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July 6, 2022

Token No. 13 – A story on Perceptions

The year was 1983. It was a busy semi-urban branch of the Union Bank of India.

In those days, when technology had not yet ‘upgraded’ the banking transaction procedures, a customer, to draw money from his account, had to present his cheque at the ‘Token- Counter’, get a token, and present it at the cash counter, to collect the cash.

There was a commotion in the banking hall, in front of the token counter. An elderly customer was pleading with the bank official at the counter. His plea was that he was given Token no.13, and he wanted to get it changed, as he felt 13 was a ‘bad omen’. He was drawing the money to buy ornaments for his daughter who was getting married. 13 was ominously a bad number; since he was to use the money for an auspicious purpose, he wanted to get the Token number 13 changed. But the Bank official was adamant, explaining that Tokens are issued seriatim, in the order in which cheques are presented at the counter. He was telling the customer: “You came, and Token 13 was in line to be issued”. The customer was not pacified: “I cannot use this token 13 to draw cash for my dear daughter’s good”. Other customers in the banking hall were also getting into the fray. The banker: “it is only superstition that number 13 is a bad omen.” Then another customer blurted out to the Banker. ‘Your Bank is itself superstitious in that your head office building has dropped 13 from the floor- numbering’.

[ In the multi-storeyed ‘Union Bank Bhavan’ – the Head office of the Bank- at Nariman Point, Mumbai, after the 12th Floor the next higher floor is marked 14th floor].

The aggrieved customer finally did not collect the cash; he went back and sent a request through another bank to close his account and transfer the proceeds to that bank.

‘Superstition’ or ‘belief founded on strong faith’ is a conflict in perception, and I have narrated this small incident to suggest how ‘perception’ plays a prominent role in customer service or disservice in a service industry.

What is ‘Perception’?

When we look at an object, science tells us, that light rays from the object get focussed on the Iris of our eyes. And we ‘see’ the image of the object. What happens thereafter? The image is passed through the optic nerves to the brain where our collective repository of ‘data’ – experiences, assumptions, interpretations, etc. process the image to ‘perceive’ it in a highly subjective way. ‘Seeing’ is only gathering the impression of an image and ‘Perception’ is its ultimate processing and presentation in totality.

Why perception is important in customer service?

For a service provider, understanding the ‘need’ of a customer and responding to the same positively form the basic quality of service. Positive response emanates from ‘empathy’ – a cardinal concept in customer care.

To understand a customer’s real need to be serviced, you have to put yourselves in his place and sense the requirement from his perspective (to know where the shoe pinches, you have to wear it on your foot!) and this unique perspective is the pattern of perception in which the customer visualizes and holds his need.

Understanding ‘customer’s perception’ is not just a pre-requisite for rendering good customer service; we will have to also constantly strive ‘to create a positive customer perception of our company’. Customer perception determines how your customers feel about you, whether they continue to do business with you, and whether they recommend you to their family and friends.

Experts suggest various ways to ensure that customers see your company in the best possible light. Let me quote some time-tested methods of understanding and influencing customer perception:


1. Respond to customer feedback –
Most businesses collect customer feedback in some shape or form. But a study by ‘Qualtrics’ found that less than half of customers surveyed felt that their feedback resulted in changes.                       Taking the time to respond to and act on customer feedback goes a long way toward making customers feel that you care.

2. Interviewing customers

For more in-depth analysis, consider interviewing customers at different stages of their lifecycle. Why did they choose to sign up? Why did they choose to leave? How would they describe                  your product or service? Having a long conversation with customers will move your understanding beyond simple survey responses.

3. Understand who your audience is

You can’t be universally loved by everyone. Instead, understand who you’re trying to appeal to and what they want.

4. Recognize and reward customer-centric behavior

Because customer perception is influenced by every interaction customers have with your business, it means that every employee has a part in how your customers feel…..In order to create a             positive customer perception, you need to first build a customer-centric culture that empowers employees to act in the customer’s best interest….


Let us take conscious efforts to align our understanding of our customers’ needs with their perception levels, and, extend services that would be lasting, lingering, and salubrious experiences really ‘felt’ by them.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said,
people will forget what you did, but people will
never forget how you made them feel.”
– Maya Angelou