Customer vs Client


A model I frequently use is the distinction between "customer" and "client."

Client: A person who engages the professional advice or services of another
< a lawyer's client >

Customer: One that purchases a commodity or service

Dr. Deming said the customer can only choose between what you and your competitor produces.

To complicate the issue even further, Edger H. Schein described some basic types of clients in his books on Process Consultation Revisited (1989, Prentice Hall Organizational Development Series)

- Contact Clients. The individual(s) who first contact the consultant with a request, question, or issue.

- Intermediate Clients. The individuals or groups that get involved in various interviews, meetings, and other activities as the project evolves.

- Primary Clients. The individual(s) who ultimately own the problem or issue being worked on; they are typically also the ones who pay the consulting bills or whose budget covers the consultation project.

- Unwitting Clients. Member of the organization above, below, and in lateral relationships to the primary clients who will be affected by interventions but who are not aware that they will be impacted.

- Ultimate Clients. The community, the total organization, an occupational group, or any other group that the consultant cares about and whose welfare must be considered in any intervention.

- Involved "Non-Clients". In any change effort there may be individuals or groups who are aware of what is going on, who do not fit any of the above definitions, and whose interests may be to slow down or stop the helping effort. In any social and organizational setting there are political issues, power plays, hidden agendas, and conflicting goals that the helper must be aware of in planning and executing interventions.

I strive to behave as a professional service provider, with clients engaging me in a professional service. When working in a large organization, sometime I ask a consuming department what are their requirements. To better support their current needs (as a customer?). As a producer of services, my job is to anticipate their needs in the future and devise a solution ideally suited to their situation (as a client?).

Do any of these models cover every situation? No. However these distinctions are a good review. These mental models to help me look at engagements from different and multiple perspectives.

 Dave Nave & Associates 2017   -   dave@davenave.com