What Is the Difference between a Customer and a Client?

There are numerous perspectives on the distinction between a customer and a client. As a business owner, you must have a thorough understanding of the distinction. 

The difference could be as small as how the business owner is compensated or as large as the client’s overall satisfaction with the company’s services and products. 

What Are Clients?

Clients are those who have enduring relationships with a service provider or product. These professional ties form when someone (or a company) requires a service on a regular basis for personal or business reasons.

In their relationships with companies, customers are comparable to long-term subscribers. In some cases, this is true; software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies sell subscriptions to use their products.

What Is the Difference between a Customer and a Client?

Rather than relying on a business strategy that prioritizes quick, customized, and transactional client relationships, a graphic design studio may seek to develop a small but loyal customer base in order to achieve its revenue goals. This simplifies the company’s reselling process and enables its staff to concentrate on serving individual customers rather than trying to appeal to a broad market.

What Are Customers?

The term “customer” is derived from the Latin word “custumarius,” which refers to tax or toll collectors. The term client now refers to a payer, as opposed to a recipient of funds.

Customers are a group of individuals who purchase goods and services with money. A customer is, for example, a person who enters a grocery store to make a one-time purchase without the intention of returning.

Despite this, numerous companies invest heavily in ensuring that the customer experience encourages repeat purchases. This may involve advertising more aggressively to a specific demographic or establishing a customer service department to ensure consumers have everything they need for a positive experience.

What Is the Difference between a Customer and a Client?

The distinction between a customer and a client can be unclear and even controversial. A client receives services from a professional, such as an attorney or accountant, while a consumer purchases goods or services from an enterprise.

This is the most notable difference between these two terms. On the other hand, if desired, we could investigate how these terms are employed in other industries or fields.

Difference in Relationship

The term “client” may imply a continuous, protected business relationship. A customer could enter a store once, select several items, and then purchase something before leaving. A client may return frequently to make additional purchases and may develop a long-term relationship with a professional.

A customer may also seek the expert’s advice. In addition to customer service, many organizations now provide client “care” or “service” departments that assist customers in remaining informed about their options and making decisions.

Those who rely on their relationship with a business, such as a client of an attorney, require information that protects their interests, whereas a consumer may simply wish to acquire goods.

What Is the Difference between a Customer and a Client?

Companies that Make Distinctions

For some businesses, the distinction between these two categories of customers may be crucial. For instance, in the real estate industry, the distinction between a customer and a client may be quite significant.

A client is typically someone who uses a real estate agent to manage the purchase or sale of a home, but the agent does not directly represent the customer. A client, on the other hand, authorizes a real estate agent to represent him or her and expects the agent to use any information for the client’s benefit.

Typically, lawyers have clients; however, a customer is someone who pays a lawyer to draft a legal document but does not wish to be represented. Although healthcare professionals have “patients,” it is expected that they will act on their behalf and share any pertinent information with them, similar to how businesses interact with their customers.

Differences in Name Only

As increasing competition has increased the need for companies to differentiate themselves from one another, these phrases can be applied to new contexts. As it implies a more significant relationship between the company and the individual utilizing its product, “client” has been adopted by certain technological organizations.

Additionally, word origins illustrate the distinction between customer and client. The etymology of the word “client,” for instance, dates back to the Middle English period of the 1400s and is related to the word “customs,” which refers to ways of doing things.

However, the term “client” was also part of Middle English, although it is even older. It is derived from the Latin word cliens, which means “dependent” or “follower,” highlighting the difference between the two relationships.

A Question of Loyalty

Customers may be first-time or repeat purchasers, but their loyalty to the company providing the goods or services is typically low. Customers are typically referred to as customers in retail stores, restaurants, gas stations, supermarkets, banks, and amusement parks. The fixed-priced goods and services satisfy the needs of the customer base.

Customers are frequently referred to as clients when products or services require extensive modification and personalization. Over time, clients develop closer professional ties.

Businesses, such as law firms, graphic design firms, talent agencies, accounting firms, health care providers, and matchmaking services, offer clients ongoing advice and individualized solutions.

Customers Buy on Price and Value

Customers are not always the final consumer or customer. For example, a customer who purchases a gift for his spouse at a department store is the customer, while his spouse is the consumer.

What Is the Difference between a Customer and a Client?

Generally, advertisements aimed at attracting new customers emphasize price and value. When advertising is directed at consumers, quality and efficacy are frequently highlighted. Customer-centric organizations want customers to order online, dine in their restaurants, and shop in their stores.

Clients Buy on Experience and Trust

Typically, advertisements designed to attract new clients highlight a company’s reputation and experience in addressing similar challenges as the prospective client.

A supermarket may promote low prices and a large selection of items, whereas a law firm may promote its years in business and its confidence in achieving favorable results for its clients.

Client-based businesses market themselves as individuals who want to convince prospective clients to hire them and, ultimately, refer others to them.

Turning Customers Into Clients

Businesses of all types can strengthen their relationships with consumers in a variety of ways, thereby successfully converting them into clients. Your company’s ability to distinguish itself and surpass the competition may depend on its ability to strengthen client loyalty.

With the aid of smartphone technology, companies such as Nordstrom and Starbucks are able to cultivate customer loyalty through more inventive and individualized rewards programs.

By interacting directly with and receiving regular feedback from customers, a store is able to provide each customer with individualized product and service recommendations.

When retailers learn to view themselves as product agents for each consumer, enduring relationships flourish.

Examples below the difference in the type of service

Client-based services

Law firm
Design studio
Insurance agency
Accounting firm
Real estate agency
Marketing/advertising agency

Customer-based services

SaaS company
Retail store
Subscription-based company
Bank
Restaurant
Amusement park

In my opinion, if a company has a customer service department, they serve customers, not clients. Customer-centric organizations frequently lack a customer service staff.

However, it is essential to remember that some businesses may have both clients and consumers. Certain clients of subscription-based businesses, such as SaaS companies, may purchase professional services from your organization that include a dedicated customer success manager (CSM).

These are your most profitable customers. A customer who has not purchased a professional service from your company is not a client. Your mind is certainly whirling as you consider alternative names for your customers and their distinctions. Actually, you have probably heard the term consumer before.

What Is the Difference between a Customer and a Client?

Why Client vs. Customer Is Important?

The distinction between client and customer is crucial to your business strategy in the SaaS market. Since customers will be paying for your product for a much longer period of time, these relationships will frequently require more time and attention, necessitating an increase in customer success personnel.

Clients will be your most devoted customers, so it makes sense to strive for maximum client retention. Customer retention typically costs only one-fifth as much as customer acquisition, highlighting the importance of offering highly personalized, high-quality service and support.

You may even elect to provide clients with individualized assistance. This is especially true for “Enterprise” or premium-tier package subscribers.

In order for these customers to achieve the highest level of success possible, they will not only receive cloud-hosted subscription software, but also receive additional focus and consideration for their needs.

The Role of Customer Success

The good news is that you do have some control over who ultimately becomes a customer and who stays with you and becomes a client. By proactively contributing to the success of your clients, you increase the likelihood that they will renew or upgrade their services with you.

Customer success is a tried-and-true strategy that enables businesses to prioritize long-term customer relationships, which are, of course, your customers. In order to reduce churn and increase upsell opportunities, customer-success-focused businesses must be able to proactively identify solutions to impending issues.

“You may focus on adoption, retention, expansion, or advocacy, or you can focus on the customer’s Desired Outcome and receive all of these benefits.” – Lincoln Murphy, Author, Customer Success

Beyond customer service and customer support, which are both reactive techniques for interacting with consumers, the proactive strategy of customer success builds a strong relationship between your product, brand, and customer, thereby enhancing customer retention and revenue.

Is it Better to Say Customer or Client?

According to a blog post on the distinction between members and subscribers, it depends on your particular business needs.

Are most of your relationships transactional in nature? Do you focus more on promoting the product’s features and benefits than on appealing to people’s specific needs? In this situation, it is likely that the word customer should be retained.

What Is the Difference between a Customer and a Client?

Do you tailor your services and/or products to your customers’ needs? Do you have a relationship with clients who are willing to pay your premiums because of their loyalty? Then you will have clients.

There is a high likelihood that you have both customers and clients. The distinction between money and loyalty lies somewhere in the middle. When considering how to promote to each of these categories separately, however, the distinction becomes significant.

Customers can be marketed to by emphasizing pricing, product or service characteristics, and usability. In fact, the greater the product’s readiness for use after purchase, the greater your desire to attract customers.

If you want your marketing language to resonate with customers, you will emphasize the individuals behind the business. You may be tempted to include testimonials or reviews that are more recent. You will emphasize your customer satisfaction rate and business tenure.

You may also have a portfolio or samples of work that you have tailored to the needs of past clients. In this situation, reliability is crucial.

If your product or service includes a membership or subscription component, the circumstance becomes more complex. They may be clients or customers. To emphasize the community-based nature of these relationships, it may be preferable to use member or subscriber as opposed to customer or client.

However, certain subscription companies, such as Netflix and Spotify, fall under the “customer” umbrella because the product is not customized to the individual and there is no further interaction required after payment.

In the end, it will not matter whether you refer to them as clients or customers as much as whether your business has the necessary resources.

Client vs Customer: Other Terms to Consider

Now, some people might object to the transactional nature of both terms. Or if your company has a unique and complex connection to the business-customer transaction phase that is not captured by the terms customer or client.

What Is the Difference between a Customer and a Client?

Here are a few options to consider:

This term refers to an individual who makes a purchase. Those who engage in B2B commerce, particularly in the retail and industrial sectors.

Individuals who interact with your product, such as software end-users.

Consumer – The person who uses your products. This is only appropriate if you are aware that your customer is also your end-user; therefore, it is not a direct synonym.

A shopper is an individual who considers numerous options prior to making a purchase. If the context so requires, this term can be substituted for customer.

Follower – a term typically reserved for online media accounts, this may refer to clients who track a particular individual or business.

Subscriber – An individual who pays for a recurring service, such as paywall content on a website.

One strategy is to compile a list of words that come to mind when customers consider your company. What do they do after interacting with you? How long do they continue to exist? Do they make a purchase right away, or do they weigh a variety of options? What unique descriptors collect them under one umbrella? This may assist you in locating the proper phrase.

Regardless of the terminology you choose, the name you give to your consumers or clients is important. Each of the preceding terms conveys a distinct connotation; therefore, the most appropriate term should be used.

What If I Have Customers, But I Want Clients?

Want to transform short-term, one-time customers into long-term, devoted clients who continue to seek your assistance?

This question may help you modify your marketing language so that it appeals not only to the group you are currently selling to, but also to the group you would like to sell to.

Make customer service and positive client experiences the pillars of your business. Discover the demands of your customers and what they require from you. Do you provide the same service to each consumer? Or do you tend to personalize each experience? How can you customize this experience further?

Ensure that you respond with compassion and promptness to consumer concerns. Avoid extended wait times and vague responses. Provide unrestricted, clear, and reliable information. Whenever possible, individualize your responses and solutions for each client.

Undoubtedly, past experiences can serve as a guide, but because each client has a distinct personality and set of needs, each approach must be tailored to the specific client.

Do not be afraid to brag about your team. Mention your high standards if they are consistently met. What about trophies? Put them front and center on your website. Clients desire assurance that they are in capable hands; therefore, demonstrate your ability to meet their needs.

Finally, keep in touch! Ensure you have a newsletter or a service that sends frequent email updates. Send electronic birthday cards. Create educational seminars or place website content behind a paywall. Determine if personal connections are possible through concierge services. Connection is fundamental.

Relation with the vendor

The manner in which a client and a customer interact with the vendor is a further distinction between the two terms. A consumer conducts a single transaction.

Can You Use Client, Customer, and Consumer Interchangeably?

There is a substantial degree of overlap between these terms, so they can be used interchangeably when discussing larger concepts. Clients are devoted, long-term customers, and devoted customers are typically types of consumers.

What Is the Difference between a Customer and a Client?

Certain contexts may necessitate one over the other, but most of the time the distinctions are conceptual.

Similarities between Customer and Client

Customers and customers, respectively, purchase and utilize your services. Both parties deserve your attention for any issues they are experiencing, regardless of the length of their relationship or their desire to remain with you.

Both require the highest level of customer service possible. Both are essential to the growth of your business, but their differences may shed light on the value of your long-term success.

Conclusion

A client is someone who purchases from you. They buy items from you or utilize your services for no cost. Customers return when they have a need.

A client is someone who employs you to perform a service. They hire or pay you to perform a service for them. Because you have worked on their project and are intimately familiar with their business, clients are more loyal to you.

The distinction between customers and clients is straightforward: Customers are repeat purchasers. Customers are repeat purchasers. If you comprehend this, your business practices will be altered. You will have fewer clients and fewer customers.

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