Mar 21, 2019 | 7 min read
I’ve been using the words ‘client’ and ‘customer’ interchangeably for five years now (wow, it’s been five years already since I started my content marketing path, who would have thought).
Table of contents
Client vs customer: key differences
Customer vs client comparison table
‘Client and customer’ synonyms in business
So, do I have clients or customers?
Client vs customer: B2C use case
Client vs customer: B2B use case
The thing is, when you write about a business, you always need more ways to name people who are using your services or tools. It’s all pretty much the same for me – clients, customers, users, subscribers, consumers, you name it. Or is it?
Turns out the ‘client vs customer’ conundrum is one of the biggest mysteries in the business world — right between ‘who on Earth had ever used Google+’ and ‘why Facebook is still a thing after all the scandals’.
There are numerous articles on the topic of ‘client versus customer’, people keep asking this question on Quora on an all too regular basis – but there’s still no clarity there. Is there any difference between customers and clients? And if so, what is it?
Definition: In brief, a customer is a person or organization that buys products or services from a business. Stores or restaurants have customers.
It’s more about one-off transactions than lasting relationships. Even though customers can be loyal to brands and return to them regularly, the nature of their relations is always short-term. Customers choose whatever services they need and pay right away. They can come later to the same store, but it’s always about the immediate exchange of goods or services for money.
Traditionally, businesses that work with customers are focused more on the number of transactions rather than the quality of relationships with each consumer.
It may even seem that the word ‘customer’ gained itself a hint of negative definition, but it’s far from the truth. I mean not for nothing do they say that the customer is always right. They are the main patrons of every business, so yeah, it’s for them to demand top-notch quality goods.
To give you a better idea of the matter, just see how media use the word ‘customer’ in day-to-day news:
- The internet is awash with unhappy Ikea customers and an inability to be able to talk to someone is a repeated complaint. (The Guardian)
- Tesla Inc. customers in California and several East Coast states sued the company over what they called unexpected and steep price hikes for the company’s Solar Roof product. (Bloomberg)
- Santander has said “key services are recovering” following customers’ problems accessing accounts online and withdrawing cash from its ATMs. (BBC)
So as you see, banks usually have customers since they offer the same services and products for all physical clients. When it comes to entities and closer professional relationships, banks may offer personalized support.
Definition: A client is a person or business that pays for personalized or highly professional services like legal advice, graphic design, real estate consultation. For example, it’s commonly considered that attorneys and accountants have clients, not customers.
It’s a long-standing relationship. People can be your clients for years paying you regularly or only from time to time when they need your help. I’d say it’s a question of loyalty when it comes to clients. That’s why the spotlight of such companies or professionals is the happiness of their clients, not their number.
The key part here is all about being highly specialized and personalized. Clients receive services tailored specifically for their needs. If a person’s seeking financial advice, they’ll receive tips applicable to their situation only. If they’re hiring a lawyer, their case will be handled with all possible attention.
As Paul Davis, CEO of Bite-Sized Books, put it so accurately in his answer on Quora:
At a deeper level, by using the word client there is a semantic benefit, in that it removes the immediate cash exchange from the picture. In that way, having taken the concept of money out of the picture, it makes the relationship more equal and gives an impression of some form of quasi-partnership. It is an illusion of course, but it is one that the professional services organizations are very jealous of.
Here is the word ‘client’ used in English in the top world media:
- Will attorney-client privilege apply to Giuliani’s communications? (Reuters)
- Celebrity stylist gives free haircuts to isolated NYC clients (NBC New York)
- I’m an accountant for ultrawealthy people in Florida. Here’s what surprises my clients most about their taxes — and what I love about my job. (Business Insider)
Client vs customer: key differences
In a nutshell, a customer is someone who pays for here-and-now goods and services. While a client buys long-term personalized assistance or support from a hired professional.
Truth is, client and customer are pretty similar notions with the main difference lying somewhere between money and loyalty. From what I understood after thorough research, the word ‘customer’ is more about one-off purchases. Whereas, the word ‘client’ describes something more personalized, long-term, and ongoing.
Simply put, customer = immediate transactions, client = lasting relationships. For example, when you go to a street market and buy a painting from an artist, you become their customer. But if you ask that very artist to paint your family portrait, you are transforming into their client.
Yet, is it all that simple? Nowadays, brands tend to build long-run relations with customers as well by creating emotional connections and engaging influencers. To prove my point, I am gonna ask you a few questions. Do you follow any of your favorite brands on Instagram or Twitter? Do you react to their posts, share comments? If yes, then it’s definitely not a one-off relationship.
Talking about personalization, that’s also something customers can get easily today! You can order personalized coffee with your selfie at lots of cafes around the world. So, if you order a regular cappuccino – you are a customer, but if you order a cappuccino with your selfie… Then you become a client? Not exactly.
Let’s go through some examples.
Customer vs client comparison table
Just to give you an idea, here are some examples of businesses that have clients versus customers:
|You have CLIENTS if your business is…||You have CUSTOMERS if your business is…|
|Law firm||Retail store|
|Health care provider||Bank|
|Insurance agency||SaaS product|
|Advertising agency||Service station|
|Real estate agency||Amusement park|
‘Client and customer’ synonyms in business
Let’s be honest. In the B2B sector, these semantic borders are blurred. No one will be throwing rotten tomatoes at you if you use both of the terms, but even then it can be not enough.
Thankfully, there are other words in the English language (sending my love to the Oxford dictionary for this one):
- Consumer is a person who actually uses a product. Customers can buy stuff, but not necessarily use them, while consumers are its end users.
- User is a person who uses a product, especially when it comes to software and apps.
- Patron is a customer of a shop, restaurant, etc., especially a regular one. Yeah, I know, not your ordinary word choice, but I don’t see why not.
- Buyer is a person who makes a purchase. This term can also be used for a person employed to select and purchase things for a large retail or manufacturing business, which can be a little confusing.
- Follower is usually used in relation to social media. To be more specific a follower is someone who is tracking a particular person, group, organization, etc. on a social media website or application.
- Subscriber is a person who receives a publication or a service regularly by paying in advance. This one is actually my personal favorite, too.
So, do I have clients or customers?
For non-native English speakers, the difference between a client and a customer can be even more confusing. Here is a fun and straightforward explanation by an English teacher:
Now, if you’re still confused about where your business stands on the ‘clients versus customers’ thing, you can still use all these other words.
As a software provider, you can have users of your product. If it’s a subscription-based service, people become subscribers. And if you manage to build a strong community around your business, loyal users will become community members.
Client vs customer: B2C use case
The business-to-consumer sector can have both clients and customers depending on what services a business provides.
If you work with each person or organization separately with a great level of personalization, then you have clients. And if your services or products are the same for everyone, then it’s customers.For instance, Disruptive Advertising, the second-best marketing agency worldwide in 2021, works with clients. The company offers personalized assistance and builds strategies for each organization separately.
Client vs customer: B2B use case
Oppositely, if you run a SaaS or product business like HelpCrunch (yours truly), then we’re talking about customers here. People come, choose whatever services they need, pay money, and just use them. We don’t sign any agreements and don’t build our toolset from scratch for each user separately.
Say what you will, but I really like the word ‘customer’. Suffice it to look at all the key things B2B companies hold so dear. They provide CUSTOMER service and struggle to collect CUSTOMER feedback. At the end of the day, it’s all about CUSTOMER satisfaction. These are all important metrics that every business wants to grow and improve.
So please don’t you think that the word ‘customer’ is somehow more general and shallow in comparison to ‘client’.
Robyn Kyberd, a business development consultant, suggests that “it’s probably better to think of a client as a particular type of customer: one who receives professional services, rather than something fundamentally different on account of the ongoing nature of the relationship.”
By all means, clients or customers, you can still make your services personalized. For instance, we at HelpCrunch do provide a personal onboarding assistant to every newcomer on top of having attentive and helpful customer support.
Or, returning to that selfie coffee, there are no restrictions on personalizing your offer in the business-to-customers section.
As a linguistics degree holder, I’ve always appreciated the true power of language. For decades, some people have been confusing words like their/there or your/you’re, which made a lot of people like me very angry and sad.
And even though the choice between ‘a client’ and ‘a customer’ isn’t that pressing, things like good spelling, grammar, and punctuation represent your brand to the world and, generally, make a better impression.
That is why it’s so important to carefully choose your words and pay attention to their meanings.
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A client is a current customer. And a loyal one. The main difference between customers and clients is that customers tend to show interest in immediate value in return for the price they pay. Clients, on the other hand, tend to stick along for a relatively much longer period of time.Which is more formal client or customer? ›
A client is a person who uses the services or advice of a professional person or organization. Straightforward, we see that a client is more of a 'formal' form of a customer. That's because a client is involved in more specific types of purchases, namely services.What are 3 important things to a client? ›
Essentially, the 3 important qualities of customer service center around three “p”s: professionalism, patience, and a “people-first” attitude. Although customer service varies from customer to customer, as long as you're following these guidelines, you're on the right track.Can client and customer be used interchangeably? ›
Though these words each emphasize different things, they have a significant degree of overlap, so you can use them interchangeably when speaking in more general terms. Clients are long term, devoted types of customers, and loyal customers are often types of consumers.Can client be called a customer? ›
Strictly defined, a customer is someone who buys goods or services from a store or business. The word "client" can also mean "customer," according to most dictionaries, but it has a separate definition as someone who receives professional services.Is client another word for customer? ›
Some customer synonyms are client, consumer, purchaser, and patron. Each of these words describes customers in different ways.What is the difference between a client and a customer provide examples for both? ›
A customer is someone who buys something, especially from a shop. She's one of our regular customers. A client is a person or company that receives a service from a professional person or organization in return for payment. A solicitor and his client were sitting at the next table.What are the three types of clients? ›
When it comes to types of clients, we break them down into three groups: Ecstatic, Static, and Vulnerable (they can also be known as net promoters, passives, and detractors, respectfully). It's best to focus on all three types of clients to both grow and maintain your client base.Who is called a client? ›
1. a person or group that uses the professional advice or services of a lawyer, accountant, advertising agency, architect, etc. 2. a person who is receiving the benefits, services, etc., of a social welfare agency, a government bureau, etc.What makes a good client? ›
Good clients are closely involved with the project at hand, without micro managing. They provide the framework and expectations for the work that needs to be done, are available to ask and answer questions, yet respect your expertise and knowledge and trust you to make the right choices.
- A fair price.
- A good service.
- A good product.
- To feel valued.
Great Customers Want to be Self-sufficient
They need to be able to configure it and change it on the fly to meet their needs. These are the kinds of people who derive way more satisfaction from finding the answer to their question themselves and see it as a personal failure if they need to call someone for help.
What is one major difference between clients and customers? Clients are owed fiduciary duties. Which of the following is an advantage for sellers when entering into an exclusive right-to-sell agreement?What is the difference between customer service and client relations? ›
Customer relations refers to methodologies, and customer service refers to reactive interactions—both are crucial and work together to create a good customer experience. The customer service team plays a key role in growing customer relationships, as they are usually the first point of contact for customers.What is a client example? ›
A client is somebody who buys goods or pays for services. Companies and other organizations may also be clients. As opposed to customers, clients usually have an arrangement or a relationship with the seller. For example, you are a customer if you buy a cup of coffee at a train station from a cafe stall.What is considered customer? ›
A customer is an individual or business that purchases another company's goods or services. Customers are important because they drive revenues; without them, businesses cannot continue to exist.When should you call your client? ›
The best time of the day to contact a lead is 4-6 p.m. During this time period, you're 114% more likely to get a hold of your lead than if you called them 11 a.m. – Noon. In other words, don't make calls during your lunch break, because people don't like to take calls during their lunch break.When should you call clients? ›
Pick up the phone on Wednesdays and Thursdays
Try calling on Wednesdays and Thursdays for best results. According to the Lead Response Management study, these two days are the best when calling to qualify leads.
The opposite of a customer (one who buys the product) would be someone who sells the product. Therefore, it is a seller (one who sells the product).Is a patient a client or customer? ›
The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles1 defines a client as “one who is at another's call,” “one who is under the protection or patronage of an- other, a dependent” or “a customer.” It defines a patient as “a sufferer,” “one who is under medical treatment” or “a person . . . to whom . . .
Broadly speaking, there are two types of customers: internal customer and external customer.
- New customers.
- Impulse customers.
- Angry customers.
- Insistent customers.
- Loyal customers.
- Know what you want. This is a pretty obvious one, but you'd be surprised how many times people order a service – like graphics – and aren't sure about what exactly they want. ...
- Ask questions and participate. ...
- Listen to advice. ...
- Don't be unrealistic. ...
- Don't forget to pay.
- Demographic Segmentation.
- Geographic Segmentation.
- Psychographic Segmentation.
- Technographic Segmentation.
- Behavioral Segmentation.
- Needs-based Segmentation.
- Value-based Segmentation.
: a person who engages the professional advice or services of another.What are the different types of clients? ›
- Uncertain clients. Some clients may not know exactly what they want from your business. ...
- Urgent clients. ...
- Unresponsive clients. ...
- Unrealistic clients. ...
- Empathetic clients. ...
- Clients concerned with costs. ...
- Clients who monitor your work closely. ...
- Clients who request changes after delivery.
Sellers become clients when they sign a listing agreement with a company. This written agreement clearly states the terms and obligations of both seller and company. Buyers become clients by signing a buyer agency agreement with the company.What are the 7 qualities of good customer? ›
- Delivering Respect to Your Customer. ...
- Have Your Agents Practice Active Listening Skills. ...
- Empathy: The Key to Customer Success. ...
- Ability to Communicate Clearly With the Customer. ...
- A Positive Attitude. ...
- Be Patient. ...
- Customer Service Agents Determined to Serve.
Your clients are your biggest asset. Without a strong customer base, a business will fall apart. Although acquiring new customers is necessary for business growth, maintaining good relationships with your current customers is just as important.What are some strengths of a client? ›
A client's strengths and weaknesses can usually be deduced from other information collected during the assessment process. Some examples of strengths may include good social support, high self-esteem, and insight. Some weaknesses may be unemployment, risk-taking behaviour, or negative self-image.
- Establish trust. The key to managing any client relationship is trust. ...
- Communicate. Communication is one of the easiest ways that you can establish trust with your client. ...
- Anticipate their needs. ...
- Be a problem solver. ...
A consumer's wants usually reflect the desired preferences for specific ways of satisfying a need. Thus, people usually want particular products, brands, or services that satisfy their needs in a specific way. A person is thirsty but wants something sweet, so perhaps they choose a Coke.
- Listen to them. ...
- Know your industry better than anyone. ...
- Reward loyal customers. ...
- Create ongoing, engaging content. ...
- Be transparent. ...
- Respond promptly to feedback. ...
- Commit to innovation. ...
- Anticipate their needs.
A good customer relationship is when the customers have a consistent customer experience every time they interact with the business and leaves them with a good impression. There is mutual regard and understanding between the customers and business thus extends for a long period of time.Is a buyer a client or customer? ›
Sellers become clients when they sign a listing agreement with a company. This written agreement clearly states the terms and obligations of both seller and company. Buyers become clients by signing a buyer agency agreement with the company.Are Patients customers or clients? ›
Yes, patients are customers. As such they are respected, cared for and made to feel included in decisions that impact their well being and health.What are examples of clients? ›
For example, you are a customer if you buy a cup of coffee at a train station from a cafe stall. However, the stall owner is the client of the coffee supplier, especially if there are credit terms. In other words, the stall owner is a client of the coffee supplier because they have an arrangement.Why are patients called clients? ›
The word 'client' to denote a recipient of healthcare has its origin in the mid-twentieth century humanistic approach to psychological counselling of Carl Rogers (i.e. 'Client Centered Therapy'). The word was specifically selected to avoid a connotation of being sick or ill.Are students clients or customers? ›
Unlike a “client,” a “student” is responsible for earning his or her education. This truth applies not only in the classroom, but also when students and college applicants seek guidance and tutelage from private counselors, advisers, tutors, and educational consultants.
Patient" or "client" means an individual who receives health care from a health care provider.Who is a customer meaning? ›
Customer definition: A customer is a person or business that buys goods or services from another business. Customers are crucial because they generate revenue. Without them, businesses would go out of business.