Client – definition and meaning

A Client is somebody who buys goods or pays for services. Companies and other organizations may also be clients. As opposed to customers, clients usually have an arrangement or a relationship with the seller.

For example, you are a customer if you buy a cup of coffee at a train station from a cafe stall. However, the stall owner is the client of the coffee supplier, especially if there are credit terms.

In other words, the stall owner is a client of the coffee supplier because they have an arrangement.

When paying for physical goods, we use ‘client’ and ‘customer’ interchangeably. Therefore, the stall owner is also the coffee supplier’s customer.

However, only clients pay for the services of a professional. For example, if you pay for the services of a lawyer, you are the client.

Even if you have no business arrangement with the lawyer, you are still the client and not the customer.

Psychologists call the people they treat either clients or patients.

Client and customer are often different
People spend time getting to know their client’s needs. Sellers build a relationship with their clients. When a customer buys something in a shop, the seller immediately focuses on the next customer.

According to the Financial Times Lexicon, a client is:

“Someone who pays for services or advice from a professional person or organization. Someone who buys something from a seller. A computer connected to another computer that controls it, for example in a network.”

Some linguists say that ‘customers buy something from others’, while ‘clients are under the protection of others.’

However, many examples clash with this explanation. The explanation is true when we look at the treatment of clients and customers. The video at the bottom of this page looks at this difference.

Client-centric companies have their clients as the focus of their attention, rather than the product.

We may refer to people who are receiving something from a government bureau as clients.

Client in computing

In computing, clients are pieces of hardware or software that access a server’s service. The server is usually on a different computer system. In such cases, the client accesses the service through a network. The term applies to the programs’ or devices’ role in the client-server model.

Client_ComputingServers and clients may be computer software run on the same machine and connect via inter-process communication techniques. The servers wait for clients to initiate connections that they may accept.

We first used the term when referring to devices that couldn’t run their stand-alone programs. However, they could interact with remote computers through a network.

Ancient times

In ancient Rome, a client was a plebeian who lived under the patronage of a patrician. A plebeian was a commoner while a patrician was an aristocrat.

In the medieval guild system, a client often sought the services of skilled craftsmen, entering into contractual relationships that sometimes lasted for the duration of large projects.

After the fall of the Roman system, the concept of a client evolved, and in the modern era, it has come to encompass a wide range of professional and commercial relationships based on service provision.

The word ‘client‘ emerged in the English language in the fourteenth century. It came from Anglo-French ‘clyent.’

Some idioms

While ‘client’ idioms are rare, those using the word ‘customer’ are very common. Here are a few:

  • An Ugly Customer is somebody who is likely to become angry or aggressive. For example “Be careful with Harry when he has been drinking, he can be an ugly customer. I’ve seen him punch people for no reason.”
  • A Cool Customer is somebody who remains calm, even in very stressful situations.
  • An Awkward Customer means a troublemaker. It is somebody who won’t behave in the way you’d expect them to.
  • The Customer is Always Right is a phrase sellers use. Happy customers are more likely to buy things and to come back for more. Therefore, if you always accept that they are right, they will be happy.
  • A Tough Customer is somebody who is not easy to satisfy. Dealing with them is difficult. We often use the idiom when advising somebody not to approach. For example “John is a tough customer. I’d stay away from him if I were you.”
  • A Slippery Customer is a clever, elusive, and deceitful person.

Compound nouns with “client”

There are many compound nouns in business English containing the word “client.” Let’s have a look at some of them, their meanings, and how we can use them in a sentence:

  • Client-Server Architecture

A network architecture where multiple computers or devices (clients) connect to a central server for services or resources.
Example: “The website’s smooth operation is thanks to an efficient client-server architecture that balances the load across several machines.”

  • Client Satisfaction Survey

A questionnaire that measures how products or services provided by a company meet or surpass customer expectations.
Example: “To improve our services, we regularly conduct a client satisfaction survey and use the feedback to make necessary adjustments.”

  • Client Relationship Management (CRM)

Strategies and technologies that companies use to manage their interactions with current and potential clients.
Example: “Our firm’s success is largely due to our robust client relationship management system that helps us keep track of client communications and preferences.”

  • Client Service Team

A group of professionals dedicated to assisting and addressing the needs and concerns of clients.
Example: “Our client service team is available around the clock to ensure that all client issues are resolved promptly.”

  • Client Onboarding Process

The procedure through which new clients are integrated into a company’s service structure.
Example: “A smooth client onboarding process is crucial for setting the stage for a long-term business relationship.”

  • Client Confidentiality Agreement

A legal contract between a service provider and a client that ensures sensitive information is not disclosed.
Example: “As a law firm, we require a client confidentiality agreement to protect the privacy of the information our clients entrust to us.”

  • Client Acquisition Strategy

The approach a business takes to attract and gain new clients.
Example: “Our marketing department has developed a client acquisition strategy focused on social media engagement and targeted advertising.”

Two educational videos

These two videos come from our sister channel in YouTube – Marketing Business Network. One is about “Clients” and the other about “Customers.” They use easy-to-understand language and examples.

  • What is a Client?

  • What is a Customer?