In the world of product development, we are often always saying “user” _______. User-centered design, user analytics, user personas, user journeys, etc, etc.
It’s a term that holds importance because it is a genuine focus on the end-user experience.
It’s also often used as a crutch or a way to slip in a “user-centered” design without much effort. In many cases, the word “user” is devoid of context, and without it, all users are in aggregate. I’m not calling for a wholesale elimination of the term, it has its uses (heh). But when we can provide more detail, we should! Otherwise, how do we communicate what they need or what they care about quickly? Beyond that, how do we find out how they fit into our strategy?
This wouldn’t be the first blog to mourn the overuse of the word user in our field, but I want to provide a lesson in context I learned designing banking software with Virginia Credit Union.
As a software consultancy, companies are often coming to us to fill in gaps in their organizations and deliver value. Product strategy, design, and development are roles that we play here at Shockoe with broader client teams to ensure we are building something worthwhile that moves the needle for the organization.
Often, with that comes our responsibility to coach our clients how different parts of the processes work. How to execute customer research, find insights, craft strategies, create designs, build apps, the list goes on.
BUT because we work with such a range of clients and industries, it also allows us to absorb as much as we provide…usually in places you don’t expect.
When working with VACU, a gap in my approach became clear. As a credit union, they have decades of experience managing branches at a local and regional level. And while Virginia Credit Union has over 250k members, they still maintain this relational tone that echoes all facets of their business.
They were one of the first clients I have had that rarely used the term “user.”
It is always a member.
All of a sudden, the entire Virginia Credit Union suite of services, from retail to the app is a part of the “member experience.” So much is said thanks to that small change in terminology, it doesn’t need to be spelled out.
Why You Should Stop Using The Word “User”
Now, you might say those are the same thing. And you’re kind of right. At the end of the day, the experience is still of the software end-user, but it’s the subtle shift that changed the tenor of so many conversations by just giving slightly more context. It makes us more responsible for them in designing and developing their experience.
– It’s members that need to make mortgage payments. You don’t use mortgage payments. If you do, you’re weird.
– It’s members who need to transfer money so their kids at college can buy groceries. The member probably isn’t happy about it, but that’s beside the point.
– It’s members that scramble and panic when they can’t remember their password or worse: They think it’s compromised.
This lesson has been carried into every project I’ve worked on since and has been modeled after the way VACU showed it to me…by describing users as anything but users.
Making the Change
It’s one of those things you can implement instantaneously within your teams and to your product.
Customers pay energy bills.
Shoppers clip coupons.
Drivers make routes.
This tactic is simple but effective. Once you’ve moved away from users, dig into those customers, and further delineate them.
Energy Conscious Customers obsess over their bills.
Supersavers want to game coupons.
Daily drivers want to be home for dinner.
Make better software by making products for customers, drivers, and members — not just users.