Customers, Not Users

A lot of software isn’t free. Plenty of people pay to use products. Yet, we call these people users in most of our copy and internal communications. Should we?

What if we tried calling them what they actually are: customers.

  • User story becomes customer story.
  • User review becomes customer review.
  • User issue becomes customer issue.

I think the difference is important. Facebook has users. We have customers. By referring to your customers as customers, you’re respecting the fact that someone is paying you for your work. We don’t need to sell customer data—their hard-earned dollars keep us running. Also, a sentence like “15 minutes of downtime” hits harder when you know it’s a customer on the other end.

You can argue that both paying and non-paying people are subsets of the generic user. And certainly, your company culture plays a larger role in whether you respect your customers (or users) than the terminology.

But I still think there’s something here. Someone, somewhere is paying us for our products. That’s a difference worth distinguishing.