The Heart Of The Matter

(Listen to this post, here.)

“In the factory we make cosmetics; in the drugstore we sell hope.”
Charles Revson

Five years ago this month, I had emergency heart surgery. It was totally unexpected. (That was the emergency part.)

I’d been having chest tightness for a few years whenever I exercised, but none of the medical professionals I consulted seemed to think it was anything serious.

But then one morning, I got back from a run and had a very strong urge to go to sleep. Immediately. On the kitchen floor.

My wife Linda was concerned and suggested I call my doctor. She scheduled a stress test for later that day and off I went.

Sure enough, when I got off the treadmill, a cardiologist walked in the room and said, simply, “You’ve got a heart problem.”

Let me just stop right there and tell you that on the List of Things You Never Want to Hear, “You’ve got a heart problem,” is in the top three.

(The other two are, “I know I look older, but I’m only 16,” and, “Your roommate at this week’s diversity retreat is Mel Gibson.”)

Anyway, they admitted me right then and there, and put me first on the list for surgery the next morning.


Two stents into a blocked coronary artery later, and I was as good as new by lunchtime. They sent me home the very next day.

A close call? Absolutely.

Although if you’re hoping that I’m going to share some pithy bit of life wisdom that only those who’ve had a brush with death are privy to, you’re about to be disappointed.

It all happened so fast that I never had the chance to ponder any of life’s bigger questions.

I did notice one interesting thing, however: Not only did they play music in the operating room, before he began, the surgeon asked me what type of music I wanted to hear.

I said, “The type where people don’t die on the operating table.” (We settled on country.)

But I guess it makes sense; I would be awake during the entire operation, so they wanted me to be as comfortable and relaxed as possible.

And even though my assignment in this highly technical procedure amounted to nothing more than “don’t move,” my overall level of satisfaction was correlated with the process as well as with the final result.

Now let’s consider the work you do (you knew I’d get to this).

Is yours highly technical? Are your clients more or less “hands off” while you do what they hired you to do?

The more these two things are true, the more likely it is that you don’t think very much about what it feels like to work with you.

And why should you? You do the work, you hand it over, done.

I think that’s a mistake – and a missed opportunity. And not just because it’s nice to let somebody listen to music while you operate on them.

It’s because their assessment of the work you did – the value you provided for the money they spent – is about more than just the technical details (I already assume you know how to do those).

I love my attorney because I feel like she’s got my back … not because she passed the Massachusetts bar.

I love my financial planer because he helps me feel comfortable about my financial future … not because he knows a thing or two about the stock market.

How about you? What is it that your clients are wanting from youin addition to whatever “technical” expertise you provide?

Confidence that they are on the right path?
Security about the future?
Excitement about where you are taking them?
A sense of comfort, knowing that you’re handling things?

Whatever your particular answer, it’s worth giving this some thought.

Here’s the bottom line. For the most part, we professional service providers get hired to do something: build the web site; manage the project; analyze the data; hire the candidate; whatever.

And that’s fine. But if that’s all you’re delivering, you’re leaving money on the table for yourself and value on the table for your clients who may be hoping for a whole lot more.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What’s first on your list of, “Things You Never Want to Hear?”
  1. Do you think rooming with me is high on Mel Gibson’s list?
  1. When it comes to how they feel, what do your clients really want?

Share your comments below!

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18 thoughts on “The Heart Of The Matter

  1. Bruce Horwitz

    1) Mr. Horwitz, we found a problem…..
    2) I’m sure Mel is excited about the prospect. In fact, he told me so just last week.
    3) They need to feel that they are not pouring money down a rabbit hole chasing a useless patent nor that there’s a patent they should be pursuing that they are not. In other words, they want to know, and feel comfortable, with the big picture.

  2. Steve

    1. Me: Doctor – how long have I got?
    Doctor: 10
    Me: 10 what?
    Doctor: 9 … 8 … 7 …
    OK – it’s an old Bob Hope one but I still love it.

    2. Yep, Michael … pretty high, about 2nd place, just behind me.

    3. Comfortable.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I’ve tried that joke twice now Steve, lots of groans! I don’t know, I liked it.

  3. Theresa Singleton

    1) The phone ringing in the middle of the night.
    2) No, because Mr. Gibson would not be caught at a diversity retreat.
    3) When I asked one of my clients to provide a recommendation, one of the things he appreciated most about me was my patience. I had not thought how being patient could be a desirable quality for my clients. I’ve used this feedback to tweak my marketing.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I love your #3 Theresa! It’s a great example and I’m glad you’ve used it in your marketing.

  4. Audrey Kalman

    1. “Are you sitting down?”
    2. If Mel Gibson knew what was good for his image he’d be all over it.
    3. My clients want to feel that I’m listening to them and not rolling over their ideas. It’s a partnership. I may be the expert on writing and editing, but they’re the experts on themselves and their ideas.

  5. Fernando

    I love the way you write. Your´s is now the only newsletter I am suscribed to now. And we have another thing in common, apart from black humor… we both had heart problems 😉 Now we are blood brothers, ja, ja

    Thanks once again for your advises! I have just based by positioning in “honest marketing”, offered from person to person, not from provider to customer. I am waiting to now if customers value it 😉

  6. Peter

    Hi Michael,
    I had a heart scare around 2007, it was quite a shock! Like you take care of myself and maintain my weight, but ironically it turned out to be the stress of a job that just really didn’t agree with me.
    Glad they were able to take care of you and get you back home so quickly.
    I wanted to add something that’s a little off topic. This weekend I went to a local balloon festival, the big balloons that people take on spins into the clouds.
    There were lots of vendors there selling food, arts and crafts and Italian ices (not all in the same booth) but what amazed me was how few of them took time to look up from their phone and make eye contact with the potential customers.
    I met one family who produce their own honey. They were a delightful family and I couldn’t wait to give them some money. They had a great story and they were simply nice people that were interested in their customers.
    I came home with a little jar of raw honey and a bewilderment at how people could take the time to set up a booth at one of these fairs, then get busy ignoring all the potential customers walking past them all evening.
    Best wishes,

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Glad you are doing well too, Peter! And I know what you mean about the phones. Just this morning I was parking my car in front of a starbucks with outdoor seating – three people sitting alone, one standing, one with a baby carriage. All of them staring at their phones! It would have made a great photo.

      1. Peter

        Michael, sometimes when I’m in line at the grocery store and everyone in front of me is on the phone, ignoring the cashier. When I reach the checkout I’ll look very serious and ask the cashier ‘is it okay if I’m not on my cell phone?’ unusually they look at me for a second, it clicks and they smile a big, broad smile.

  7. Amy Weickert

    Michael, I’m glad to hear you are well and glad to see the Blue Penguin is still cranking out good advice and good writing! Amy Weickert


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