Saturday, November 10, 2007

Save the users

It's a hack that works. I woke up this morning with a rant, ready to blog.

Let's say you work as a professional typist. I don't mean in the 1950s-secretary sense of the word, but I mean a person who types for a living. One who types hundreds of words per minute, knows dozens of layout programs, eats word processor manuals for lunch, and can hand-tune the margins on a vintage IBM Selectric... not just someone who knows the difference between a hyphen, an emdash and an endash.

Now let's say that you, the professional typist, get a call from someone who wants to pay you to type up a research paper as per your regular freelance rates. This person is your client, or possibly just a customer.

Now let's say that you, the professional typist, work for a large organization that pays you for your capacity to type things. One of your coworkers in a different department sends a project your way- let's say the transcription of a presentation given at a conference. Unless money changes place, this person is not your customer, not your client. Yall are just coworkers.

Sometime in the eighties, corporate flacks, inundated with anti-drug messages, decided that they didn't like the connotation of "user" when applied to their employees, and started the disturbing trend of referring to "customers" rather than "users."

I can appreciate wanting IT monkeys to provide better customer service to users, but that does not make customers out of your users! There's a whole different relationship implied between a customer and a provider that is wholly inappropriate for the workplace.

The customer is always right, but the user doesn't know what they need. I don't mean that people need up-selling, but that quite literally a user doesn't — and shouldn't — know what they need to use their computers and systems. It's not their role and not their job to know that the one server connects to the other server via this-and-such encryption protocol because it's regulated by the Fed's TLA branch. They simply need to use their tools they need to do their job.

It's just plain wrong. It's the wrong word. Drives me crazy. Whenever I hear someone in a Corporate IT position say, "customer," I have to ask, "Do you mean the end-user?" Some IT positions are customer-facing, and some aren't. The person one supports is not unnecessarily one's customer.

Most importantly, I dreamt this rant- so the blog-a-day-slash-NaNoWriMo hack is working.

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