Perception is Nine-Tenths of the Law

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Did you know that perception is nine-tenths of the law?

I know. I know. The saying goes, “Possession is nine-tenths of the law.” I like the perception version, though, when it comes to the customer experience.

According to Wikipedia, “possession is nine-tenths of the law” means: in the absence of clear and compelling testimony or documentation to the contrary, the person in actual, custodial possession of the property is presumed to be the rightful owner.

Then I think “perception is nine-tenths of the law” means: in the absence of clear and compelling testimony or documentation to the contrary, the person in actual, custodial possession of the belief or perception is presumed to be the rightful owner; it is his reality.

What, then, is a perception? According to Oxford Dictionaries: perception is “a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression.”

There’s perception, and then there’s reality. Are they two different things? Not necessarily. (Note I didn’t flat out say, “No.”) My perception IS my reality.

So, if the customer’s perception is his reality, is it your reality, too?

Your perception may be different. But is that OK?

If there are opposing perceptions, then clearly your reality is out of alignment with your customer’s. Why? Read on.

How are those perceptions formed? Through expectations (brand promise, marketing, word of mouth), many of which you set, and performance (actual interactions with the brand), which is on you.

Does the company have perceptions about how it’s performing for the customer? Sure. Are they accurate? Probably not – not without the customer’s perceptions! Especially not when we have statistics like this:


80% of big companies described themselves as delivering “superior” service, but only 8% of customers say they’ve experienced “superior” service from these companies. -The New Yorker

So what’s my point? Just that – your company may think that it’s delivering a great customer experience, but instead, the customer’s perception is opposite, and it prevails. Why? Because he’s the customer. Because without the customer, you have no business.

To confirm the discrepancy between perceptions (or in realities), we need to listen to customers through various channels.

In the customer experience, the customer’s perception is not only their reality but also yours. And if we’re going to change perceptions, then we need to change reality.

How do we do that? By turning customer listening into insights into action. Acting on the voice of the customer means taking customer perception, understanding it as his reality, and either accepting it or improving it. If I were you, I’d focus on the latter. Perception is nine-tenths…

There are limitations, for sure. Is the customer always right? No. But he is the customer, and you must always do right by him.

All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth. -Friedrich Nietzsche

Your intentions don’t matter. Perception is reality. If people perceive you the wrong way, it doesn’t matter what your intentions are. -Unknown

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Annette Franz
Annette Franz is founder and Chief Experience Officer of CX Journey Inc. She is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, consultant, and speaker. She has 25+ years of experience in helping companies understand their employees and customers in order to identify what makes for a great experience and what drives retention, satisfaction, and engagement. She's sharing this knowledge and experience in her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the "Customer" in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business).

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