Clients and Customers

Discuss word origins and meanings.
Post Reply

Clients and Customers

Post by tony h » Tue Feb 05, 2019 10:37 pm

I found myself puzzling over the use of Client in Client State. After all client and customer have little to distinguish between them.

So looking up client, the first definition in the OED is:
a. A person under the patronage or protection of another; a dependant; (sometimes) spec. a feudal vassal or retainer. Formerly also: †a person who tries to win the favour or patronage of an influential person (obsolete). Also fig. Now hist.
So this would seem to lead where I was going. True enough:
c. Roman History. A person offering deference and certain services to someone of greater wealth or status in return for aid and protection.
This was stirring the old filing cabinet in my head but I couldn't find the memory. Which is an easy step to:
d. A country dependent on another for military, political, or economic support
Is it me or does this all seem to put the senior/junior relation the opposite way round to the way we think now of a client.


So I then decided to look up customer. Another surprise:
OED first definition.
1. (The title of) a person who is responsible for the levying and collection of customs duties in a particular port, region, etc.; a person whose job is to collect such duties and prevent illegal or contraband goods from entering or leaving a country; a customs officer. Now hist
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS
Signature: tony

I'm puzzled therefore I think.

Re: Clients and Customers

Post by Erik_Kowal » Wed Feb 06, 2019 7:05 am

I believe the first definitions in the OED do not necessarily represent the main current meaning, but the earliest meaning (which may now be obsolete).
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS

Re: Clients and Customers

Post by Shelley » Wed Feb 06, 2019 10:38 pm

tony h wrote:
Tue Feb 05, 2019 10:37 pm
After all client and customer have little to distinguish between them.
Although your post is about Client States, I just want to say that there's a big perceptual difference between "client" and "customer". I don't think the terms are interchangeable for a lot of people. I work for lawyers, and they have Clients. When I worked in retail, we had Customers.

In my heart, I agree there's little difference between client and customer -- none, actually, because people are people, period. But those who have to have a one-up/one-down relationship to everything, must make the distinction: somehow, having Clients is "oh, so very"; having Customers makes one a salesclerk. Once, I was chided by some pretentious snob for saying "customers" instead of "clients" for people who came through the door where I was working at the time. I proceeded to call our patrons "customers" consistently until I left that job.

Just sayin'.
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS

Re: Clients and Customers

Post by tony h » Wed Feb 06, 2019 10:41 pm

Erik_Kowal wrote:
Wed Feb 06, 2019 7:05 am
I believe the first definitions in the OED do not necessarily represent the main current meaning, but the earliest meaning (which may now be obsolete).
You are quite right which is why the quotes are listed as "now historical". My surprise, which exposes my naievity, was the change in the original meaning to the current meaning.

I hoped others here maybe similarly amused.
:)
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS
Signature: tony

I'm puzzled therefore I think.

Re: Clients and Customers

Post by tony h » Wed Feb 06, 2019 10:52 pm

Shelley wrote:
Wed Feb 06, 2019 10:38 pm
tony h wrote:
Tue Feb 05, 2019 10:37 pm
After all client and customer have little to distinguish between them.
Although your post is about Client States, I just want to say that there's a big perceptual difference between "client" and "customer". I don't think the terms are interchangeable for a lot of people. I work for lawyers, and they have Clients. When I worked in retail, we had Customers.

In my heart, I agree there's little difference between client and customer -- none, actually, because people are people, period. But those who have to have a one-up/one-down relationship to everything, must make the distinction: somehow, having Clients is "oh, so very"; having Customers makes one a salesclerk. Once, I was chided by some pretentious snob for saying "customers" instead of "clients" for people who came through the door where I was working at the time. I proceeded to call our patrons "customers" consistently until I left that job.

Just sayin'.
HaHa. I know those worlds well: clients/customers, fees, disbursements, charges, expenses, scripts all serve to pretend a difference (ok some technical differences) . In England, for some years, there has been a move to make us "customers" of everything: I am a customer of the taxman, the local council, the higher education establishment. Our doctor (note the NHS here so no biils) calls us customers when we used to be patients.


There used to be a suggestion that the customers of the Professions (Lawyers, Accountants etc) who were unable to trade with limited liability were clients. But that distinction is no longer effective.
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS
Signature: tony

I'm puzzled therefore I think.

Re: Clients and Customers

Post by Phil White » Thu Feb 07, 2019 12:19 am

Shelley's comment is interesting.

Translators are divided as to whether we have clients or customers. For me, the difference is that a client pays a fee to have someone do a job for them. A customer pays a price to purchase an item.

Do I "sell translations" (by the yard) or do I hire out my services?
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS
Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

Re: Clients and Customers

Post by Shelley » Fri Feb 08, 2019 12:28 am

I get it, Phil -- there really is a difference. You have clients, who pay for your expertise in providing a needed service. In fact, sometimes the service provided is intangible -- psychological counseling, for example. Yeah, I guess if you translated by the yard, then you might have customers instead!

Now I'm thinking about the professions that cater to either "clients" or "customers" (meaning, they can use the terms interchangeably): hairdressers, piano-tuners, tax-preparers, office equipment suppliers . . . I suppose a customer could morph into a client over time. For example, XYZ Co. uses the same caterer for its board meetings over a decade, and would become a client of that caterer after initially being just another lunch order.

Sorry -- I was first reacting to some misplaced class-consciousness. Wasn't seeing the bigger picture.
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS

ACCESS_END_OF_TOPIC
Post Reply