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Monday, April 15, 2013

Client & Customer

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I was taking a career development course last year with KPMG Consulting.  The course in general was very good, but I was surprised as the teacher referred to previous students as “clients.”  I felt that was a bad choice of words.  It made me feel like she wasn’t facilitating a course to empower others, but to simply make money and do her job.

Minimally, I would think she would refer to past pupils as students.  Better yet, I would simply refer to them as “people who were part of the course.”  After all, it is all the people in a particular course who steer it into the direction it goes.

The technical difference between a client and a customer may be that a client is another business entity whereas a customer is an end consumer.  That is, business-to-business transactions are done with suppliers, partners, and clients.  Business-to-consumer transactions are done with customers.  There are, of course, all sorts of exceptions which bring us to the distinction I propose.

Think of how it feels to be called a client.  Think of how it feels to be called a customer.  Being a client makes us feel like only one in many.  It makes us feel that we are dealing with an automated system rather than a real person.  We are getting a very specific service done, but that service is exactly the same as if it would be anyone else in the world.

As a customer, we feel a little bit more personal.  Yes, we are being served, but we feel special.  We may feel like we’ll get treatment that might not be the same as the treatment someone else receives.  Note the first six letters of customer is “custom.”  And remember, most companies call it “Customer Service”, not “Client Services.”

Lots of companies are starting to break out of even this bad habit.  For example, Rogers Communications has a program where people can become VIP Members.  Even as a regular “member,” we feel part of the entity.  Chapters’ has a program where people become Avid Readers.  Sometimes the new-age terms may sound cheesy, but at least the intent is sincere.

Another important distinction may be that while we attain clients, we develop customers.  We develop a business, to which there is a specific clientele, and go and find that clientele.  Or, we speculate a market for a particular service, develop that service, and then have the customers flock to us.  Clients usually know exactly what they want and we must give them exactly that.  Customers rarely know what they want, and it is the responsibility of the business to educate and move the customer towards action.

Steve Jobs said it very well: “You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new. It took us three years to build the NeXT computer. If we'd given customers what they said they wanted, we'd have built a computer they'd have been happy with a year after we spoke to them--not something they'd want now.”

A client is static, a customer is dynamic.  It is harder to please a customer than it is to please a client.  But customers will always be more loyal.

This is more of an arguable distinction.  For example, Mark Victor Hansen says that when we first serve someone, they’re a customer.  When they start to have some loyalty to us, then they are our client.  That, too, does sound logical.  It just goes to show us how personal distinctions can be.  Remember, these distinctions are not meant to illustrate a truth, but rather to get us to think about and be conscious of our thoughts and communications.

If you are an avid reader of the “Dictionary of Distinctions” series, or if you have seen me speak to audiences many times, I hope you don’t consider yourself a customer or a client.  I hope you consider yourself a valued “member” of the distinctions community.  You’re a part of the success team, and I both appreciate and thank you for that.

Let's love the world together...

Danish Ahmed, blind visionary

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