IT and 'Customers': Better than 'Users,' but Not as Good as 'Partners'

Ann All

Last summer I wrote a post in which I questioned the common practice of IT staff referring to line-of-business folks as users. I recently attended the Midmarket CIO Forum, and I didn't hear one attendee mentioning "users." However, I did hear plenty of them talking about business "customers" or "clients." Is this the more common terminology now?


I've also written about the need for IT organizations to develop a more customer-centric culture. Now, though, I am having second thoughts.


Does using the term "customer" or "client" for business colleagues reinforce the impression of IT as nothing more than an internal service organization? Maybe that's not such a great idea, since many experts say IT needs to move the focus from the back office to the front office and help business leaders develop and execute ideas that will generate revenue.


There's also the concern that customers don't always get good service, a point Eric D. Brown makes on his Technology, Strategy, People & Projects blog in a post aptly titled "The Frustrations of Being 'Just' a Customer."


Brown describes his not-so-great experiences with several different companies, including a couple providers of telecommunications services. They all gave him poor service, despite the fact he could take his business elsewhere. It's generally even worse with companies, like local utilities, for which customers have few if any good alternatives. That's why government agencies may face an uphill battle in their efforts to improve customer service, even though they just got an executive order to do so.


IT organizations would do well to remember that companies have more external alternatives than ever before for IT services. IT should treat business colleagues as partners, not "just" customers. As Brown writes:

Treat me like "just" a customer and you'll be one of the first companies/services I cut when I want/need to save money. Treat me like a person and you'll be amazed at how quickly I open my wallet and how much money I'm willing to spend with you.

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