We remember the oft-repeated phrase, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”
But allow me, at the risk of offending someone out there, to add a caveat: “You can’t judge a book by its cover, but we do so anyway (and we are usually right).”
Fact is, we make judgments by appearances all the time.
Sometimes of course, we are wrong in our assessments. The bearded man in tattered clothes, carrying a trash bag and walking alone on the city street is not poor at all, but is exceedingly wealthy and is just eccentric.
Usually however, the man is homeless.
This is why “Book Cover Judgments” take place so often; they are usually accurate. If a restaurant’s parking lot is full every night, it must have good food. If someone greets us with a smile and a kind word, that person is likely trustworthy.
On the flip side, if we enter a restaurant during the dinner hour on a Friday night and find ourselves nearly alone; and it takes fifteen minutes for a waiter to bring us water, we are usually correct to believe this is not our best choice for an expensive meal.
And if we greet a stranger with a smile and a kind word only to get a sharp, “What do you want with me?” reply, chances are this won’t be our new best friend.
First impressions matter. And a first impression is the cover to our book. If we fail to make a good first impression, we sometimes do not get another opportunity.
So it is with our Pregnancy Help Community. The other day I was talking to a center’s receptionist, who told me, “Oh, I don’t do much. I’m just a receptionist.”
Kindly—I hope—I stopped her. “No,” I said. “You are not ‘just’ a receptionist. When a young woman walks in your door, you are the first impression she receives. If you are warm and inviting—and that’s who you appear to be—she will make a decision that she will trust the ministry.”
“When you smile,” I added, “she gains confidence in what she will hear from the client advocate and from the nurse in the moments ahead of her.”
I wasn’t done. “There are women who walk in the door of centers across this country totally unsure of what they are going to do about their pregnancy. Some will make their decision for life based on the first impression they receive from . . . you.”
Finally, I finished with this: “No, you are not just a receptionist. You are the first impression. And the impression you give will sometimes give her that extra confidence she needs to choose life.”
She smiled, and told me she had never thought of things in this light. I understood, because few of us understand just how important we are to others.
In our work as pregnancy help organizations, our first impressions aren’t just important—they are vital.
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While one column can’t speak to every individual Pregnancy Help Ministry’s needs and capabilities, we must be purposeful in creating inviting first impressions. We must—must—invest in all that it takes to make a powerful opening connection with those who come in our door.
If this means investing funds in our receptionists—through training or in salary—we must do so because our “book cover” may be what opens the door to a story of life our client may not be considering.
This investment may mean a new couch to replace that old one with the stain we are hoping and praying our visitors overlook. Or it could mean new paint, a renovation or a fresh look in our lobby.
Our first impression paints a picture for our clients. If our lobby is full of announcements regarding government aid or littered with brochures on everything from STDs to physical abuse, how does our new client or patient view us?
If, on the other hand, our client sees comfortable seating, tasteful decorating and finds a Keurig in the corner for her to relax with a cup of coffee or tea, what does she think of our concern for her?
This writer is not a designer for HGTV or anything like that. But having visited literally hundreds of Pregnancy Help Ministries, I can tell the difference between a center which comes across as a part of a complicated system of resources and a center which—in seconds—convinces me beyond any doubt that it is here to serve the unique needs of every client.
To effectively compete not only with the abortion industry but also with those health agencies which may not hold our views on a variety of issues, we must continue to invest in first impressions. We can set ourselves apart by zeroing in on that moment when a client first asks, “Can I trust these people?”
If our first impression tells her, “We’re the safe place you are looking for,” the chances she will make wise decisions regarding her pregnancy increase more than we can imagine.
We are in a competition for the hearts and minds of those we see. The competition begins when we have an opportunity to show the cover of our book. As we begin to look at our goals for 2017 and beyond, let’s be purposeful in making this first opportunity count.