“Customers”: Is it the right word?

In the 2 years since I left LEGO, I’ve had to retrain myself to referring to people who buy stuff from companies as “consumers”. LEGO, like many manufacturing companies, has both customers (Wal-Mart, Target, Toys R’ Us, etc.) and consumers (mom, 7 year old boys, Jake). It all makes sense, but removed from that environment, the use of the word “consumer” just seems slimy.

I’ve been trying desperately to retrain my brain to stop using “consumer” and instead use “customer”. But it dawned on me today – maybe I’m using the wrong word. Right or wrong, customer implies a transaction. Sure you may have an ongoing series of transactions contained by some level of relationship. But ultimately, we’re still focusing on the transaction.

But about the word “client”? Clients are inherently based on a longer-term relationship, and are steeped in a relationship that builds towards a success of some sort. Whether you’re talking about lawyers, strategists, or hairdressers, the goal is to have the service provider learn so much about their client that it’s a highly communicative, ongoing interaction.

Imagine if Best Buy thought of me as a client rather than a customer.