What is another term for User

By ITIL® from Experience© ITIL® defines a "User" as "A person who uses the IT service on a day-to-day basis.”1

The problem is that in some organizations the term "user" has a negative connotation. For starters, "use" can imply "taking advantage of,"2 thus some people in the public service may take offence since they are entrusted with the sound management of public funds. In organizations that provide social assistance and services, as in the dictionary, the term "user" refers to "a person who frequently uses illegal drugs."3

As a result some organizations look for an alternative to the word user. Here are some suggestions.

TermDefinition / Comment
End User "The person who uses the final output of a project or delivered service."4
“The ultimate consumer of a finished product.”5

ClientIn the Canadian Federal Government the term Client is generally well accepted and used even though the ITIL® Glossary defines it as:
"A generic term that means a customer, the business or a business customer. For example, client manager may be used as a synonym for business relationship manager. The term is also used to mean [client/server computing]."1

Business ConsumerProposed by Jayne Groll 6

CustomerThis term is already used by ITIL® and referrers to:
"Someone who buys goods or services. The customer of an IT service provider is the person or group who defines and agrees the service level targets. The term is also sometimes used informally to mean user – for example, ‘This is a customer-focused organization.’1
"Generic – The person who is paying. May also be known as the client, buyer or purchaser.”4

Business CustomerIn ITIL® Service Strategy, it means "A recipient of a product or a service from the business. For example, if the business is a car manufacturer, then the business customer is someone who buys a car."1

In this list one may notice the distinction made between the consumer (i.e. user) and the entity that buy or negotiates services on their behalf (i.e. customer). Caution is required not to blend this distinction into a generic all-encompassing term like "client." Although a generic term makes it easier at the onset, it will eventually become a source of confusion leading to unnecessary discussions later in the implementation when SLAs are considered. Thus, we recommend keeping the term customer whenever possible or another term to distinguish between the “user” and the “buyer/negotiator”. For example, Broker and Staff can work for real estate.

A common trap is to fall into an academic debate to find a synonym to the term user. Often the organization already has a term to categorize their staff like, members or associates. Frequently this aligns well with Customer-Based SLAs. Regardless of the term used to replace “user”, what is most important is that it clearly defines their role/interaction with I.T. and that it is used consistently.


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