“Client” and “customer” may sound like synonyms, but when it comes to business, these two words mean different things.
Yes, companies target and serve both clients and customers — which may be the root of the confusion. But any entrepreneur who hopes to understand their target audience’s needs must know which category this group falls into and tailor their marketing and customer service efforts accordingly.
Nailing down the key differences between clients and customers can feel confusing — but don’t worry, we can help. Here’s everything you need to know about clients versus customers and why using the right language matters.
What is a customer?
In simple terms, a customer is a person who purchases goods or services from your business.
They may forge a loyal relationship with your brand over time, but this isn’t always true. For example, someone may stop at a local grocery store just once, while another person shops there for years.
Customers make one-time or sporadic purchases — in other words, they’re not loyal to your business or invested in the brand experience. Here are some of the other defining characteristics of a customer:
- Customers focus on the price and value of a product. These consumers want quality products or services at a fair price. For example, a shopper in a grocery store may prioritize buying the product they need at a price they can afford. A customer on a budget may purchase an affordable can of tomatoes instead of an expensive imported one if the more economical option still tastes good, unlike someone who keeps returning to the imported brand.
- Customers are straightforward. Customers often buy a product after defining their purchase intention. The customer purchasing the can of tomatoes at the grocery store likely had that item on their shopping list. They’re looking to get what they need and get out, not splurge on an experience.
- Customers are flexible. Rather than going out of their way to stick to a preferred business or product, customers are flexible and opt for convenience. They’re happy to get pet food from whatever store near their house rather than drive to a better store across town.
What is a client?
A client is a person who uses a service or product for a long enough time to establish a relationship with its provider.
People often use the term “client” to describe someone working with a service-based business. For example, law firms, healthcare providers, and advertising agencies are all client-based businesses. Here are some other characteristics of clients:
- Clients benefit from personalized attention. Business owners often work directly with clients, like a coach with someone who sought out their services. As a result, providers and clients often have a personalized business relationship tailored to their individual needs.
- Clients trust their service providers. Since clients typically receive long-term services, they establish a level of trust with those who provide them. Clients are looking for characteristics that imply trustworthiness even before making an appointment — and this potential to “click” can lead to a successful long relationship.
- Clients are open to advice. Thanks to the trusting relationship between clients and the professionals they work with, they may be open to suggestions. For example, a client who’s attended the same spa for many years will likely be more open to trying a new offering than a first-time visitor. Similarly, a client working with their long-time graphic designer may let the creative take the wheel, trusting in their abilities.
Why is it important to make the distinction between customer and client?
It may sound frivolous, but it’s key to classify your target demographic as clients or customers. Defining the relationship between your business and the people you serve can help you make accurate income projections, adjust your marketing strategy, and better manage your time and resources. The better you know the people seeking out your business, the better you can appeal to them.
adviseFor example, coaches with mid- to long-term clients must understand that with each new lead comes a substantial time commitment. A coach’s clients aren’t at all like the customers of a dropshipping website who make one-off purchases. But while coaches don’t make quick sales, they build lucrative relationships that bring in income for as long as a client is in session. They should be marketing to an audience ready to build a trusting interpersonal relationship, which is very different than enticing a customer to pick up a new product at the store.
Can customers become clients?
Yes. Customers turn into clients when they return to a business time after time. This is part of the reason why service-oriented businesses, like coaching, attract clients: the clients need to keep coming back until they achieve the results they’re looking for.
A customer who buys a product for the first time today could become a client by remaining loyal to the brand — especially when the customer can interact directly with people at the company. A long-term customer who buys clothing at a local boutique could become a client if they return to the business whenever they need new clothes and form an ongoing relationship with the staff.
Entrepreneurs who want to turn customers into clients could implement a loyalty program, create face-to-face time with consumers, or form a trust-based professional relationship by recommending products based on purchase history.
Take care of your clients with Practice
Clients deserve to feel well cared for at your business. Practice understands the importance of building trust in coaching. We created a client relationship management (CRM) tool to ensure coaches have a safe place to keep personal data, send messages, take bookings, and receive payments.
Practice’s CRM platform is designed with small business owners in mind. It allows you to securely store client data, send messages and documents, manage bookings, and receive payments — all in one convenient place. Plus, our blog is full of resources to help you take your business to the next level. Learn about everything from navigating working with clients, setting expectations, and learning from feedback.