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.

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  • John Falchetto

    Words have power, they can heal or they can hurt.
    A platform lik Amazon can and should personalize. 
    The question is, once they call you Chris Brogan instead of customer where does that lead them?
    Do they have to rethink a good portion of their communications, instead of sending a blanket email to ‘customers’ they now have to think hard on how they interact with their ‘members’.

    It’s much more than word they need to change here.

  • Jim Shamlin

    I don’t entirely agree … The point is well taken that if someone creates an account (online or offline) and you know their name, then you really ought to use it on the salutation line of correspondence sent regarding their account.

    But the attempt to use a word to give a person the impression that “you’re more than just a customer” strikes me as disingenuous.  When someone calls me a “member” or “supporter” of a brand, I raise shields because I expect they are after something more, want to con me into believing that we have some sort of close relationship where they want more of me than they have the right to ask, and think I am gullible enough that simply using a different word changes the way I think of them.

    It’s kind of like that creepy guy you’ve met at a couple of industry conferences, who refers to you as a friend.  He hasn’t earned the right.  And the fact that he’s trying a little too hard to make you think of him the same way makes him all the more creepy, makes you wonder what he’s really after, and makes you want to avoid him rather than allow the relationship to develop further, as it might have if he hadn’t used the word “friend” prematurely.

    I don’t think being a “customer” is a bad thing and I don’t find it offensive to be called such – I give you cash, you sell me a product, and that’s our relationship.  Sell me a good product, make the buying experience as easy as possible, show concern that I get the benefit you promised, and treat me with common decency, and I will become a “regular customer.”   

    Do any of that poorly, and calling me by any other name doesn’t make me think better of you.

    • Chris Brogan

      It turns out that it’s just me, Jim. Weird, eh? And your “friend” point is spot on. I totally get that. 

  • Shane Hudson

    I am not sure whether I agree with you or not. Certainly “customer” makes you feel unappreciated. But when I keep getting spam email after spam email of “Dear Shane” etc. I am beginning to have the same problem when it is my name.

    I think I would actually prefer “Dear customer” or “Dear loyal supporter” over “Dear Shane” unless it was specifically meant for me, not just part of a mailing list. We KNOW when it is part of a mailing list, so why trick us?

    • Chris Brogan

      Gotcha. The old “spam you with your name” problem. : ) 

  • Anonymous

    Dear highly-valued guy with different opinions he gets out there and shares with me all the time…

    Thanks for the perspective.

    I often wonder how to best address someone, especially a small group, when I write emails that aren’t even blasts.

    One area I was triggered is that I might just ignore the greeting when they say “Dear Customer”… If I just ignore it, then what is it there for (besides tradition)? At least, it was a missed opportunity to engage a little better.

    Kind regards,
    Guy who loves to learn new stuff.

    • Chris Brogan

      I would almost prefer “hi there,” with that kind of casual (i’m not speaking directly to you). I think the word “customer” just bugs me. But it’s obviously just me. : ) 

  • Michael Robinson

    There was a discussion about this on Hacker News a while back. A lot of developers mentioned trying to use names, but it led to awkward problems with names from some languages. The takeaway I got is that it’s a hard problem to solve, so most don’t bother.

    • Chris Brogan

      Ahhhh. I see what you mean. I’m thinking as a westerner, as if all names are simple to understand. I totally get that. 

      • David Bowland

        How about starting of like you would a friend “Hey, how’s it going?”.  you dont write a letter to a buddy and say “hello chris”.  you say “hey man, what’s up?”.
        Then we can dispense with labels.  its simple.

  • Anonymous

    Suggestions :

    Your excellency or most holly one …. How about a little yellow happy face man greeting you . One hand gesturing to shack your hand the other doing the prices is right product hand wand .

    • Chris Brogan

      Might all work for me. 

  • Rufus Dogg

    I get a kick out of companies that try to redefine the customer-retailer relationship. Customers are guests, patrons, members, blah, blah. Workers there are associates, advisors, consultants, etc, etc. Ugh! I think with all this stuff on the Internet that everyone is getting for free, CUSTOMER may actually be the most flattering thing you could be called. Your other choice is FREELOADING SUCK-WAD (ok, my term :-) )

    Customer means I paid for something,. Customer means I support your business in the only way that really matters. Customer means I value your services, products so much I took out my wallet and gave you money. I’ll take customer! (BTW, Johnston & Murphy keeps sending me email messages, calling me a customer.. I snicker because I have not yet bought anything from them, even though I eventually will.)

    An aside: My daughter works at Olive Garden where she says that they have to call their customers “guests.” I remind her that guests at my house don’t pay for dinner. Every time OG makes me pay, I don’t then really feel like their “guest.”

    • Chris Brogan

      Interesting. I guess it’s just me. Thanks for your take, senor dog. 

      • susangiurleo

        Do you know, Jeff, Chris? If so, it may feel different to you. We all have different vantage points and contexts.

    • susangiurleo

      Ah, Rufus, you are one smart dog. I am ‘politically correct’ allergic. Sure, companies can algorithm my name anywhere they want, but I am still a number and my ego is strong enough to accept that in Amazon’s world, I’m not-so-important.

      I suspect most of us differentiate between big companies treating us as one in a crowd and boutique companies and experineces treating us as individuals. The business world needs both, It’s fine that Amazon calls me ‘customer’ and feel great that my local bank teller knows my name.  I

      • Rufus Dogg

        I point to Comrade Brogan’s previous post. http://www.chrisbrogandotcom/cogs (which I read as DOGS and still think it’s a typo) when he was initially impressed at the CVS using his name and then found out he was just being “processed.” Bummer automation. 

        I’m lucky I have a bank teller who knows my name.. well, just the one anyway. The others process me as customer 24601 :-)

    • JudyHelfand

      Those are what we call “paying guests”!  And I hope you know that “24601″ was a famous prisoner’s number! 

      Ok, how about this: Every time Jeff reaches out to whomever, use a different language…
      Ciao…you get the idea!


      • Rufus Dogg

        I LOVE smart people! So far, you are the only one who picked up on that… shhhhhh it will be our secret :-) Around here, we call “paying guests” “relatives.” They rarely visit… not sure why exactly…

        I like the different language thing. It might even get folks to buy more in the language book section…

  • Larry Bruce (@pcmguy)

    All too often Chis we get so caught up in analytics and the techcical stuff we for get its the most basic little things that are the really big things that matter. Thanks for reminding us.

  • Simon Mason

    Weird that they didn’t merge your name in there.

    Beyond that does it really matter? I think customer is the right word for Amazon to use: I am a client of a company I have a personal relationship with be it my hairdresser, my accountant or my bank. I am a member of a club or community of some kind, be it my golf club, the good folks at KTC or, at a stretch, facebook or G+  

    But if I am buying goods in a retail environment such as amazon or the local supermarket I am a customer – there is no genuine relationship there. And we can’t expect box shifters to start claiming they have personal relationships with everyone they sell to – they can’t afford to have an account handler for every 150 people they serve.So customer it is – we can’t have a personal relationship with every company we deal with much as we might like one. Seems to me they’re being realistic.

    • Chris Brogan

      I don’t know. I just think “customer” feels cold. MOST people didn’t seem to feel that way. But I guess it just rubbed me the wrong way. 

      • Simon Mason

        I think customer is cold – or maybe just inert – it doesn’t really mean anything and generally speaking they’re selling boxes, you’re buying boxes, inert is OK.

        Something occurred to me though reading Farnoosh’s comment – this was (pretending to be) a “letter” to you from Jeff Bezos. I think that’s maybe where it goes wrong, it wasn’t a letter so why dress it up like one – it was an announcement or maybe a memo. In that case it shouldn’t have “Dear” anything at all at the top of it.

        A letter should be a one to one, so if you lay out an announcement in the style of a letter you’re buying into the cultural norm of a letter, you’re then breaking that norm by writing Dear Customer so the whole thing jars.

        And on that I’m with you wholesale – addressing a communication that you’re dressing up as a one to one, personal communication (even though we know it isn’t) Dear Customer is rubbish.

        After some thought I’m going 180 on my previous comment here – they shouldn’t be writing Dear Customer . Customer is a word of classification – I’m quite happy being amazon’s customer, they can classify me as a customer on their internal report if it’s convenient for them, but, I want to be addressed by name – especially when it’s manifestly clear they have it.

        • Kimzonline

          How about, “Dear Amazon Prime Member”?

          It is, after all, my actual status with them.

  • Farnoosh

    Heck, I just like to be called my name. Adjectives do help though :)
    “Dear wonderful, long-time, Amazon-Prime user, Amazon-Vine member, Kindle-book-publisher, serial reviewer and loyal buyer-and-cheerleader Farnoosh,
    First of all, we love you. Have we told you that lately? If not, oh boy do we ever!
    Second, I do have an announcement … blah blah blah.
    Before I close, let me repeat that we love you.
    Jeff Bezos”
    Yeah, that’d have gone over a lot more smoothly :)!
    Can you send that in to Amazon suggestion box on our behalf, Chris?

    • Chris Brogan

      Will get that done for you. You know, most people didn’t agree with me. Interesting. I’m considering their take, as I figured most people would want to be called by name. 

      • Farnoosh

        Thank you, Chris, for continuing to write what is on your mind, whether the masses agree, or disagree or fall somewhere in between. Please don’t change!

  • Kneale Mann

    “We are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. We are human beings and our reach exceeds your grasp. Deal with it.” Cluetrain Manifesto published in 1999

    • Chris Brogan

      Oh that old thing? 

  • LairBob

    So…I definitely get what you’re saying, especially the ironic juxtaposition with the way they use our real names everywhere they can. And I agree that something along the lines of “Valued Customer” might have at least seemed a little more polite. (OTOH, I know from experience that as soon as you try to put “Dear …” in front of someone’s name, you open up a _huge_ can of worms. “Dear Chris Brogan” doesn’t exactly sound all warm and fuzzy, but with a global audience, how do you reliably pick and choose which pieces of each person’s name to use?)

    I am increasingly convinced, though, that there’s a growing segment of “marketers” who refuse to actually admit that they make a living by _selling_ things. I know that you’re not necessarily taking such an extreme stance, but I’ve had clients and colleagues who literally will not work through a sales transaction process, or discuss a lead qualification framework, because it “doesn’t put the customer first”. There are definitely times when I feel like I’m a bartender, but I’m working at a bar where no one wants to admit that people are there to drink alcohol.

    Yes, we need to understand, value and reward each member of the audiences we’re trying to serve, for the sake of the business, and just out of sheer decency. But at some point, in order to be _good_ at something, you have to admit that you’re _doing_ it. Again, I’m not saying that that’s what you’re doing here, but I think that no matter what you call the different players involved, they’re all best served by a clear, honest acknowledgement of what they’re really doing together.

  • Kwright

    I don’t mind being a customer, nor do I mind being referred to as one….what I do take strong exception to is being ADDRESSED as “Customer,” most particularly when the entity doing the addressing knows my name!  It makes me feel like the investment I have made in being loyal has been for nothing.  When that happens, even if I’ve been perfectly happy with the product or service, I feel compelled to look elsewhere – which means whoever called me “Customer” has likely just lost me as one.

  • Josh Sarz

    I don’t really mind being called a “customer”, especially from an autoresponder or something related to email marketing. But I do see your point. Sometimes being called your name does sound better.

    But then again, Michael Robinson also has a point regarding names from different languages. Unless they use a translator, which would be extra work, it probably boils down to personal preference. And how much the company wants to make their “customer” feel special.

  • Hannah Marcotti

    I don’t like customer, ug, I also don’t like the over use of my name, I get it sometimes, when it really is personal, but when I know it is the same letter to 5,000 plus people it sometimes rubs me wrong.

  • Elena Patrice

    Ahh … Chris, you are after my heart! I looove this post!! Thank you, thank you! 

  • deannamcneil

    I don’t have anything to add that many haven’t already stated, especially Jim Shanlin (great analogy!) and Rufus Dogg. I don’t mind being referred to as the customer, especially if you say the word with a bit of awe. In this tight economy, I am not the customer as much as I used to be. I love the intelligent conversation you continuosly spark. Keep on keeping on, sir.

  • Anonymous

    When I got the same email I thought it was some spam when I read “Dear customer” – a total miss on their part considering they are asking us to buy something.

  • Courtney Bosch

    Adored this post. I too was called the same dirty word by Amazon. It hurt. But I’m over it now and about to go make a purchase there now. Toodles! :) 

  • Mike Dachuk

    I don’t see why you should be bothered by the label customer. I’d rather be called a customer by a store than friend. You don’t know me Amazon. Don’t call me by my first name. I’m not loyal to you, I’ll go where I get the best deal. You don’t care how I feel. You’ve never called just to say hello. You are a website and I understand that. Lets leave our relationship as it is. B to C.

    • Nick Sweeney

      Yeah, can’t say this whole “customer” name is so bad. It’s not like they’re calling me a “consumer”.

  • Pingback: Is “Customer” a Dirty Word? | FatCat Strategies

  • Cathy McPhillips

    “Customer” is a bad word with our team. It’s “guest.” Always.

    I do use their names when responding, but I do think that blasting out subject lines such as “Chris, join us for…” sounds spammy to me. On a website, when logged in, using your name seems very natural and a no-brainer.

  • Dave Kawalec

    I don’t want Amazon to pretend that I’m important to them. I’m not. I’m a row in their customer database. That’s fine. Because they are a row in my database. All that has to happen to keep this relationship alive is that Amazon has to keep offering to sell me what I want at a good price and ship it to me in 2 days for free and I have to keep paying them.

    I trust Amazon with a lot of personal information about my shopping and buying habits. It makes me feel good that they are all business, polite but not overly friendly. Having Amazon pretend to be my friend would be as creepy as running into your doctor at the mall and having her bring up in conversation a birthmark that you have in an intimate area. Just eeewww.

    • Kimzonline


      I might agree with your premise, but you lost me at the first sentence.

      Amazon had better not be PRETENDING about how important I am to them.

      I AM important to them. Extremely important (can you say MySpace),
      whether they call me customer, Kim or Hey lady.

      I am a huge spender with them and have been for years, and no matter where I fall within their data bank, my name (when they speak of me singly or enmasse) had better be, “Oh, Mighty One” but I will settle for Dear Name and if they can create a Fire Tablet then they can surely put together an email 101 format.

      So, I’m with Chris on this one.

      …and I never show those birthmarks to anyone-not even my doctor! ;)

  • Ryan Hanley


    I was just talking to one my colleagues about this yesterday.  In our office we un-officially have a view different levels of “Person That’s Does Business With Us.”

    1) Business Partner / Friend
    2) Client
    4) Customer / Account

    Basically ranking level of loyalty and engagement. I could write ebook on this topic but basically the label “customer” in our office refers to people who don’t want a relationship with us… Price-shoppers, Flip-floppers… people who do business with us but don’t have loyalty to our Agency and our Value-System.

    I can see how you would be offended by such a thing when you value the relationship you have.

    Thanks for talking about this!

    Ryan H.

  • Nick Sweeney

    Nothing wrong with a good “Hi there!” Then again, it’s just an email, not a Constitution.

  • ChrisDonaldson

    This is one I’m not going to get too worked up about. @DaveKawalec nailed it nicely a few posts down – I too don’t need Amazon to pretend I’m something more than a customer. Customer for me is not a dirty word. Hey, some of my best friends are customers – not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    Bezos also gets a free pass for the new Fire tablet. I’m a happy customer about that.

  • Kelly Tirman

    Actions speak louder than words. I am willing to forgive word if the right action (or in this case interaction) is in place.

  • Amy Parmenter

    I would like Jeff to refer to me as Chris Brogan.  :0)

    Me thinks he’ll have another name for you in the future…

    Thought provoking as usual…

    Amy Parmenter
    The ParmFarm

  • Sara Jean Goodman

    I totally agree! In marketing I never use the word customer. I try to create communications with individuals names, but if that is not possible I feel client always sounds more appropriate that customer, no matter how important or unimportant each account is. Make your “clients” feel important, always.

  • William Reichard

    I’m usually with you on these things, but this time I think you’re off. Bezos was 1) being transparent and honest about my relationship with Amazon, which I appreciate and 2) emphasizing the financial nature of his message, which was about saving money compared with his competition (Apple). I think he was precisely saying, “We’re a business, not a cult, and we charge you for what you get, not mystique.” I think it was spot on. Then again, if it bothered you, it bothered you, so they obviously have room for improvement!

  • Bobby

    I am a bit ambiguous on this one, Chris. I don’t like the impersonal appellation of “customer”, but I always feel like someone’s fooling themselves into thinking they are fooling me by using my name in a generic letter that’s going to a million people! I’m not fooled and I resent you thinking I’m fooled because you really don’t know me! So, “customer” – at least it’s functional and accurate. If they sent me a free Kindle they could call me whateve they want. :p


    Chris obrigado pela citação,Então as grandes Empresas são as que tem a oca mais suja.

  • Greg Cryns

    Dear very cherished and appreciated community member,

    I quickly skimmed the comments. Ah! Just as I thought. Looks like you wanted to stir up the pot?
    The morning I began an email with “Dear Mary”. Then I stopped and thought, hey,  we don’t see the “Dear” salutation any more. Lots of “Hi” and “Hey”. 

    I guess the best way to say it in this case would be “Dear Chris” but, sheesh, I don’t think Jeff’s autoresponder can perform that task. Cutbacks.


  • Rick Manelius

    Honestly, I saw the letter and ignored it altogether, so I never even got to ‘customer.’ Druping the Dear _____  and adding an engaging headline would have better piqued my interest.

  • Linda

    My first notion of this was when I worked at Target (two whole weeks) in college and one of their stressed rules was to never use the word “customer.” At Target they MUST be referred to as guests. 

  • Nicholas Chase


    You mean the genius that started this company has no more regard for visitors, nor returning daily visitors than to greet site visitor’s as ‘Customer’? ;-) LOL!

    Of course this one word covers all bases. Otherwise the greeting might get ‘unwieldy’ as in:

    “Greetings again, my dear friend from Dubai with that successful start-up resulting in the purchase of  thousands of iPads, iPods, mice, keyboards, PC’s, Mac’s, Android’s, books, CD’s and movies from us over the past year!!! We value your business and want to help you in every way we possibly can.”

    Ok Chris, I went a bit overboard there to be sure, but ‘Customer’ is a non-offending, generic term that everyone who shops can relate to?. Prevents a lawsuit if they mistakenly call you ‘Madam’ or ‘Miss’ instead of Mr. or Sir ?)

    I agree that if your IP address is pinging Amazon everyday, and you are purchasing every day, they should have a special greeting for you, but what would that greeting be? Would it need to be ‘rotated’ based on how you were ‘feeling’ that day? (An API that sensed the galvanic skin response on your track-pad / mouse / mobile touch-screen, and greeted you appropriately would be a cool application maybe..?

    Overall I believe that your usage of Amazon is based on how well they serve you. If you are not pleased then Jeff Bezos is responsible for correcting the oversight. I just do not know who would manage this effort inside Amazon?

    Respectfully, Nicholas Chase

  • Lewis LaLanne aka Nerd #2

    Jay Abraham, the marketing wizard, taught me years ago that no one that buys from me should ever be called a customer.

    If you look up the definition of customer in Webster’s you’ll see something along the lines of, “a person who purchases a commodity or a service”.

    Jay instead advocated that you should think of people who buy from you as ‘Clients’. Why? Because the definition of a ‘client’ is “Someone who is under your care or protection.”

    The definition for ‘client’ sounds to me Chris, like something you do for your followers here and for your members. Keep up the awesomeness you big ole’ body guard you. :)

  • Brian Clark

    Funny, because I thought the use of the letter was smart and well done, but I also did a double-take at the use of customer. Copywriting 101, Bezos, would suggest you use a more endearing term. Even “Friends” would have come across better.

    But Chris is right… when I’m logged in (and I always am) they know my name. Why not pop it in there?

  • Ashley

    No one likes to be just another number. We gotta learn to show more personalization, even in mundane situations.

  • Carolyn Wilson

    ‘Dear Customer’ emails in my inbox get binned as phishing emails these days. The real deals usually take their audience seriously.

  • Mae Loraine Jacobs

    I don’t want to be treated as a commodity. Period. Surely it’s the same case with these business owners who can’t even choose the right application that customizes sales and reply templates. The World Wide Web is almost devoid of emotions the smallest inkling of empathy or relationship is highly valued. Business owners should know that.   

  • Gildo Bittencourt

    Se querem saber o significado da palavra CLIENTE procure, pela etimologia da palavra em questão

  • Brett Morrison

    I have been an Amazon Prime member for several years and Jeff Bezos could look up every individual click I have ever made on his site if he wished. It is laziness to address me as “customer” because we all know that programatically so much more is possible with so little effort. But that effort was not taken by Amazon in this case. 

    If you are not going to call me by name, take a page from Lady Gaga and call me your “little monster.” It will be hard to start at this point, but I am a fan of Amazon, so if you can’t call me by name, call me an Amazonian.

  • AL Spaulding

    An important part of building and maintaining a relationship with the evolving world of online marketing and e-commerce is to build a comfortable relationship with people whether they are the consumers or the sellers. Jeff Bezos obviously missed the memo on that one. Great Job calling him out  Chris. Kudos.

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  • emarketing

    ABSOLUTELY!  I’ve always hated that.  I know it may be too difficult or too time consuming always use the person’s name, but “customer”, “user” those days are long gone.  In the very least, just start typing your message.  Just say “Hi” and start typing.  Most of the time I would even forget that they left off the Dear Whoever anyway. 

  • Anonymous

    AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME. Again you made me think about something I wasn’t thinking of.

    I use the word all the time in blog posts and in conversations with clients. You’re right – none of my clients need customers – they ALL need loyalists. Evangelizers. Members.
    LOVE IT.

  • Brian Hamlett

    I have sort of an “eye for an eye” mentality when it comes to how I’m ‘treated’ by businesses that I buy from.  What I WANT is to be seen as a resource for feedback on the overall business (what I see them doing right/wrong in regards to their engagement of me as a purchaser – think Ops), feedback for product development (think R&D), and guidance on how to reach and connect with me (think marketing). I truly want to help make them better… because I wouldn’t have bought from them unless I believed and liked what I was purchasing!

    However, I’m fine if you just want to treat me like a ‘customer’ and nothing more.  Just don’t expect me to engage YOU back in any way, shape, or form.  You don’t want to know what I think that may/may not help you improve what or how I’m buying from you? Then I good and well won’t be reacting to any of your attempts to engage me… just to buy more.  I’ll buy when I darn well please!

  • Mike CJ

    This is an interesting example of the US and the UK being divided by a common language, although I agree that Jeff’s “Dear customer” was a mistake in this instance.

    But honestly, if UK businesses started referring to their clients as “Community members” or “supporters” it would fall flat!

  • Marcie_Hill

    Very enlightening. I had a conversation that a buddy a week ago, he told me that he was one of my biggest fans. That planted a seed, but this article made it grow. Fans will your grow your business directly and indirectly through word of mouth marketing and other support. Customers enhances your bottom line, not relationships.