Customer or client?
Posted by Becky Carroll on October 11, 2007
I am a weekly guest on the BigBiz Show, a nationally syndicated radio program. This past weekend, Sully, one of the show’s hosts (along with Russ) was asked this question by his daughter while they were watching a Merrill Lynch commercial:
What is the difference between a client and a customer?
We discussed this on the air. Our take, and the opinion of several listeners who called in, is that the word “client” implies a longer-term relationship. The word “customer” seems more transactional, a one-time activity. Some callers suggested that “client” is used more often in a service business, such as a law firm or a hairstylist.
A similar discussion on customer vs client was had recently over at the Duct Tape Marketing blog (check out the thought-provoking comments, too). Here is a little bit of John Jantsch’s take on this:
…the origin of the word customer is the Latin – consuetudinem, coming from one’s habit or custom – or, someone’s customary practice do something repeatedly. The root of client is the Latin cliens, more closely related to the idea of a follower.
I don’t know about you, but I know I want my customers to know, like, trust, call and refer me repeatedly. I want them to grow accustomed to my blog. I want it to be their custom to think of me whenever they need a practical marketing tip. So, customer it is for me.
Most callers into the radio show felt the word “customer” had negative connotations. They wouldn’t want to be a customer; they would rather be a client or a guest (this latter term is what Disney uses for all of their visitors). When did “customer” become a bad word? Has the poor reputation of some customer service departments rubbed off?
There is another angle here as well. Perhaps there needs to be a different word altogether for someone who not only buys from us, regularly and repeatedly, but who also actively engages with us. For example, the difference between a radio listener and someone who calls in, or the difference between a reader of a blog and a commenter. This is someone who joins in on the conversation; a person who is actually seeking out a relationship with a company. We could call them “joiners”.
All right, your turn!
What do you think: customer vs client? Or do you have a better word? What would you prefer to be called by a company with which you do business? Sully and Russ told me they had quite a few emails on this topic. Let’s beat them with our comments. Are you in?