Wednesday, January 24, 2007

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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4 Comments:

At 2:20 AM , Blogger Tom said...

I was just browsing the web searching for an explanation of the difference between the two synonymes of 'client' and 'customer'.

You see, I am Polish and my mother tongue provides one term to name someone who buys goods or services ('klient' in Polish). It is thus kind of difficult for Poles to correctly use 'customer' and 'client' when speaking English (we tend to use 'client' more frequently due to the similarity between English 'client' and Polish 'klient).

Anyway, my point is that I liked your explanation of the two terms very much.It helped me to understand the core meaning of the words and their usage. Thank you very much.

 
At 2:21 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was just browsing the web searching for an explanation of the difference between the two synonymes of 'client' and 'customer'.

You see, I am Polish and my mother tongue provides one term to name someone who buys goods or services ('klient' in Polish). It is thus kind of difficult for Poles to correctly use 'customer' and 'client' when speaking English (we tend to use 'client' more frequently due to the similarity between English 'client' and Polish 'klient).

Anyway, my point is that I liked your explanation of the two terms very much.It helped me to understand the core meaning of the words and their usage. Thank you very much.

 
At 9:23 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article! I've always percieved clients to be beneficiaries of a service, and a customer as a beneficiary of a good. I think that's just the context in which I use. Hmm...

 
At 10:38 AM , Anonymous Phil Steffek said...

Excellent post. I think the distinction between relationship based and transaction based interactions is critical. Going forward my team and I will be referring to our "clients" not our "customers".

 

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