It has been noted many times that there are only two industries that refer to their customers as “users”: IT and illegal drugs. When you think about it – at some point both of them need a fix! (ba-dum-bump) Thank you! I’ll be here all week!
The term “user” has been a part of IT for decades. Personally, I first remember hearing the term in the original version of the movie “Tron” from the early 80’s. “That’s Tron. He fights for the Users.”
To Tron, a “user” was a high ideal. The idea that Flynn, his creator, was an user and that he revisited the programs in person was unbelievable and akin to a visit from royalty. For the audience watching, IT was still very much a new, mysterious, and miraculous concept. To them, the idea of being a “user” was exciting and alluring. So the question is, does the term “user” still have the same impact today?
Sadly, no. To most people outside of IT, “user” is a loaded word implying substance abuse and dependency. When used in IT, “user” typically refers to the last piece in the technological delivery chain. In fact to IT, “user” is used almost interchangeably with what retail references as “the consumer”. Wikipedia defines a consumer as “a person or group of people, who are the final users of products or services. The consumer’s use is final in the sense that the product is usually not improved by the use.”
So thinking about a group of people who do nothing else but “use” and “consume” can really make us miss the point of what we do as Technology Experts. These words can conjure up images of an anonymous, fickle, demanding, and vacuous audience whose only use is ingesting the good or service being produced. Yikes!
How did the term “user” fall from the dignity with which it is referenced in Tron, to simply the last piece in a supply chain? As if the user is a bottomless chasm just binging on the delightful bounty of technology or services we provide. As technologists, we need to be aware of the fact that “users” are the REASON why the technology, service, or offering exists in the first place!
So the issue is not the word “user”, but instead our attitude towards this audience. How we feel about this group of people directly affects the quality of service we provide them. The quality of service they receive, directly affects their perception of IT. We need to remember that these are real people trying to do their jobs and they are relying on IT to help them.
Let’s face it, even if we are consultants, technologists, or service providers; with the ubiquity of Technology, we are all “users” at some point. How frustrating is it when a piece of technology we rely on doesn’t work and we can’t figure out why? While the average “user” is getting savvier as technology develops, this intense frustration can be seen when they reach out to IT for help.
So what can we do about it? Be like Tron! Fight for the “users”!
As Technology Experts we need to:
- Question not the use of the word “user”, but instead our attitude towards that audience
- Enable our users to not just get their issue resolved, but understand what happened and how they might be able to facilitate a solution next time
- Get their feedback! All of IT should be concerned about how their users feel about the service they are getting
As referenced in many other blogs here, IT has a perception problem. It might shock you to know that the average person does not have kind things pop into their mind when they hear those two little letters, “IT”. No really, it’s true. I’ve asked them! But the point is, if we want to change the way people think about IT, the first step is for IT to change the way it thinks about its customer base. That will reflect in a thousand countless actions and have far more power than any word we use to reference our dear “users”.