Sunday, June 11, 2006

Words Matter. Talk About People: Not Customers, Not Consumers, Not Users

The words we use identify our audience ...

"Welcome back," the hotel clerk at the front desk said to me. "I see you will be staying with us for four nights this time?"

"Thank you," I reply, pleasantly surprised that their computer system recognized me as a frequent visitor to this hotel (I knew the clerk didn't recognize me). "Four nights? I don't know -- I'm leaving Saturday."

Let us dissect the clerk's greeting. "Welcome back" is nice: it signals me that I am recognized, possibly even valued. But what about "staying four nights"? That is a hotel-centered statement. The hotel, and the clerk at the front desk, are interested in how many nights I occupy a room. That is how they think about their business. But the average hotel guest thinks in terms of schedule.

Little clues can point to significant items. Hotels that are hotel-centered will not treat their guests as well as ones that are guest-centered. Or, to generalize, companies that are company-centered still don't get it: they still lack empathy and understanding of the point of view of their customers.

Words matter. Psychologists depersonalize the people they study by calling them "subjects." We depersonalize the people we study by calling them "users." Both terms are derogatory. They take us away from our primary mission: to help people. Power to the people, I say, to repurpose an old phrase. People. Human Beings. That’s what our discipline is really about."   continued ...   (Via


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