Customer or client?

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What's the distinction between customer and client?

Although many business owners use the words customer and client interchangeably, consider the following: customers lack loyalty. They may have bought from you, but if another business offers a better price or deal, the customer moves on. A client, on the other hand, looks to you for guidance. A client forms a relationship with you, and expects to do business again.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines “customer” as “one that buys goods or services from another.” A customer is often a short-term, economic relationship. They may utilize your business services, on their own whim, but will always leave afterwards.

The American Heritage Dictionary actually uses the word “customer” to define client. In fact, the terms can be similar as long as you realize that the similarities only go one way. A client can be a customer yet a customer can never be a client.

The American Heritage Dictionary goes on to define “client” as “a person or group that uses the professional advice or services of a lawyer, accountant, advertising agency, architect, etc; a person who is receiving the benefits, services, etc., of a social welfare agency, a government bureau, etc.” In short, a client is someone that utilizes the services of a professional. Clients will have a long-term and mutually beneficial relationship with their service provider. Your clients are an important aspect of your business’ long-term goals.

Oftentimes, the nature of your business will decide whether you have a customer or client. Restaurants or retail stores have customers. Professional organizations have lasting, stable clients. Understanding the distinction will help you to nurture the relationships that matter. It can affect the way you do business. When deciding whether you are dealing with a customer versus a client, it’s important to keep in mind the following distinction: Customers will purchase good and services from a business while clients will depend on a business for advice and professional knowledge.

Photo credit by ba1969.

Brian Farrell is a coach, helping clients achieve their personal and professional goals. He's also the creator of the "QA2 Method". For more about Brian, visit