What's the Difference Between a Client and a Customer?
I was working on my newsletter last Friday and happened upon one of those "enlightened moments."
I'd typed out, "Be mindful of scheduling factors in your customers' lives." Then I caught myself. Would it sound better with clients instead? I changed it, and yes, "Be mindful of scheduling factors in your clients' lives" looked clearer.
(Okay, so it was a small enlightenment. Humor me.)
What's the difference here though? What's the difference between a "customer" and a "client?"
I couldn't recall their explicit definitions off the top of my head, so I looked them up. Webster's defined "client" as "Someone who pays for goods and services." Next I looked up "customer." Sure enough - "Someone who pays for goods and services."
Exact same meaning. Or is it? Don't they have different meanings in marketing? Don't they carry distinct impressions about the people we do business with?
When I think "Client," I think more of 'harder' industries. Technical, legal, financial - business-to-business companies. However, when I think "Customer," I think of a broader range. Industries like retail, entertainment, customer service - business-to-consumer.
With a bit more thought, I came up with these distinctions:
A. Clients are relationship-based. They are long-term associations. Effort must be expended to cultivate a client relationship.
B. Customers are transaction-based. They are transient, mercurial associations. Either party can and often does sever the relationship suddenly and at convenience.
So, what's an easy way to illustrate the difference between a client and a customer?
A customer uses formalities when talking to you, and worries about what the project will look like when done.
A client calls you by first name and already knows how your latest project will go.
There's a lot of value in client relationships. Let's all try to cultivate them a little more.
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