Ten Ways ‘Customer’ is the wrong frame for #CustomerCommons


Some founders of the Customer Commons have an emotional investment in the use of the word “Customer.” I believe we can do better.

Here’s why we should try.

Customer is the wrong frame, invoking the wrong preconceptions.

‘Customer’ is akin to ‘consumer’: weak, disadvantaged, requiring protection. The person behind the counter has power, the customer lines up with all the other customers waiting their turn. We should invoke strength and power. ‘Warrior Commons’ might be overstepping but that’s the right direction.

A ‘Customer’ is merely a node in a network; the real juice is in the connections among the nodes (relationships) and the topology of the network (clusters, intermediaries, proximity, flexibility). Our true focus has been on how to help people use the network to their advantage. If this were television, ‘customer’ is like a passive ‘viewer’ in the creative YouTube and Ustream era.

‘Customers’ can only buy/not-buy. We’re creating a world where people’s relationships give them more power and more active choices like collective action, bargaining, trading non-cash behavior for non-cash benefits.


‘Customer’ limits relationships to the lifespan of commerce. Our relationships are multilayered, longer.

‘Customer’ says commerce, cash, and money is the measure of a relationship. That is only true sometimes. For example…

  • ‘Customer’ ignores Person-to-Person relationships. Children aren’t their parent’s customers.
  • ‘Customer’ misses government-citizen relationships. Citizens aren’t customers.
  • ‘Customer’ leaves out student-teacher-school relationships. Students aren’t customers. Employees aren’t customers.
  • I don’t want to use tools built for ‘Customer’ to flirt. I’m a man, not a wallet.
  • ‘Customer’ excludes NGOs. I am not my congregation’s customer.

Finally, this is not how I want to identify with our project.

‘Customer’ is the slave name given to people by marketers and the people who pay them.

Cartoon: Someone calling themselves a customer says they want something called service.

I reject it.

So what is the path forward?

The relationship.

The vector, not the node. Interpersonal relationships and person-to-institution relationships, perhaps even institution-to-institution relationships (Persona LLC, anyone?).

Relationship Commons.

Connection Commons.

Interaction Commons.

Engagement Commons.

Just focus on the ties connecting people and we should be great.

My two cents.

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