For the longest time, businesses called their customers “customers”. But, more & more business owners have begun referring to their customers as “guests”. It’s super-polite and sort of odd. But how did that get started, and why? Well, we have Disney to thank (or blame, depending on how you look at it).
Back in 1955, when the original Disneyland opened in Anaheim, CA, employees working at “The Happiest Place on Earth” were told to refer to attendees at park as “guests”, as part of the Disney commitment to going the extra mile in creating an uber-friendly fantasy environment.
And, because of their scale & reputation, a lot of what Disney does, others imitate. Many other business executives actually took lessons on Disney’s methodology at the Disney Institute back in the 1980s, hoping to emulate Disney’s success. Then, in 2015, a spokesperson for Target admitted to The New York Times that Target employees had begun saying “guests” when referring to customers 22 years earlier, in 1993, as a direct result of following Disney’s policy.
But, while it may sound warm & inviting, calling customers “guests” isn’t actually linguistically correct. “Guest” actually means one who’s being entertained at the abode of another while paying for services rendered. So, it’s more appropriate to use “guest” in the context of visiting a hotel or restaurant, as opposed to a retail store. “Customer”, on the other hand, is a noun that, by definition, is someone visiting a place to purchase goods. So, when it comes to stores, “customer” is much more appropriate than “guest”.
But, Disney did feature a song titled “Be Our Guest” in their 1991 animated film Beauty and the Beast, so I suppose they get a pass. Besides, it’s all about semantics & psychology in the hopes of getting you to spend your hard-earned money.
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