long time to answer, a short response buys you as much time as you need.
  • Send emails from real people, not from [email protected].
  • Send personal emails.

It’s true that most of these ideas take time and effort; that’s exactly why they work! That’s why your competitors don’t do it, but that excuse isn’t good enough for you. You know that thrilling your customers is how you keep customers, how you earn their business even in recession, and how you get people to fight on your behalf when the budgets get cut.

People do business with people they like. Communicate quickly, as yourself, and be willing to admit shortcomings.

In other words, be a real person.

Do you have more ideas for how to build genuine customer relationships? Join the conversation, leave a comment.

11 responses to “Differentiate yourself through honesty”

  1. Although this is an excellent article, I think there is a distinction between being honest and being genuine. To show the comparision:

    Someone who is dishonest and disingenious not only hides the truth, but pretends that doing so is appropriate. Example: politicians.

    Someone who is honest but disingenious offers information that is factual but does not care how it is received or how it impacts others. Example: "Your call is important to us."

    Someone who is dishonest but genuine is hiding information but doing so because they beleive it is right. It’s hard to think of an example because these words seem to counter eachother, but think of an international spy.

    Someone who is honest and genuine is not only committed to telling the truth and admitting mistakes, but in presenting themselves as a real person.

    But of course, you really only want to interact with one of these four categories, which is the point of Jason’s article. Great job!

    • Robby what an insightful response to Jason’s article by making it so much clearer as well as driving me to Jason’s message. I also think Jason did a great job so as you.

  2. @Robby — Nice point! I agree. Although still just saying "your call is important to us" is not necessarily honest either. :-)

    In fact, in the end genuineness is perhaps more important than honesty, although it’s hard to be the former and not the latter, as you point out as well.

  3. There are a few professions where all you hafta do to differentiate yourself is to be honest. How easy can that be? One that comes to my mind right off the bat: Auto mechanic.

  4. This has been a great series, keep it up.

    When you say "It’s true that most of these ideas take time and effort; that’s exactly why they work!", I’m not sure it’s any harder than lying. After all, it’s hard work keeping track of whom you’ve lied to, and what the lies were. And then trying to figure out which lie to tell when the first batch blows up…

  5. @Brian — You’re so right. Mark Twain said, "If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything." Although I might use that for a future post so don’t hold it against me. :-)

    It’s a little harder though, at least with some things. Writing thoughtful emails — or worse by hand — is slower, lies or no lies.

    Also it’s psychologically hard, especially when you’re a small company. But more on that in the next two installments….

    @Dale — Love the example!

  6. Yes, here’s a tip that always works. Look them in the eyes (if on the phone imagine it) and deeply listen. Just "get" them and where they are, before defending or offering any resolution. Really seek to understand and let them know that you do. Human connection works wonders as you have pointed out so well in this post.

  7. I once worked for a man who stated that honesty was “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” At the time I knew his comment to be extremely self-serving and disingenuous, because he didn’t practice it himself, and was a manipulating control-freak.
    I have reflected since that “the whole truth” is rarely necessary, and often harmful, because in the end, all the client wants is what they want, and to not be lied to or cheated. Baring your soul is not necessary; listening to them bare their soul and get what they need to off their chests is one of the most honest things you can do.

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