Customer. Consumer. Colleague. What’s the difference?

The Customer is the person or entity paying. They may or may not use the service or product for which they are paying, but the money comes out of their account.

the Consumer is the person or entity using the goods or services. They may not pay.

A Colleague is someone with whom I have a mutual, reciprocal relationship that is ongoing and not (usually) influenced by monetary issues.

You are not a customer of the NFL. You are a consumer. Pepsi, Budweiser and Continental are customers. As such, the NFL is more likely to respond to the wishes of the customers (scheduling game times, selecting blackout markets, etc) than those of the consumers.

Closer to home, the manager who calls and screams at the Helpdesk analyst does so (in part) because they are under the (mistaken) impression that they are customer. The problem is not in their status, nor in our execution of services. It is in the consumer’s perception of the relationship.

Do we (or do we want to) communicate this to the end-users?

I have always found “customer” to be an uncomfortable word. It implies a fiscal relationship that isn’t there and therefore all exepctations are skewed. As my customer (I mean it), the company I contract at can decide that my services are substandard and therefore go find another vendor. As vendor, I can decide that the company is a problem client and prohibitively price myself so that I have said “no” without saying “no”.

No such privilege exists with the helpdesk. The users cannot choose to call another Helpdesk vendor, nor can the HD staff decide that the folks in one department are more trouble than they are worth.

In this situation, the word colleague, which is more like a marriage than a business partnership, seems to fit. In addition to the absence of choice I mentioned above, colleagues understand that they will have working relationships that last far longer than any specific project or organizational structure. Mary in accounting used to be Mary in the typing pool and before that she was Mary in the mail room and I saw her every day when she dropped off my mail and asked me about my kids. Next month, she’ll be Mary the V.P. of Finance.

Just a thought. I’m not sure where to take it or whether it has bearing.