Who is help desk supporting: customers, end-users, consumers?

Bob proposes retiring the term "internal customer" for good and has some ideas on how to fill the vocabulary gap

Dear Bob ...

Not exactly an earth-shattering question, but this has something that's been on my mind for a little while.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Do you want to cash in on your IT experiences? Send your IT Off the Record story to offtherecord@infoworld.com. If we publish it, we'll send you a $50 American Express gift cheque. | Keep up on career advice with Bob Lewis' Advice Line newsletter. ]

After having worked in desktop support and systems administration for about 12 years now, I find that I have acquired the meme of referring to the people that I support as "customers," which is a term (in this context, that is) that I have always found contemptible. The problem is, I've been so thoroughly indoctrinated that I'm no longer certain what I should be calling them anymore, particularly since I'm a contractor, which means they actually are the customer.

Off the Record submissions

I used to call them "users," but the term seems dated now. Time was when computer users and usage were the exception, not the rule, so "user" made sense. These days, though, pretty much everyone is a "user." I haven't looked into it much, but I'd hazard a guess that even basic manual laborers use the Internet quite a bit. I can certainly think of quite a few reasons that they would.

The only other alternative I've ever seen in ticketing systems is to refer to people submitting service requests as "resources," as in "Resource requests installation of VPN client on laptop." I find this term appalling. To me, a "resource" is a pen, a Wikipedia article, or a box of thumbtacks, not a human being.

I suppose you might say that calling them "customers" makes sense in a case like mine, which I don't think I'd be concerned to argue with. For those who work a help desk under more usual circumstances, though, what term do you think would be appropriate? "Clients," maybe? That's the term that lawyers and doctors typically use, but somehow that feels kind of odd as well.

- Needs a word

Dear Needs ...

As you probably recall, I've written more than one tirade against the whole concept of internal customers, including an entire chapter of the Keep the Joint Running manifesto. You make a good point about your situation and your client being a real customer, though, so I'll take this in a somewhat different direction, which is that the word you should use depends on the context of the conversation.

1 2 Page 1