18 August 2010

Difference between CUSTOMER and CLIENT

Many people use the words "client" and "customer" interchangeably; they say there is not much difference between them.
According to Dictionary.com:

- Customer:  a person who purchases goods or services from another; buyer; patron.
- Client: a person or group that uses the professional advice or services of a lawyer, accountant, advertising agency, architect, etc.

The difference between them can at first seem quite confusing. However, the difference can best be seen in terms of an ongoing business relationship.
See the next table to understand the difference.

Both are considering "a person that purchases goods or services"
It is a person that purchases goods or services from another person or company.
It is also called buyer or patron.
I.e. when you buy milk at the supermarket, you are a supermarket customer.
It is a person that purchases goods or services, AND is under the protection and engages the professional advice / knowledge of another person/business leader.
I.e. when you employ the services of a lawyer, you are his/her client.
Implies a short-term, primarily economic relationship.
It is a patron who buys something, and the relationship used to finish after that.
If someone is a longtime customer, he/she can be recognized as “our best client”.
Implies a long-term, protective, loyal, and ongoing business relationship.
You, as a company emphasis your business on selling; thus your goal is to get the customer to buy something.
You, as a company emphasis your business on serving; thus your goal is to look out your client needs and provide them with the best service you can.
Your aspiration should be to build sustainable relationships with clients who value your professional advice rather than to find customers who make a one-time purchase simply because you have what they need.
If a company fails to keep their clients as such, they could turn into customers. Companies do not want this to happen because customers are more likely to use other businesses next time, than clients are. It actually would affect your business if a client left your company, whereas a customer would not.
As the clients are people who seek advice, companies tend to pay more attention to them than they do to customers. For that reason in today's business world, you can find companies that actually have changed the name of their Customer Service department to Client Service.

There are differences in the definitions, but also there are biggest differences between companies who sell to customers and those that only serve clients.

You must know the difference, because it can affect the way in which you do business, and create loyal client relationships to keep your business alive.

So, is your business built around customers or clients?


  1. I like this post Jime. Very interesting. It made me think about how to build better customer relationship and work on having them become clients of my services.

    Thanks and keep on writing.

  2. Thanks for the most apt answer on the web.

  3. This is exactly what I was studying mintues ago in my MBA program.

  4. The terms 'Client' and 'Customer' relate to the interactions between two parties.

    The difference is one of motivation between the Client-Adviser vs. the Customer-Seller.

    A Client interacts with an Adviser.
    A Customer interacts with a Seller.

    A Client gives a fee to an Adviser for advise. The offered advise is for the sole benefit of the Client and not for any gain of the Adviser except for the mentioned fee.
    The gains of the two parties are therefore: The Adviser gains a fee and the Client gains advise.

    However, if the Adviser is motivated by offering advise with the expectation of gaining more than a fee, the Adviser then becomes a Seller and the Client becomes a Customer. When dealing with an Adviser, a Client must know implicitly that the advise received is free of bias and otherwise motivated gain to the Adviser.

    The Customer-Seller relationship, on the other hand, is motivated by the self interest of the Customer and the self interest of the Seller. Each bargaining for their own perceived gains. (Not to be confused with selfishness; See Adam Smith's: The Theory of Moral Sentiments)

  5. Well, they are all customers really but a client is more of a business term for a person who returns again to their business and who they have regular dealings with, including lawyers,doctors, beauticians, banks etc. A consumer is someone who uses the products, this includes eating,drinking or buying make-up or food and general goods. A customer is anyone who is spending the money!
    The nature of company's business determine the uses of either custome or client. For instance if the business of your organisation involved in rendering professional services to people such as lawyers, doctors, Accountant, brokers e.t.c the best for you is client. And for those that involved in selling goods or render other services that is unprofessional then customers is your choice

  6. I often use 2 words according to my favorite. Thanks

  7. None of this concerns itself with how the clients/customers perceive themselves. This is the only sensible measure, if you wish to address them in their own language. Otherwise it is just an internal argument, and doesn't really matter.

  8. This article helped me a lot, as English is not my native language; I am translatig from Russian into English at the moment and before it I haven't seen the difference. Thank you.

  9. Good and clear explaination. Hope to see more from you.

  10. AnonymousJuly 08, 2015

    Good explanation about the major difference between the two words.

  11. I got a good understanding and it serves as a reference, thank you !