What’s on the iPod: Wilderness by Middle Brother

freelance, writing, client

Sinus infection. That’s the word from the doctor, who seems to think I did not have the flu but had this sinus infection the entire time. Truth? I think he’s full of it. I’ve had enough sinus infections to know what they feel like, what symptoms to expect, and what doesn’t happen.

Another reason I think he’s full of it — he had his face so buried in his laptop, he didn’t even hear when I said I’d had a fever and serious body aches on Wednesday and by Friday I felt better, but it had seemed to move into my sinuses. His response was “Well the flu won’t last four days.”

Really? Is that what I said? Don’t think so. Last I checked, Wednesday to Friday isn’t four days.

In fact, the doctor’s behavior, and that of one of the nurses, punctuates the point I’m about to make about image.

I’ve been going to this office for 12 years and in general I think they do a great job. However, they’ve recently moved all their files online and equipped their staff with netbooks in this paperless attempt at organization. For the most part, it works. When my doctor usually comes in to see me, she’s been attentive and uses the computer briefly to make notes, order prescriptions, and log the right code for the invoice.

However, she wasn’t in yesterday. So I was greeted by a nurse I’d not seen before. She took me to a room where she promptly turned her back to me and concentrated all her efforts on that 13-inch screen. I’d even asked her how her day was going. Nothing. No acknowledgement whatsoever. In fact, she spent five minutes (I kept an eye on my watch) futzing with her computer software and talking to herself about what she was/wasn’t seeing. Clearly, this was a change she wasn’t up for. I’d asked her two questions, neither of which were answered because she was so busy trying to understand how to log in my information.

Then she moved me from room one to room two. Only she had her face buried in that laptop as we walked and she didn’t realize I’d walked into room three when she’d stopped in front of it and acknowledged a coworker who had impeded her forward progress. For my part, since she’d said “We’ll just put you in here” to the computer screen, I assumed it was that room. I heard her whispering in the hall that she couldn’t find Lori Widmer, then her coworker said “In there.” To which more whispering about it being the wrong room, at which point I heard him say “It doesn’t really matter.”

Then the doc came in — I’ve seen him before, but he’s not my regular doc. He too was toting a laptop. And when he asked my symptoms, his face was turned toward the screen, which to his credit he’d placed so he could still glance my way on occasion. Not that he did, but he could have.

It was at that point he examined me, which meant the laptop had to be put aside. It was — on the table with me. Fine, but his attention went from me immediately to the screen again. That’s when I was explaining the duration of my illness, the change in symptoms, and when he made a judgment that didn’t come close to responding to what I’d told him.

What does this have to do with image and the freelancer? It serves as an example of how customer service or even attention to your surroundings can play a huge part in how you’re perceived by those around you. Here’s how I see some of us getting it wrong:

No interaction. I’ve seen blogs rise to the top of the heap but then lose members through lack of interaction. One in particular would ignore questions posed directly, but wouldn’t have any trouble schmoozing with those commenting who might have some clout somewhere. I stopped following, as did a few other writers, and she never noticed. When I pointed it out to her at a later date, she was surprised. Again, she’d never noticed. I notice when someone hasn’t shown up in a while and I do stress about it. There are people whose interaction here I used to love, but for one reason or another they’re not around. I don’t ask because I think it’s up to them to say if there was a problem, but if you’re reading, know that I miss your presence.

No personalization. I love informative blogs and brochures and sales items, but I want to know who you are and how I fit into the equation. If you’re so intent on telling me how fantastic you are or how your information is the best there is, you’re not telling me why I should care. Make a personal connection in your content and your online presence.

No conversation. One or two blogs I’ve stopped following were either comment-disabled or run by absentee owners. You don’t have to talk to everyone at the second they post, but show up once or twice a day (or a week if your posts are less frequent) to at least respond. No one wants to present an opinion or share an experience if it’s going to hang out there unnoticed.

No originality. I’ve mentioned before having my work “rewritten” and in some cases repeated in other blogs. In one case, the dude fought vehemently with me over his “right” to repost my stuff, citing the Fair Use section of the copyright law, which he claimed to “teach” to other designers. Maybe you teach it, but that doesn’t mean you understand it or use it legally, for lifting my entire blog, wrapping your site URL around it, and making people go through four screens to get to my site is not proper attribution. It’s theft of my traffic, my ad revenue, and my readers. The same goes for the blogger who comes up with “original” ideas that are basically rewrites of my and other bloggers’ posts. If you use someone else’s ideas, give them credit.

All bullshit. We’ve talked a lot about long-winded sales pages, but it can’t be said enough. If your message is strong, you can convey it concisely and not affect your sales. In fact, I saw a sales page yesterday that went on and on. And on. I realized this woman’s message ended at her bio, which was about 1/4 the way down her page. But somewhere she got the notion that every damned detail of her offer needed to be on display, so it went on… What ever happened to tantalizing content drawing you in? This was for an audience of writers, too. Wow. Her product may have been great, but the more she went on about it, the less convinced I was.

How are we getting it wrong when it comes to image?

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  • Paula January 23, 2013 at 6:53 pm

    I would have been tempted to close that doctor's laptop when it was next to me. Common courtesy still goes a long way.

    As for image, I see people working so hard to cultivate what they think is a hip, marketable image that they forget all about substance. Image only gets you so far. Substance is what it's all about – no matter the person, service, industry or product,

  • Anne Wayman January 23, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    My doctor, who is at a low income clinic for crying out loud… listens to me… and uses the tech the way it should be used.

    I'm with Paula… close their damn laptops…

  • Lori January 23, 2013 at 8:11 pm

    The doctor's office is getting a note from me about my experience. My regular doctor NEVER acts like that, and I don't expect it from anyone in that office, especially given the proliferation of "no cell phone use" signs. If I'm expected to follow simple courtesy, so should they be.

    Paula, that's it in a nutshell. You may be hip and cool, but how far will that get you when people realize your message, well, sucks?

    Anne, as does my usual doctor. This guy did once, too. Now those damned laptops seem to be the center of their lives.

    I wish I hadn't been too sick to think of that. I'd have done it.

  • Devon Ellington January 24, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    Yup, me,too, slammed it on his little fingers.

    What's important to me with "image" is I expect you to walk your talk. If you're "advising", "consulting", whatever, it better be what I see you implementing.

    Feel better soon.

  • Ashley January 24, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    Lori, you make an excellent point about personal interaction. Besides your great content, I especially enjoy coming to this blog because I know my comments will get a response from you. I always come back later to see how you’ve responded. Whether you agree, disagree, clarify a point or add a new angle, I enjoy that interaction with you, and often with other commenters here. You have a great community!

    It also makes me remember how much it annoys me when people are constantly on their cell phones in the presence of someone else that they’re supposed to be interacting with. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone out to dinner and see diners at the next table all messing with their phones. Why bother being out with each other if you’re just going to text someone else the whole time?

  • Lori January 24, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    Devon, that's so important. I get a little tired of hearing "gurus" going on about solutions to problems they've never faced. How can you teach from no experience?

    Ashley, I'll always answer you, and I know you'll do the same. 🙂 I have a great community because of people like you who are in it.

    I HATE the cell phone date. If you've arranged to be with someone and have gone to the trouble of booking a table and getting together for a meal, turn that bloody phone OFF. Same goes for any time you're spending with your kids. I saw a mother once who spent the entire meal at the restaurant yapping into her phone while her little boy (8? 9?) ate in silence.

    He didn't learn from his mother, that's for sure.

  • Gabriella F. January 24, 2013 at 11:45 pm

    I second Ashley. Part of the reason I show up here is because you're not just yapping at us; we're all paying attention to what each other says and having a discussion.

    And that's exactly what that doctor should have been having. He'd not have made the "four-day" mistake if he'd have been doing that.

  • Lori January 25, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    Gabriella, if you want I could start yapping. I mean, I'm one caffeinated beverage away from running on… 😉

    Discussion! Yes. Most of the world's troubles could be solved if we all practice how to communicate, not just wait for our turn to talk.