Semantics, semiotics and sophistry

The debate about what is customer insight, need, focus etc; whether it should be citizen or customer, is an important one, not due to semantics but to semiotics (what we intend to mean by the use of particular words or expressions) and I believe there is an element of sophistry in their usage.

Calling someone a customer might be intended to give them a warm cuddly feeling whilst all the time they are a citizen in need of assistance. At least calling them a citizen means that as a part of a community they can expect certain privileges and the person assisting them has certain duties in providing the service, and the warm cuddly feeling can pervade all around when the citizen is satisfied.

Some definitions:

Customer – From Wikipedia –

A customer is someone who makes use of or receives the products or services of an individual or organization. The word historically derives from “custom,” meaning “habit”; a customer was someone who frequented a particular shop, who made it a habit to purchase goods there, and with whom the shopkeeper had to maintain a relationship to keep his or her “custom,” meaning expected purchases in the future.

Customer needs may be defined as the goods or services a customer requires to achieve specific goals. Different needs are of varying importance to the customer. Customer expectations are influenced by cultural values, advertising, marketing, and other communications, both with the supplier and with other sources.

Both customer needs and expectations may be determined through interviews, surveys, conversations, data mining or other methods of collecting information. Customers at times do not have a clear understanding of their needs. Assisting in determining needs can be a valuable service to the customer. In the process, expectations may be set or adjusted to correspond to known product capabilities or service.

Citizen – from Wikipedia

Citizenship is membership in a society, community, (originally that of a city or town but now usually for a country) and carries with it rights to political participation; a person having such membership is a citizen. Citizenship status often implies some responsibilities and duties under social contract theory. It is largely coterminous with nationality,[citation needed] although it is possible to have a nationality without being a citizen (i.e., be legally subject to a state and entitled to its protection without having rights of political participation in it).

We then get onto where semiotics meets sophistry:

Customer Insight –

This definition is taken from the Government Communication Network’s Engage Programme.  The Insight section on the Engage web site ( – only accessible to the Civil Service!) includes more detail on methodology and tools, together with some examples of where deep psychological truths derived from customer insight activity have been applied effectively in campaigns to drive behavioural change.

“ A deep ‘truth’ about the customer based on their behaviour, experiences, beliefs, needs or desires, that is relevant to the task or issue and ‘rings bells’ with target people.”

Customer Need – what the paricular needs of a definite class of customer are, these may be further defined in the ‘Circle of Need’ proposed by NWEGG/Apera.

“For a local authority this means understanding and delivering to customer need, measuring the extent to which it is being met (or unmet) and the extent to which it is changing. Understanding,like management, requires the individual to construct a mental model which provides a structure for more detailed information. The ability to develop, adapt and communicate the model is a key enabler to developing shared understanding. As such, the first step in addressing customer need is to model need from the customer perspective. The second is to pilot the model and use it operationally, by integrating it into ongoing citizen information collection processes and service design processes, so that it is
adapted with actual changes in need and changes in types of service delivery. The third step is to use the model to support need analysis and service planning processes.”

Customer Satisfaction – Customer satisfaction, a business term, is a measure of how products and services supplied by a company meet or surpass customer expectation. It is seen as a key performance indicator within business and is part of the four perspectives of a Balanced Scorecard.

Customer Engagement (CE) refers to the engagement of customers with one another, with a company or a brand. The initiative for engagement can be either consumer- or company-led and the medium of engagement can be on or offline.

Customer Profile – Segmentation breaks the market into sub-groups of consumers with similar demographic characteristics, lifestyles, product preferences and media preferences – this is the customer profile.

In my simple view the definitions would encourage us to stick with citizen for those government deals with, they hardly consume government, nor does government sell its services (often).

As a result I believe we need to develop a ‘citizen oriented architecture’ for which phrase I acknowledge the relationship with the phase of another blogger ‘customer oriented architecture’.


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