Customer and client: two words that are often mistaken, and cause problems for both non-natives and English speakers. Although the words are frequently used as synonyms, they do not have exactly the same meaning. There has been already a lot of discussion when the word client or customer should be used; the answer is not always easy. The choice of the right word depends on the context. The distinction between the two terms in question is of special importance for business owners and for translators.

As a business owner (including online business owners), you want to be sure that you address your customers/clients correctly in order to gain future business. The distinction is also relevant for translators – not only for the sake of precise translation, but also to help address the customers/clients better.
By the end of this article you will be sure whether to use client or customer in your communication. I have prepared for you the ultimate rules that will help you make this decision.

#1 Know the Meaning

According to Oxford Dictionary, a customer is a person or organization that buys something from a store or business. A manager of a supermarket would call a person who buys a lot in his store a good customer.

A client is defined by the same dictionary as a person that uses the services or advice of a professional person or organization. An example is a lawyer or a translator who has clients, not customers.

Thus the difference between the two words is quite big. Customers buy goods like cookies, books or clothes, and clients pay for services like accounting or legal services.

#2 Think of Continuity

The distinction between selling products and services is not enough. The other thing that will help you decide whether to use word customer or client is continuity. This simple rule tells that a person who comes to your shop only once to buy a product is a customer. However, when this person comes to you every week to buy a product(s) and a relationship is built based on that, that person is a client.

So John, who bought butter one month ago from you but has not been seen since, can be called your customer. On the other hand, Peter, who buys groceries at your shop every week, can be called both: a regular customer or a client. If you want to put an emphasis on the fact that Peter buys products or services from you regularly and is loyal to you, then you call him a client.

#3 Recognize Different Businesses

Businesses have two main focuses: gaining customers, or gaining clients. Those focused on customers rather than clients are interested in significant numbers of one time purchases – a volume game. Businesses aiming to gain clients are looking for creation of long time relationships with an emphasis on loyalty.

You should take this information into account when creating communication for your business. Want to focus on long term relationships with people who buy services? Call them clients. For the reverse, use the word customer. Use the right word in order not to mislead your audience.

#4 Know for Whom You Translate

The distinction between a customer and a client is important for the quality of a translation, especially in English. In some languages there is only one word used for both terms – such as the Dutch “klant”, the Polish “klient”, or the Spanish “cliente”. Know that in these languages, you won’t have to differentiate in your translation.

However, as a translator you are offering services, for which you had like repeat business. Remember to communicate with your audience as clients, not customers, when applicable, to ensure growing feelings of loyalty.

Remember to use the correct word in your communication, as one word can often make a big difference!