During a Square Board meeting, our newest Director Howard Schultz, pulled me aside and asked a simple question.
One of the great things about the current state of social communications (Twitter, Tumblr) is that a pithy observations gets spread in real-time rapidly and everyone gets to contribute to the dialogue swarm. And in my personal stream, I get a lot of these observations from investors - perhaps because they have a birds-eye view on things.
The flipside is that because everything is ephemeral and real-time, without emphasis towards archival or permanence, observations follow the trail of memes: rising and falling so that what’s old become new and what’s new is can usually be found in the voices that are loudest and with the most reach.
In any case - I remember this kind of friendly argument at Flickr between the old gang when Twitter was still just a SXSW phenomenon.
User: “Our users sure raise a ruckus when there’s a feature release because they aren’t familiar with new stuff yet. Let’s give them a bit of time. Can you believe that user used XYZ feature in that way? Incredible!” Also: users play, operate, and tend to focus on the product.
Consumers: “Should we raise the pricing plan on the consumers? At the rate of their content consumption, we’re not getting enough revenue from our consumers.” Also: consumers pay, digest content & media and tend to focus on things that they pay for.
Members: “Hey, go check that forum? Our members are talking about some really interesting stuff that we may want to incorporate into our roadmap.” Also: members belong to a community, and they tend to orbit around discussion, communications and a shared sense of purpose, dues, or belief.
Customers: “Our customers are pissed because our level of service has been subpar. Can we get some more support guys into the field and help our customers get what they want? They’re paying us good money.” Also: customers tend to pay for services, and they usually are in a relationship with a vendor or supplier.
Some other thoughts - what kind of restaurants call their customers diners, patrons, clientele or guests? Or churches who call their customers attendees, congregants, parishioners, or worshipers? Or government organizations who call their customers base, voters, taxpayers, citizens, comrades, etc?
Frankly, I like the word customer for most mature businesses — but not in all cases. The usage depends on your business and your emphasis. Are you all about the transaction? Then you have customers. What about relationships? Perhaps your customers are your clients. For most digital products, users work really well because most focus is centered around building the best experience for people to interact with your product. Now your business may also have services be a part of your product (I think of Amazon shipping), then customers make sense there, but if you’re focused on delivering great experiences with your product, then, like Apple, users is certainly an appropriate way to think about your business.
For web communities, where you design the product so that your users engage with one another, I love the creativity and signal of collaboration that can be had with ‘members’.
At then end of the day, the semantic exercise can only go so far to orient the way your company thinks; whether it’s customer experience, user experience or membership quality — it’s about delivering products and services with a good degree of reliability and delight.