Client vs Customer: What’s the Difference

Arguing about the difference between client vs customer might seem unusual, but there’s actually more of a separation between these two terms than most people realize. While clients and customers are similar, they’re also defined in very specific terms by business leaders.

What is a Client? Client Definition

A client is generally a type of “consumer” who purchases professional services from a business.
Clients are a sub-set of the standard “customer” definition, generally sought out by companies offering specific services, like law firms or design studios.

Types of client-based businesses might include:

  • Real estate agencies
  • Marketing agencies
  • Accounting firms

What is a Customer? Customer Definition

A customer is someone who purchases either products or services from a customer. A customer will generally be more likely to buy physical products from a company, like a television or a bottle of water. However, it’s possible for all kinds of purchases to be made by a “customer”.

Types of customer-based businesses might include:

  • Retail stores
  • Subscription SaaS companies
  • Restaurants

Client vs Customer: What’s the Difference?

On the surface, the terms client and customer are very similar. They both refer to a person who engages in transactions with a company or business entity. Both customers and clients engage in a kind of contract where they exchange money for something of value.

However, with a client, the focus is generally on acquiring services. Clients pay for the knowledge, guidance, and expertise of other professionals. For instance, if you buy legal aid from a lawyer, or advice from an insurance agency, you’re a “client”. Clients are also more likely to engage in long-term relationships with companies.

Because services generally have longer purchasing cycles than standalone products, they often require a deeper relationship to be built between a client and a company. Many brands can develop long-standing relationships with clients which lead to lengthy contracts and subscriptions.

Customers are more likely to be focused on buying physical items or possessions. People shopping on an ecommerce store for new clothes, or buying a car at a showroom are “customers”. Customers generally have shorter relationships with businesses too. They typically spend less money, although they may come back and make repeat purchases.

However, there are instances where clients and customers can overlap, like when someone buys a car with a contract for regular service and maintenance from a garage.

How Do Client and Customer Service Vary?

Since there’s a difference between clients and customers, it only makes sense to say there’s some separation between the way companies offer services to these two entities.

Customer support groups are responsible for answering emails, responding to chat messages, and managing phone calls. Client support groups, otherwise known as a “professional service team” will be more likely to manage the needs of a smaller group of clients.

Professional services team focus on a specific number of accounts to deliver more personalized attention, and therefore improve the chances of a better long-term relationship between the client and the brand. Clients need a better level of personalized service, because they’re reliant specifically on the expertise and skills of the company to get the outcomes they need.

Consumer vs Customer: Is there a Difference?

So, if there’s a difference between the semantics of “client” and “customer”, you might assume there’s a difference between other commonly exchanged terms too. For instance, “consumer” and “customer” have slightly disparate meanings too.

A customer, as mentioned above, is a person who purchases goods or services from a business. Alternatively, a “consumer” is a form of customer who purchases goods or services for personal use. For instance, consumers are more likely to be the specific kind of buyer sought out by B2C companies. Alternatively, a customer can purchase from a B2B or B2C brand.

Consumers are the end-users of a product or service, whereas customers can purchase something and pass it on to someone else. For instance, if you buy a shampoo and give it to your friend, you’re a customer. If you buy the same shampoo and use it yourself, you’re a consumer.

While the differences between these terms might seem basic at first, it’s worth knowing how to separate your consumers, customers, and clients in the business world, so you can attract, serve and support each group effectively.

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