Customer Is a Dirty Word

Jeff Bezos just called me a name!

I am not a customer. I am not a user. I might be a client. I might be a member. I may even be a loyalist. But don’t call me a customer. “Customer” is a dirty word.

Jeff Bezos Called Me a Name!

I saw that graphic above when I logged into my Amazon account, my “I use it pretty much every day for one thing or another” Amazon account, my “don’t you see my name ALL OVER THE FRICKEN SCREEN????” account. Jeff Bezos called me a “customer.” In that really great letter where he spends my time telling me all about how awesome he is, Bezos calls me a customer. Nothing more. A cheap number. Not a loyalist. Not someone who buys quite often from one part of the Amazon empire or another. Just. A. Customer.

Words Matter

For instance, when you send out email marketing, never let the default be “colleague” for when it doesn’t know my name for sure. Make it anything but that. “Colleague” is right up there with “comrade” and the like.

I’m not even fond of “users.” At Kitchen Table Companies, we have members. We have advisors. We don’t have users. I can bend on this one a bit. I’m a user of Evernote, for instance. But am I? Or am I a very satisfied fan and supporter of Evernote? Wouldn’t you rather a “supporter” than a “user?”

Who Do You Want In Your Corner?

I want Jeff Bezos to take it back. I want him to call me his very cherished and appreciated community member. I want him to think of me as a supporter. Something. Anything.

Who do you want in your corner, as a business owner? Do you want customers? I don’t.

What do YOU want to be to the places you buy from? Customers? runs on the Genesis Framework

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  • Kate

    I have a similar comment to many others. I completely understand the Amazon miss by not calling your name since they absolutely know who you are. But I wonder about your attention to the word customer. The use of the other words feels slippery, like calling call center employees associates as if they have real input into business decisions. It just seems like hijacking language, sort of politico-speak.

  • Anonymous

    I had the privilege of listening to Chris Brogan at an IAB event way back when in Mexico City. Was liberating and refreshing. In an industry where everything seems to end up blended into a generic mix of whatever, Chris provided a perspective that challenged everyone to think fresh and keep it real.

    I read this post last night and laughed so hard my wife kicked me out of the room.

    So very true Chris is. I had never actually paid attention to how retailers and the like address “me” at the various points of contact… didn’t stand out (then again, I am not the “average joe”), but yes! addressing “us” as consumers is right-out insulting!

    I spend good money with “you”! take a minute and talk to me like a rock-star!

    Excellent read. Thank you again Chris!

  • Rachel

    Since Amazon likely has the capability to stick your first name in a letter, they should have done it.  Anytime you can use someone’s first name, you should – people like to hear (or read) their name and be treated personally! 

    Now about the term ‘customer’, I think it depends on what your business is.  “Supporter” obviously works much better for a nonprofit organization for example, where “Customer” just wouldn’t make any sense.

    The moral – know your audience and choose your words accordingly.  Keep it personal whenever possible.

    • Michael

      Awesome point Rachel about knowing your audience.  It could be cool if someone invented a platform that changes the noun based on your engagement (number of times visited). The more times I visit the more intense the adjective.

  • Hoo Kang

    I completely agree with Chris.

    However, I don’t think Jeff really cares or feels the need to care to this kind of detail.

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  • Anonymous

    And this is exactly why I believe using the words Guest and Guest-centic are a better ways to think about and address your well…um…Guests. (Note: It’s an upper case G, not lower. Get it?)

  • Merchant

    I am crying-laughing.A picture is still worth a thousand belly-aches.

  • Salvador Figueros

    In the customization era, a customizing company cannot use a non-customized word such as customer.


  • Jeff

    Dear Chris:

    Get a real job.

    - Jeff

  • Darlene Hull

    LIke h0us3 I also never paid attention to how I’m addressed by a business (unless it’s truly bad or comes out like “{First_Name}” because they didn’t bother testing their mailing.  This is making me a little more thoughtful of how I want to address my own “nameless” clients.  Thanks for the friendly smack on the head.  I appreciate it.

  • Matthew Stibbe

    One of my pet peeves comes from business to business marketing where big companies refer to potential customers as SMBs or SMEs (small-medium businesses/enterprises). It’s just really frustrating for them (me and us) to be put in a box like that. While segmentation is essential for any marketing department, it shouldn’t be evident in the way you actually talk to the customer. 

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  • zend framework team

    Agreed that custom is a dirty word our business language should be very polite and different from regular business language then we can easily impress our business relations. In this competition period we should show ourselves as professional as we can.  

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