29Jan

They Are Called Customers

CustomersI’ve noticed over the years that many entrepreneurs are increasingly referring to the people that sign up for their service or product as users. I don’t know about you, but when I think of a user, I immediately picture a drug addict. Conversely, when I think of a customer, I think of someone that I do business with. Someone that I want to love my product or service. Someone that will allow me in some way to generate revenue from their patronage.

A user? Not so much.


I hope we can reverse this trend. Customers are people. Customers are the ones we serve. Customers are the only way a business can survive. Users? They sound like robots. Droids who do what they are told. Mindless. As my friend Porter said, it’s “too much Tron” in their mentality. I couldn’t agree more.

Utilizing these definitions, treating customers like users would be both disrespectful and ungrateful. You only exist because they do.

Customers, by definition: a person who purchases goods or services from another.

I realize many of todays businesses offer their product for free (software/web). However, when a customer signs up, they are required to check a box that allows you to monetize their usage in different ways. This is a form of payment, and thus makes them a customer. It is very difficult to increase demand if there is no supply. Try selling advertisers something when it is based on a customer base (non-paying customers) of a paltry number. It’s tough and becoming tougher. Those free customers that sign up for your web service? Without them you will not generate revenue from elsewhere. So while they aren’t paying customers in that they pay you directly, remember that without them, you cannot monetize.

Users, by definition: a person or thing that uses.

That has a nice ring to it, right? Yuck. A thing that uses. That is not how I hope to be viewed by any business that I work with. I feel like that with some companies though and I usually don’t do business with them again. I want to feel like a person, not a thing.

I know many in todays generation refer to customers as users because it is simply out of habit. They mean no disrespect.

Customers are customers. Be grateful by thinking about them and referring to them in the highest of regard.

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About Alex Lawrence

Alex has been a successful entrepreneur for 20+ years. His current venture Lendio ranks #34 on the Inc. 500 list. Alex earned a BS degree at the University of Utah and his MBA at Weber State University, where he is Vice Provost and Director of the Entrepreneurship Program. If you want to talk with Alex about business and entrepreneurship (or other questions), email him (alex AT startupflavor DOT com), or you can find him on Twitter @_AlexLawrence.
  • http://twitter.com/peterwride Peter Wride

    I was thinking about this the other day on the drive home – there is a lot of contempt among employees for the customer (user sounds like a drug addict.) How much more value would your company be to its customers if you loved them? I don’t have an answer, but I’d assume companies that treat the person paying the bills the best do the best in the long term.

    • alex_lawrence

      Peter — totally agree. Look at Zappos for example. They value customer service over all else and they are also consistently rated one of the best companies to work for. That is not a coincidence.

      • http://twitter.com/peterwride Peter Wride

        I’m working on a net promoter score for our company right now, but I can’t help but wonder if there are any surveys/metrics of employee feelings/attitudes towards customers. I’d love to see that type of data.

    • alex_lawrence

      Peter — no doubt. Look at Zappos. Consumed with customer service and lauded as one of the best companies out there to work for as well. Not a coincidence.

  • Salvael Ortega

    This is interesting. I’ve actually heard a few people in Silicon Valley make a similar argument in favor of calling customers “users.” From what I recall, to them “customers” were a business transaction, and companies needed to change that mindset to one of “designing for the user.” Calling them “users” allowed employees to more easily empathize with the “customer,” rather than just seeing them as buyers, as a purely transactional relationship. Food for thought.

    • alex_lawrence

      Interesting counter point. I’m going to think about that. Thanks a lot for the comment.

  • Dreamchic

    I agree when you get customers you know it’s because they like or want your product. Users only want to see whats happening and do not use the products.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeffbjordan Jeff Jordan

    My .02: What you call them doens’t matter nearly as much as what you do for them and how great you make their experience when they use your product. Apple, Zappos, Spotify and the like can call me a monkey if they want. They treat me like royalty when I use their products or engage with their employees

    That said, I can see how a company that doesn’t love their users might send a message to employees my encouraging them to call them something more endearing. But actions speak louder than words.

    • alex_lawrence

      Jeff — totally agree. I was just saying the mindset might be a little different. Sometimes subtle things like this can lead to cultural and behavior changes. If a profound respect for the customer is pervasive, then what you call them doesn’t matter as much that’s for sure.

  • http://www.facebook.com/MattWSutherland Matt Sutherland

    If they aren’t paying we refer to them as users, even on a freemium model. But I like the idea of always calling paid users customers.

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