Client vs Customer – what really is the difference?

Welcome to English 101. Today we will be discussing the difference between the words ‘client’ and ‘customer’.

Wait, is there really a difference or is it just a trick question? 

There is a difference – a rather big one.

Even though these two words are often used interchangeably, there are distinct differences between these two identities, particularly in the Saas industry. 

Today, with this article, I aim to show you the correct definition of these two words, why they matter, and how you can use this key information in your business model to come up with more efficient and relevant work. 

Let’s start with the simple definition and go on from there to have a clearer idea about the whole Client Versus Customer debate.

Who is a Customer?

customer vs client definition

A customer is a person or a business that purchases from a certain shop, store, or organization. This definition of the term customer enables us to understand that customer is a word that is usually used to refer to regular purchases. This makes sense since the word itself comes from the Latin ”custom” which, in the simplest form, means ”practice”.

As a result, we understand that a potential customer is a person who frequently buys goods or has made a habit of doing so.

Considering you have a SaaS business, though, the word ”customer” would, in that case, refer to anyone who buys a subscription to your product. 

See, what makes a customer a customer, at this point, is the fact that they choose the specific kind of service they want to pay for instantly. And in return, they require an instant exchange of value for the price they paid. So this shows us that all SaaS clients are customers, but not all SaaS customers are clients.

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Don’t worry, just hang in there, it will be explained more in detail just below here.

Characteristics of Customers

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  • They might come and go pretty quickly.

Customers pay money for the precise SaaS product they need to gain instant value from it. This means that they are likely to get what they are yearning for and leave after a free trial period or perhaps a few paying packs. In other words, their needs might be short-lived, so they will no longer find value in your product or show further interest in it. 

  • They are here for convenience.

Typically, customers don’t rely on the advantages one single business/store/organization offers – they are highly likely to shop anywhere more convenient with a better price. This makes it slightly harder for you to achieve customer satisfaction since their needs and wants may vary wildly. 

  • They are very straightforward with what they want from you.

Usually, the types of businesses that have customers are the ones that offer a one-time service and supply rather physical goods or products instead of further services. For instance, food chains have customers; people do not have a long-term client relationship with these stores, and as a result, they’re highly likely to choose a new shop closer to where they live or offer lower prices. It’s because these people choose the services or goods they require and pay right away, and yes, they might return later to the same shop, but believe me, it’s always for an immediate exchange they want from you in return for their money.

Who is a Client?

Clients, at their core, are people who use the services of a business or organization. 

What’s your first impression here? 

Mine would be that a client is more of a standard version of a customer. 

And this is because a client is highly involved in more certain types of purchases and services. 

What does this mean exactly?

This means that a client is indeed a customer but a more loyal one. They’re customers with whom you build a professional relationship. A client will maintain that ongoing relationship with you and your services as long as they possibly can. 

In that sense, a client is highly likely to invest in your product for the long run. They wish to create a personalized and reliable connection with your product and your company to receive value as long as they can. They are more interested in being a part of the big picture -they don’t focus solely on the immediate exchange of money for services- and how the particular product can help them reach success constantly and progressively. 

Your relationship with your client may feel more like a partnership, more productive, and effective in many aspects, which can increase the overall client satisfaction and the performance of your business.

Characteristics of Clients

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  • Their expectations are realistic.

Most clients are known to have realistic expectations from your work potential, and this is a key factor that makes it extremely easy to work with them since they are responsible profiles who have already done their homework before meeting you. 

It will be so much easier to work for these profiles once you and your client are on the same page about the necessary details, such as the budget and end goal of the whole project. 

  • They highly trust your expertise.

A decent client is proactive about moving the project forward and does not hesitate to communicate their requirements, wishes, and ideas clearly and constructively. This attitude of theirs enables you to stick to deadlines and come up with an effective result that they will completely love. So, they like to be involved but still keep you in charge to see how you handle things. Be careful right there.

  • They are open to advise.

When your clients trust you and respect your expertise, you won’t have to swim against the stream and justify every little decision you make. 

Your client might have an idea of what they want when they first approach you, but being able to take your advice on board will make working with them so much easier. 

Clients Vs. Customers – Top Differences

Bottom line, the simplest way to see and understand the key difference between a client and customer is this: a customer, most of the time, makes a single transaction, whereas a client trusts highly on your constant and personal services. So, you, as a business owner, have two options. You either come up with products to meet the customer’s demands, or you provide an ongoing service according to the requirements set by clients. 

Now, it’s true that both these identities make casual purchases, regardless of the length of their relationship with you. And both of these customer relationships naturally require the same amount of personal attention and high-quality customer service, but the slight difference may help you reach long-term success.

Primarily within the SaaS industry, the Client Vs. Customer dispute is key to your business strategy progress. 

How?

Well, the answer is quite simple.

Since clients will be willing to pay for your product for a much longer time, your relationship with them will often require resources dedicated to customer success. 

These clients will be your most loyal customers, so of course, you will be trying for maximum customer retention of your clients; it’s only normal – and necessary. It’s been stated that customer retention costs five times less than customer acquisition, which focuses on the importance of high personalization and quality service that supports your clients. 

At some point, you may even consider providing more tailored support to your clients, especially for the ”Enterprise” or top package subscribers.

These clients will receive attention, dedication, support, and great service from your business, which is all they need to achieve business goals and the greatest success possible. 

Now, I really want this one to stick with you, so I’m also going to talk about these differences under three titles, just to make sure you completely get the hang of it.

Customers Care About Price and Value

We have talked about this one.

Customers are known to pay for a one-time purchase, and they are usually not identified as the end-user or a consumer. For instance, a prospect might buy a present from a department store for his kid’s birthday, making him the customer and his kid the consumer. This is why in most cases, advertising meant to get customer attention often focuses on price and value. When advertising is targeted at consumers, it often pays personalized attention to the quality and effectiveness. Customer-based businesses require people to make purchases online, eat at their locations, or shop at their stores. 

Clients Care About Experience and Reliability 

To attract new clients, on the other hand, you need to focus on your company’s reputation and experience in solving problems similar to those of the potential client. Think of it this way, a supermarket may advertise their low prices and how good quality their fresh products are, whereas a law firm will advertise how many years they’ve been in this field of work and their confidence in getting positive results. Now it makes sense, right?

So, as a client-based business, you need to promote yourself as an organization that wants to convince potential clients to work with them and as a result, to refer others to them.

How To Transform Prospects into Long-Term Customers (Clients)

There are numerous ways through which you can establish closer, long-lasting, and more personal relationships with your customers, effectively turning them into loyal clients. 

Take Starbucks or Nordstorm for example. They have been successfully developing customer loyalty with the help of innovative rewards programs that are progressively becoming more personalized to each customer through smartphone technology. With direct contact and constant customer feedback, you can respond with personalized services, suggestions, and special deals on products tailored to each customer’s needs. This results in the very first bloom of a long-standing relationship with each customer; try and see it for yourself. 


Frequently Asked Questions


Shortly, what’s the difference between a customer and a client?

A client is a current customer. And a loyal one. The main difference between customers and clients is that customers tend to show interest in immediate value in return for the price they pay. Clients, on the other hand, tend to stick along for a relatively much longer period of time. While customers are interested in the convenience of their purchase, clients are more interested in the business’s experience and trust.  


Does my business need clients or customers?

Considering that you’re a part of a B2B Sector, your B2B company needs long-term relationships and productive experiences with your prospects. This will be possible once you work on transforming the one-purchase-at-a-time type of customer into a satisfied client whose needs and requirements are provided constantly and progressively, making them aim higher for the future, which will be the most ideal customer profile of all, enabling your business to grow simultaneously. 

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Suay Çakırca

Suay is the Creative Content Writer of UserGuiding, a code-free product walkthrough software that 2000+ companies trust in their user onboarding. When she is not writing, you can probably find her at the movies.

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