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Client vs. Customer: Your Mindset Matters

by Rob Wolfe

You may think it’s a simple matter of semantics, or maybe you’ve grown tired of hearing the debate over and over, but I think it’s important for any organization to revisit this issue regularly to ensure you’re maintaining an appropriate branding and “client service” mindset that can impact your business success. It’s NOT a B2B vs. B2C thing.

  • Customer = person that purchases a product or service (i.e., “transactional”)
  • Client = person who engages the personal advice / services of another (i.e., “relational”)

As puts it, “You don’t want customers, you want clients.  You don’t want people who buy from you once because you simply have the ‘goods’ they need right now.”  Understanding the difference between a client and customer can greatly affect the way in which you and your employees do business.

Advice From an Auto Body Shop

I was recently surprised when a local handyman referred to the people he does property repairs for as “clients,” says Tom Franklin, sales and marketing consultant specializing in automotive & columnist for AutoBody News. It sounded kind of grandiose. Would that same designation be out of place in a collision repair shop where repair prospects are generally referred to as “customers?”

Why should a collision repair facility think of a repair prospect as a client rather than a customer? Because the hope is that this will be a long-term relationship. Unlike body shops where people who have accidents may come in every day, most professionals like dentists get only occasional new referrals, so it is highly important to them to capture and retain each new client for the long-term.

Automotive specialists can improve a new “client’s” FUTURE vehicle care and driving experience. The most obvious approach is to suggest ways to prevent future accidents, and that could include, for example: addimg lighting and special back-up sensors and devices, incorporating additional safety features for the driver such as side air bags not present in older vehicles, modifying sunvisors or the steering column with additional padding, or installing larger mirrors for an additional margin of safety while driving. Ideas like these are only limited by the imagination.

It’s About Value, Emotions, and Lasting Relationships

You want ongoing relationships with people who use your professional advice and expertisewho buy from you because of how you help them, not what you hand them, advises Cultivate relationships so that you become indispensable for what you know (that you can transfer), how you help, and how you make people feel about the interaction. When you do that, you’re building a client base, not a customer list.

Forging a long-term relationship with your buyers, providing them ongoing advice for the future, making an emotional connection, and looking for opportunities to offer or provide additional value, advice or services to them, are all effective tactics for keeping them as engaged clients instead of transaction-focused customers. And establishing a practice of routinely referring to your buyers as “clients” rather than “customers” will help serve as a constant reminder of those relationship-building business objectives to boost client loyalty to your organization and your brand.

Do you agree that having a “client” vs. “customer” mindset really matters for an organization’s or brand’s success?