Website Wednesday – Dr. Hotmail I Presume?

You meet someone at a cocktail party…or maybe on an airline flight. You strike up a conversation about what you each do for a living and he or she sounds like someone you might like to call for their product or service someday. You ask for a business card and they reach into their purse, pocket, or billfold to hand you one. You say thank you, put it in your purse, pocket, or billfold, and continue the conversation, or move on.

You get back home or to the office and pull the card out to find the email address at the bottom is [email protected] Let’s be honest, your confidence in whoever gave you that card instantly goes down several notches. Does having a Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL, or Gmail email address really mean you don’t know what you are talking about? No. No more than someone wearing blue jeans or visible tattoos mean they aren’t professionals either.

However, we live in a world where first impressions mean a lot. Let’s say your physician referred you to a specialist to treat a possibly life-threatening illness. If the doctor were to walk into the exam room wearing cutoffs and a ripped Twisted Sister t-shirt, your opinion of this specialist would be a lot less than reassuring. You might even ponder whether you should look for a new primary care physician.  Logically, you know it shouldn’t make a difference, but it does. The same that can be said for an unprofessional look can be said for an unprofessional email address.

How seriously do you take a “business professional” whose email address ends with Hotmail or AOL? Let’s say you mention to someone you plan on attending the 50th Anniversary of MIDO next February. They tell you they are a travel agent and can get you a great deal. They take your business card and email you the next day telling you they’ve got a flight and hotel arranged for a week in Milan for $1,200, but you have to act fast. A very good deal but just a couple of hundred under what you have found online. They ask for your credit card to complete the transaction. You look at the email and see it ends in Gmail instead of a travel agency email. That should be the first clue something is VERY wrong.

Emails are a part of every website hosting plan I’ve looked at for years now. In fact, practically every decent website hosting plan includes unlimited email addresses. The reality that you are quite comfortable using your personal Gmail address or even setting up a new more professional Gmail address is irrelevant. Ask most any woman about sharing her personal email address or phone number and you will hear horror stories of stalkers. While the 1991 Bill Murray/Richard Dreyfuss movie, What About Bob, is a comedy, I’ve heard a number of stories about medical stalkers too. Even if it costs a few dollars a month to have a professional email address, isn’t one exam or one sale worth the cost?

What About Bob image courtesy of Touchstone Pictures

You may be Pat to your friends, but you are Dr. Pat to your patients. You are Dr. or Mr. or Ms. Pat to your customers. You are the person at XYZ optical, not XYZ optical, even if the business name is the same as yours. Do you think you can reach Charles Schwab at his Gmail account when your stocks don’t perform well? Good luck with that.

Professionalism matters. Professionalism matters, even more, when you are a doctor.  How a patient feels about you and your advice goes a long way in them following your recommendations. Many a doctor wears a white lab coat for a reason, and that reason most certainly can’t be because it makes them look good. It is a symbol of professionalism. Why destroy that professionalism with an unprofessional email address?

Run! Don’t Walk and call your web hosting company or your IT person to get you and your staff set up with professional email addresses tied to your website and business name. Oh…. Before we sign off, keep in mind that no matter how professional or how sloppy your email address is, it is NOT HIPAA compliant without taking a few extra steps we will discuss next week.