Focusing on users is not Customer Obsession

Let’s talk Customer Obsession and how it is different than user obsession.

My definitions:

  • Customer: An individual (or entity) that pays you, directly or indirectly, for value you provide.
  • User: An individual that is forced to use something you provide.

Users fall into three buckets 1) people unhealthily addicted to something (heroin), 2) employees forced to use something in order to do their job (IT systems), or 3) people who are products of services that sell them to advertisers (Facebook, Google, etc…).

https://www.flickr.com/photos/findrehabcenters

Customer Obsession means you explicitly avoid making people into users. While we should aspire to drive virality in our products, customer obsession means we never aspire to make that virality addictive. The best IT products are built by teams that treat the people who end up using the products as though they were the ones actually paying the bills. I see that Google is now charging for a premium YouTube service. I find it outrageous that a product would be willing to actually pay the company that is selling it money.

Let’s endeavor to treat the humans we build products for as customers, not users. Be more Customer Obsessed by striking the word “user” from your vernacular. It’s Customer Experience (CX) not User Experience (UX). When you read a doc where someone has used the word “user” or “end-user” challenge them on it. Are they explicitly trying to drive an unhealthy addiction? Are they expecting to force the experience on someone? Are they treating humans as products to sell to someone else, like an advertiser?

P.S. I’m not alone in this view. See this eloquent blog post by Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

1 comment


  1. alex

    There is a hidden assumption that customer obsession is must have for great products. Games are addictive and viral – does that mean game developers cannot be customer obsessed. Customer obsession without sound business model is idealistic and actually hurts customer if business does not survive.

    The benefit of using “user” is to remove transactional $ value attributed with word “customer”. It makes sense for Amazon, Square to use customer because people actually pay at the first experience but it does not make sense for Google, Facebook to use customer.

    There is a sense in this post that customer obsession is somehow superior and its not (e.g amazon also shows ads – ideally they should not if you are truly customer obsessed – now of course Amazon will say that its showing relevant ads to give customers choice – btw Google can make the same argument that its giving choice to users in a non-intrusive way)

    in the end , value will determine whether user/customer uses the product or not. Usage is the ultimate metric. There is no forced usage in this century – (e.g many don’t use facebook)

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