Clients and Customers: Is One Better Than the Other?

1-handshake-black-white-woodcut-circle-aloysius-patrimonioWhen you hear the terms “client” and “customer”, do they mean the same thing to you? Is there a connotation one way or another with either term? Is one right and one wrong? The terms are used interchangeably in many industries, including in financial services technology. While both can be defined as a person or organization that purchases the goods and services of another person or organization, there is a distinct difference between the two categories of buyers.

Before looking at the meaning of each term, it is important to realize that neither term is bad or wrong. Depending upon the goods or services being purchased, the industries and market segments, whether it is B2B or B2C, there is usually a preferred term. The term customer often implies a short-term economic transaction that removes the relationship between the two parties of the transaction. A customer can be a frequent purchaser of the services or goods their vendor supplies and often completes multiple transactions, but each transaction is self-contained. Every time I need to buy a pack of gum, I stop at the nearest convenience store to my home, making me a frequent repeat purchaser, and in this example, a customer, as there is no particular relationship in play.

The term client, on the other hand, indicates a long-term relationship; one where clients rely not only on the product or service that they have purchased, but also on the professional expertise of their provider. While we most often think of examples for clients in the B2B space, there are many B2C organizations who strive to nurture clients, or who may have both customers and clients. Certain retailers such as Nordstrom come to mind. They most certainly have customers, but an important part of their business model is creating relationships with their consumers and turning them into clients who depend on their associates for advice every time they shop.

For business software providers like Confluence, the importance of an on-going relationship is crucial, and one in which both parties depend on each other.  At Confluence, we understand that innovation happens when valuable client input is provided and that intrinsic value moves beyond what products are delivering. We know that client inquiries do not stop at their own organization’s usage of the software, but also step into the realm of how the applications are being used across the board, how similar data challenges are being handled by their colleagues in the industry.

Clients often find that there could be ten different ways of resolving an issue, but are unsure what the best solution is for them. Other times, clients just need help understanding or using certain features or reports–basic support, in other words. Our clients rely on us to provide these fundamental answers, as well as much more. They use us as a link to other client organizations to channel and exchange their domain knowledge. Clients know we can provide guidance on the best practice for a specific environment.

With client relationships forged over time, we continually strive to provide more than just technological answers; we strive to serve, to offer value-added services that are specific to our clients’ needs and that they have asked for over the years of working with us. That bi-directional relationship is what keeps our clients coming back and our quest for innovation ever stronger.

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