Don't call me a 'consumer' or an 'end-user'

Language matters, and people who use these terms likely view you as a sheep or supplicant

I'm a writer and editor, so words matter to me. But the words "consumer" and "end-user" should matter to you, too, because they reveal the mind-set of your vendors and your IT organization, respectively. Both terms come from a place that inherently devalues the user, even if the people using the terms aren't conscious of that fact. In an era of consumerization, where individuals are asserting control, or at least co-ownership, in how they work and the tools they use, these terms subtly get in the way.

What's wrong with "consumer" and "end-user"? Plenty!

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Are you a sheep or cow?
The "consumer" term assumes that users (aka buyers) accept whatever is given to them, eating it up. It's a business fantasy that has taken root in our increasingly marketed culture, where companies come up with a manufactured need, then set about convincing us we can't live without it. We people are passive receptacles of whatever they manufacture and sell. It's a pernicious term, especially if you're old enough to recall when businesses called us "customers," a term that implies the buyer is to be treated at least as a junior partner in the transaction, with his or her views accounted for during the development and sales process.

I hear vendor executives all the time in my job, and believe me, few think of their buyers as customers. Most treat them -- though they don't think of it this way -- as sheep or cattle who simply need the right stimulus to begin chewing whatever is presented to them. Web companies such as Facebook and Google take this to a more literal interpretation of sheep and cattle. The consumer is the product, with their personal information to be milked and sold to the real buyer: marketing and sales organizations trying to sell to those consumers.

The "consumer" label inherently devalues the buyer, in both the vendor's mind and in the buyer's mind. You're a customer, not a consumer. Act like it, and make sure your vendor reciprocates. To do that, a vendor needs to be actively engaged with you and your needs, not simply its needs.

Are you a faceless automaton in the work process?
Then there's the term "end-user." Its original meaning isn't as dark as "consumer," but over time it has come to stand for "mindless receiver," a consumer of whatever IT provides. The term comes from the mainframe days, in which very few people in an organization saw, much less worked with, a computer. A "user" was the person who actually worked with the mainframe, and an "end-user" was the person elsewhere in the organization who got the reports generated by the computer -- the user at the end of the process that started with the computer generating results.

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