Users = Customers

Josh Bernoff has a great post asking developers to stop referring to people as “users:”

“I will think of people who use technology as people, customers, and friends. I won’t use them, and they won’t use me.”

I know it sounds trivial, but I’ve also wrestled with what to call people who use my software.  Out of habit I’ll often refer to them as “users,” but I’ve been trying to use the word “customers” instead.  Something about the word “users” implies a certain lack of power, whereas “customers” have clout.  And it helps developers to remember that their customers are in charge.

9 thoughts on “Users = Customers

  1. “Audience” is another term, particularly for presentations like websites, where you’re trying to entice people in, and attend to your message.
    I’m comfortable being a “consumer” or “user” for some services during the day, and “creator” for other services during the day… I think some of the objectors may believe that one person fits only one label, in every part of their life.

  2. Playing the role of curmudgeon here: Do we really have to make software terms politically correct?
    A: “I’m going to build a GUI for that widget.”
    B: “A what?! They’re not Users, they’re Customers!”
    A: “Okay, fine. I’ll build a GCI: Graphical Customer Interface.”
    B: “Graphical? So rude. What about vision-impaired customers who can’t see your graphics?”
    A: “Alright. Vision-Centric Customer Interface.”
    B: “Interface? That’s so impersonal. We’re not machines.”
    A: “Fine. Vision-Centric Customer-to-Computer Interaction Facility.”
    B: “Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it?”
    A: “Nope. I’ll just go build the VC3IF now.”
    B: “Acronyms are so impersonal… don’t dehumanize me like that.”
    A: *sigh*

  3. I actually prefer the term user because customer sounds sterile and business like to me :D I guess we all have preferences… but in the end the way the company interacts with the users/customers/beings/entities tells the customer/user/person/cryptologist where they really stand – and at that point in time they turn into fans or whiners :)

  4. I’d much rather be called a customer than a user. However, on Southwest, they thank me for being a customer and I feel like they should be saying “passenger.” I remember once when a former IRS director said they were going to improve “customer service” and the outrage it caused among taxpayers who resented the notion of being called “a customer” of the IRS.

  5. First of all, I think Mark got a point: It is not always helpful, trying to change more or less accepted terminology just to be politically correct.
    And Nick, You are right: It really is important, to address the people who use the software or service correctly.
    BUT: The word customer would not include trial users. And it does not really include people who use software in a company they work with, because they did not buy the software or service, they just use or consume it. User is just the more general term (you have to acknowledge that there is a lot of free software out there, who could by definition not have customers).
    So at the end of the day, for me there still is no better fitting word than user.

  6. I think the term “user” is fine if all the software is being used for the sheer pleasure of using it — if it’s not part of some greater goal.
    But is that ever the case? If you see someone with FeedDemon open on his screen, and you ask him what he’s doing, is he going to reply “I’m using FeedDemon”? I hope not! Instead, he’ll say that he’s reading blogs. So he’s a reader, not a user.
    Writing “user” instead of a more descriptive term such as “photographer,” “subscriber,” or “listener” is just laziness in my opinion. The consequences are not unlike those of calling a variable “x” or a function “doStuff().”

  7. “User” describes the relationship between the person and the software; “customer” between the person and the company. I prefer “user”.

  8. It’s kind of hard to make some terms fit in some places. I try to use “people” as much as I can, though that often requires some additional writing and becomes longer. As mentioned above, “user” implies a relationship between the person and software.
    “People” seems to work well as it doesn’t distinguish between customers and non-customers.
    e.g. The new super-widget makes globerflasting easier than ever for people.
    I’ll use whatever fits well or sounds good though.
    Just my $0.02.

  9. We stopped using Users a few years back as it sounds impersonal. A ‘user’ is someone who just ‘uses’ your products, it even hints at someone who you don’t care about, even possibly someone abusing your hard work … ‘you user’ is British Slang for someone who uses people for their own benefit when it suits them; a ‘customer’ is someone you have a relationship with, someone who has purchased or engaged with you on some level.
    Our customers certainly prefer being referred to as such and not as a ‘user’.

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