Why “I Know How You Feel” is Useless

By Nancy Friedman, Keynote Speaker, Customer Service Expert, President, Telephone Doctor Customer Service

 

EMPATHIZING EFFECTIVELY 

“Oh Mrs. Friedman, I’m so sorry you’re having that problem. I understand how you feel.”

OMG. DO YOU REALLY? NO, YOU DON’T. So stop saying that! It’s semi-useless.

POINT: There is no way on G-d’s green earth we can know how someone else feels. And the more they say it; the more irritating it becomes on a personal and especially in a business setting to a customer. As a customer service expert, we have other suggestions for you. Read on.

Even if you might have had the same or similar experience, we simply cannot know how someone else feels. It’s a put down.

A few examples: My dad passed away years ago. I’m in the funeral home. My friend comes up and puts her hand on my shoulder and says, “I’m so sorry Nancy, I know how you feel.” Without missing a beat, I said, “Myrna, your father is sitting right over there. How can you possibly know how I feel?”

Another one: I called a Vegas hotel to have a special birthday tray sent to a good friend while he was there. I asked the concierge to add a very loving note with the tray. We took 15 – 20 minutes figuring out the wording. Finally got it. I made sure she knew the note was more important than the tray and to please be double sure the note is there. “Of course,” I was guaranteed.

Long story short and I’m sure you guessed it, the note never was delivered with the tray.

I called the hotel back and spoke with the same concierge and explained how important that note was and how disappointed I was that it didn’t get there with the tray. Her comment: “Oh, I understand how you feel.” Right out of the “what to say when the customer is unhappy” book.

WRONG!

So I asked her, “Have you ever ordered a birthday tray and asked that a very special note be delivered with the tray?” She hadn’t she said. “Then how on earth can you ‘know how I feel?’” I asked her?

No answer. She couldn’t.

If you’ve never broken your arm and see your friend has, you wouldn’t say, “I know how you feel” because you couldn’t know. You never broke your arm. You might say, “Man, I bet that hurts” or “I’d be screaming if that were me.” Not “I know how you feel.”

There are more stories, but you get the idea. “I know how you feel” is not an effective empathy statement.

My suggestion? REVERSE IT. Use it to your advantage. “Oh Mrs. Friedman, that’s frustrating – I cannot imagine how I’d feel if that happened to me.”

Or “Mrs. Friedman, my apologies for the inconvenience, not sure how I’d feel if that happened to me.”

Because even if we did experience the same “inconvenience,” we probably won’t have the same feelings. And in the unlikely case we would, our feelings are very personal.

We’re all different and to tell someone, “I know how you feel” is invasive to a point that can be irritating.

The customer may not tell you it’s upsetting, but they’ll tell others, trust me on that. And now I’m telling you.

 

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Nancy Friedman, customer service keynote speaker, is president of Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training and a featured speaker at franchise, association, and corporate meetings around the world. A popular TV guest, she appeared on Oprah, The Today Show, CNN, FOX News, Good Morning America and CBS This Morning, as well as hundreds of other radio, television and print outlets around the world, including the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. The author of 9 books on her chosen topics, Nancy helps corporate America improve their communications with their customers & co-workers. You can see her 9 books here. For more information, log on to Nancy Friedman's website www.nancyfriedman.com or call (314) 291-1012. Oh yeah you can email her at nancyf@telephonedoctor.com. Nancy is a recent recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Hall of Fame Award - St. Louis Small Business Monthly

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