Comparing clients to customers isn't comparing apples to oranges, but the two terms aren't exactly two of a kind either. Though often used interchangeably, each term holds its own connotation that can change the way your team works. Knowing the difference between client vs customer relationships can help you better sell to, market to, and serve your target audience.
In this article, we'll help you understand whether your business has and needs customers or clients, as well as how you can form the right type of relationships with your shoppers.
Customers: Minimal Interaction, Low-Ticket Sales
Customers are shoppers who purchase products or services from a business. To become a customer, all you have to do is make a one-time purchase.
While customers may return to their favorite businesses on a regular basis, you may not have an ongoing relationship with them. Your team may not know customers by name, and customers won't always interact with your team members before making a purchase decision. The sales process moves fast and is mostly influenced by marketing.
Working with a customer-focused mindset is the norm in many industries and can be the best way to maximize your profit margins. Consider your day-to-day purchases. When you get gas, buy coffee, or shop at a retail store, you're a customer. Locksmiths, food delivery companies, and amusement parks all tend to have customers, too. It doesn't make much sense to spend more than a minute or two chatting with customers about what coffee they're looking for.
Clients: Personalized Relationships, High-Ticket Sales
Clients are shoppers who seek personalized services or advice from businesses. When you have clients, you're building long-term relationships in which you understand your buyers at a much deeper level.
There can be some overlap when using the term customer vs client. Clients are still making purchases, after all. You can think of it this way: All clients are customers, but not all customers are clients.
Clients are more often associated with high-ticket sales, in which shoppers spend much more time evaluating businesses, products, and services before they decide where and what to buy. Professional services like accounting firms, law firms, and health care providers are some of the most common client-based businesses. But you may also have clients if you're selling expensive products — for example, if you own a real estate agency or you're selling cars, luxury furniture, or SaaS products.
Clients may purchase from you monthly, annually, or simply when they need your help, but they're unlikely to make daily or even weekly transactions.
Client vs Customer: Key Differences in Practice
When comparing the client vs customer relationships, the main difference is the level of personalization involved. Clients are actively engaged with your brand and its team members, while customers may come and go without any human interaction.
In this section, we'll show you how working with clients compares to working with customers.
In order to attract both clients and customers, you need engaging, relevant marketing. But marketing can look a lot different depending on which type of shopper you're targeting.
Customer-focused marketing is more likely to use sales promotions. These include flash sales and giveaways that push customers to take action fast. Most customers are deal-driven and feel smart when they save. And since the average customer purchase is a low-stakes product, like a $5 coffee or a $20 pair of jeans, buyers make swift decisions and get distracted by other brands just as quickly.
When marketing to clients, brands tend to focus on building trust and credibility. Since clients are often more focused on quality and less on deals, it's important to show clients your expertise and connect with them personally so they know a long-term business relationship with you could be beneficial.
Client-based businesses often use informative content marketing or referral marketing to reach consumers.
Once your marketing catches the eyes of customers, some will immediately visit your site or store to make a purchase. But if they don't do so right away, they may do so after:
- Receiving an email campaign
- Browsing through review sites
- Seeing a few social media ads or posts
Customers may reach out to your company with some questions, but as a whole, the buyer's journey here is largely unpersonalized. Customers perform their own research and receive the same content that other potential buyers may see. There's a good chance your team members don't need to connect with shoppers one-on-one to convert new customers.
Clients, on the other hand, are seeking your brand for advice. They want an experience that's custom-fit to them. During your sales process, you'll likely push clients to directly engage with a team member in some way. For example, a SaaS brand may invite potential buyers to a live video consultation, during which your sales team can discuss the client's needs, so they can be matched to the perfect solution.
When a purchase is complete, customers and clients may both reach out for support, whether it's to learn how to navigate a software platform or how to properly use a product. But again, effective customer support and client support require two different levels of personalization.
Meeting customers' needs is usually a simple process. They might reach out to you if they need your help. Then, once the issue is resolved, the interaction is over. If you offer real-time customer support via a phone number, virtual chat, or social media page, you may resolve the customer's issue by the end of your live conversation.
Your team members likely won't personally engage with customers again until the buyer asks for help. All other touchpoints, like remarketing emails, are automated.
Clients require much more direct support. To maximize client satisfaction, many businesses assign an account manager or other team member to each buyer. When clients need help, they're more likely than customers to reach out to a specific person, who they have an ongoing relationship with, than to a general company communication channel.
Client support is often proactive, too. Since long-term relationships are the goal, client-based businesses seek to reduce churn with a highly personalized onboarding process. To do so, they may use a live video chat pop-up like ServiceBell to offer visual tutorials face-to-face. And after that initial onboarding, businesses may continue reaching out to their clients on a regular basis to ensure everything is going well.
Is a Client or Customer Relationship Right for You?
While many professionals may refer to their buyers as clients and customers interchangeably, there are subtle differences that can massively impact how you engage with your shoppers. Customers more often have short-term relationships with companies, make purchases quickly, and require minimal support.
Clients require a far more personalized touch. Because clients are seeking your expertise above all else, one-on-one interactions and marketing opportunities that show off your credibility and expertise can make a big difference.
To amplify your client satisfaction and conversion rate, you can implement a live video chat pop-up onto your website for the ultimate high-touch experience. Sign up for ServiceBell for free to experience what our product can do for you.