Theoretically, you could walk into a Best Buy store and buy a Sony flat-screen TV. The location of the store really doesn’t matter. The salesperson who helps you shouldn’t matter, either. And THAT . . . is a big reason why Best Buy refers to the people it serves as ‘customers’ and not ‘clients’.
It’s a Matter of Balance
When the solution being sold is more or less understood and tangible in nature — like a flat-screen TV is a ‘solution’ to not experiencing the Super Bowl in an exciting manner — it’s easy to see that buyers of that solution are more likely to be viewed as ‘customers’ than ‘clients’.
But when the solution being sold is more reflective of the applied expertise and insight of the provider of a problem-solving service — like the physician counseling her patient in the above image . . . then the relationship is less ‘customer’ and more ‘client’.
Advisors . . . Have Clients, Not Customers
When a solution requires an accurate assessment and expert insight into the buyer’s needs and situation . . . as well as the technical aspects of the solution being rendered . . . the relationship is decidely more ‘client’ than ‘customer’.
Consider the fact that if you were about to undergo a surgical procedure, you might be unhappy if you discovered — as you’re being wheeled into surgery — that your regular doctor had to leave on a personal emergency and ‘some other’ doctor would be performing your surgery. Granted, the ‘other doc’ is licensed by the state to practice medicine and has staff privileges at the hospital but the fact that you don’t know WHO this replacement doctor is . . . might be unsettling to you.
It’s your personal relationship with someone — as well as the technical expertise of whatever solution you offer — that makes you an advisor. And the people who seek you out for the solutions they want and you offer . . . are clients rather than customers.