I am trying to describe a situation in which you design a product for a company, and they use it to engage with their customers. So from my own perspective, the company would be the primary (or first degree) customer, and the company's customers (or second degree) customer can be unambiguously described. And if the company provides a service to another company that also deals with their own customers then you can call it a third degree customer (and so on and so forth). Has anyone come across this term, and is it easy enough to understand or do people use other terminologies?

Often these days people talk about a B2B versus a B2C software/application. In this case a B2B software is designed for a business that have customers, and you would refer to the company as your client/customer and that company's customer as their clients/customers but it seems a little awkward to use this term.

  • When I just hear "Second Degree" by itself, I immediately think of "second degree murder" or something along those lines. I never heard it refer to an audience. Normally it's primary, secondary, and tertiary.
    – Chris N.
    Commented Jul 26, 2013 at 16:11
  • For us, the business we work with is always "client" and the people buying their stuff are always "customers" or "end users".
    – cloudworks
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 5:16
  • 1
    "Degree" to me makes perfect sense, but you need to have come across this to probably get this: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_degrees_of_separation
    – PhillipW
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 22:44

10 Answers 10


In my design course, we called them primary, secondary, and tertiary users.

Of course, it depends on who you're talking to. If you're talking to your clients, you would just call their customers "your customers". If you're talking to your colleagues about your client, you would call them "(blank)'s customers." But if you want a very generic term, I think "secondary users" should be okay once you define what they are.


I'd be careful with "second degree". Even though it is actually a fairly neutral term, it can be confused with second rate, especially by non-native speakers. And nobody wants to be a second degree/rate anything.

An even more neutral term would be "tier". First tier, second tier and third tier customers accurately describe the "distance" from the company without invoking any value judgement.

  • sounds to me like "second hand citizen". i would look for another naming too. Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 9:54

I’m afraid, the Second Degree isn’t sounds like a hierarchy of the users/stakeholders, until you specify about it.

Why can’t you call them as the End Users?

As you explained, you are designing a B2B product, the company you are designing for are “Choosers” for you, or can be described​ as "Selectors". And for your customer ( or "Choosers") the actual user will be people who directly interacts with the product, so called “End Users” in the hierarchy of stakeholders.

Henceforth, for the context described in the question, End Users would be the appropriate term.


For B2B cases, I believe bottom-up laddering defines the correct sketch of stakeholders map. Starting from, your user, to their user then down to their users and so on till you end up with the actual End Users.

Your case: Choosers -> End Users (1 tier)

Second case as you've mentioned: Chooser -> Providers -> End Users (2 tier)

  • This depends, if the customer never actually touches the software I wouldn't call them the end user. Such as an ad/marketing tool used by the company to distribute mail, only the company workers would ever use the software so they would be the end user.
    – DasBeasto
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 15:59
  • I second you @DasBeasto, end users should always be percieved as the last entity of your stakeholders. If you are designing for B2B, bottom up laddering should be taken into consideration whereas for B2C top-bottom laddering will works best. I've updated my answer with more clarification. Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 21:05
  • We prefer to make it more explicit instead of primary/secondary etc. For example, we build a CMS. We refer to the company that uses that CMS to be our client, or the store or, if you're not into the whole brevity thing, the administrative users. We refer to the people who browse the site as customers or end users. We try hard not to overload the term "user" or invent new terms or hierarchies.
    – cloudworks
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 5:13
  • Good to know @cloudworks, thanks for sharing your thought process. Yes, Design produce simplicity out of complexities, and every organisation/person have it's own approaches to achieve this. I personally feels it good to define the stakeholders with simplest possible words/nouns of english in order to avoid confusions on later stages. Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 15:29

The confusion is likely the term 'customer'. Your client is YOUR customer. But your client ALSO has customers--the people that are going to depend on the UX you create for them.

Typically you and your client would define their user base. You may have primary users and secondary users, but both you and the client are focused on their UX needs (while accommodating your client's business needs).


I wouldn't use it, because it's somewhat confusing and ambiguous.

I'm in a similar situation--I make tools that people(1) use, to make tools that other people(2) use to make tools for other people(3). (No, really.) So I have "1. internal customers/developers" who make things for "2. product developers/toolsmiths" who make things for "3. product users".

The word 'product' is a magic word around here meaning "the thing we ask people to pay money for", which contrasts with our internal tools team. You might find a similar word you can use to make the distinctions clearer.

In your system, someone with less system knowledge might not remember which is 2nd vs. 3rd degree. What is it that is produced at each step? And it might sound a bit dismissive for that same person without context.


I think it depends on the industry. I'd say follow your user group's lingo if that exists.

E.g. Our B2B product is designed for professional service providers. They refer to their customers as "clients". We keep that convention and refer to our business customers as "customers" and their customers as "their clients", or sometimes C^2 for customer's clients (we use this internally within the company) to make it super explicit.

  • This is more for the purpose of communicating the relationship in a generic way (e.g. between UX designers or between people in a team) rather than finding the right term used in different industries. C^2 is an interesting way of putting this down. Would C^3 mean the customer's client's clients?
    – Michael Lai
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 0:11
  • Your customer: the client
  • Your customer's customer: the client's customer

(The client and the client's customer are mutually exclusive.)

  • Anyone who uses a product: the end user
  • Anyone who uses a software product: the user

(Both the client and the client's customer can happen to be a user, depends on the product.)

This is just how most people use these terms and perceive them, purely conventional.


Depending on the situation, the terminology would vary. In the situation you describe above, all participants are users, as they use the product but they are represented by different personas.

If there are two people who both use the product, one of whom is an internal user to the customer company and the other is their customer... those would be the two personas to start with - for example: "Sal the Sales Operative" and "Carl the Customer". They both have different goals from their use of the product, different resources and skills at their disposal, and different depths of engagement with the product. Only one of them is your customer, but both are your users, and their needs affect what you have to do.

If there are people who are affected by the use of the product but never interact with it directly, I tend to refer to those as "Indirect Personas". So, if "Sal the Sales Operative" uses the product based on their interactions with "Bob the buyer", but bob never even sees it... Bob's needs and goals are still relevant and should be considered. So he's still a persona, albeit an indirect one. You still have to know about them, so that you can help Sal work with them.

Personally, I'd avoid "Second Degree" or "Second Tier" as it implies that they're less important... but they are at least as important as the people you are making the product for, because without them the product serves no purpose. Instead, just consider each type of persona who will interact with the product, or who will impact the usage of the product.

  • I think it is important to have a more precise way to describe the different relationships between all of the 'users' without making it confusing. This why simply using the term user will cause confusion, and having a long description makes it difficult to communicate ideas in documentation and specifications.
    – Michael Lai
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 21:29
  • I guess my comment is more that thinking of one group as "the user" and the other as something else is just flat out wrong if they all use the tool being designed. They have different views and needs, but are both users. I've wandered around the point a bit in my answer because the question is a little unclear about the degree to which their customers clients (and their clients, and on down the chain) are actually direct users of the product in any capacity... or if they just shape and influence the behaviour of direct users.. Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 10:12

For native english speakers (as audience), I've found that using a series level prefix to describe the hierarchy worked best in my presentations.

[A] -> B -> C -> D

A -> [B] -> C -> D

A -> B -> [C] -> D

A -> B -> C -> [D]

The last or end would always be ultimate. The one before the last would be penultimate and so on. e.g. penultimate-customer, ultimate-customer etc.

I generally avoid degrees because it makes terms look inferior or superior while they are not.

I also use sequential single-hue or multi-hue colors to assist non-english speakers understand the position of a term in the series.

  • Downvotes: Leave a comment please.
    – Rayraegah
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 7:39
  • Your answer is a bit like Churchill going "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. Does anyone else think of Kate Moss while playing Candy Crash?". Didn't downvote, and actually liked the suggestion. But if you ask me, you masked the good bit of your answer with something rather irrelevant yet hugely attention grabbing - the hue chart.
    – Izhaki
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 22:56
  • I see. Fixed that.
    – Rayraegah
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 6:39

I would not use "degree" for the reasons exposed earlier, but maybe 1st gen, 2nd Gen, 3rd Gen would be better.

  • 1
    What would be your reason for using the term gen? Why does it work better than degree from your experience?
    – Michael Lai
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 23:21
  • degree as noted in another answer migth be interpreted as "second rate", and no one likes to be called that, when you talk about GEN or generations, there is usually no better or worst that could be associated by non native speakers, as in processors a 2nd degree cpu does give a different idea than a 2nd gen cpu even tho you might be referring to the same thing.
    – arana
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 23:25
  • I tend to think that the term gen just shows an evolution or a replacement of an existing entity rather than indicate this type of relationship where there are two or more entities that are not necessarily equivalent in nature.
    – Michael Lai
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 23:29
  • As a non native english speaker when I see gen I get the idea of father->son->grandson and I get an image of your situation easier than when using "degree" or "level". But maybe that is only me.
    – arana
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 23:36
  • This is pure conjecture. I would be surprised if this tested as significantly better than degree.
    – Mayo
    Commented Mar 23, 2017 at 0:24

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