I don’t want to be your “customer”

Acknowledging the Power of Your Words

In my early twenties, I managed a popular chain restaurant – a very successful company with hundreds of locations worldwide. I’ll always remember what our CEO said at that time…

“People are customers until they’ve chosen to enter [our restaurant], at which point they become guests.”

A simple word substitution can help to create a culture shift inside of an organization. Consumers (people) can be thought of differently – more favorably – simply by being thoughtful of the word(s) we use to identify them. Additionally, this can cause a chain reaction. When a patron hears her merchant referring to her as their “guest,” it feels different – much warmer than “customer.” Think for a moment of what each word implies — A “customer” can feel distant (cold) while a “guest” feels connected (warm).

When working with my clients, I advise them to eliminate the word “customer” from their company’s vernacular, if it feels appropriate for their industry to do so. Some recommended replacements are client, guest, patient, fan, or member. If none of these seem to fit, or you cannot seem to find an acceptable and appropriate alternate for your industry, consider using customer, but only as a last resort.

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” ~Mark Twain


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