Client or Customer?
Who do you service? There is definitely a difference, not just simple semantics. According to Dictionary.com, a client is described as:
- The party for which professional services are rendered, as by an attorney
- A customer or patron: clients of the hotel
- One that depends on the protection of another
Dictionary.com (Legal definition) describes a customer as:
- A person or business that purchases a commodity or service
- (a) A person or entity having an account with a bank or on whose behalf the bank has agreed to collect items (b) a person or entity for whom an issuer issues a letter of credit
It's rather odd that the definition of client uses the word customer, when in reality they are antonyms. The reality of customers is this: The goal is to sell to customers. A salesperson's responsibility is to their employer, not the customer. A car dealer tries to sell their product for its highest price to a customer. The salesperson is seeking the most money for the dealership, not the least amount for the buyer.
I see these words used interchangeably and quite incorrectly rather often. Someone who walks into our open house is a customer. The seller in this case is the client. Unless there are agency papers signed by both parties, there is not a client relationship with the open house attendee. If a person attends an open house and seeks you as a signed buyer's agent, the relationship changes from customer to client.
We have a fiduciary responsibility to clients. As client definition number three illustrates, we are depended upon for protection. Sadly, I've seen way too many agents treat their clients as customers.
The legal definition of customer is sure to upset a few lenders. By legal definition, lenders work with customers, not clients. Thankfully, a good many of them treat my buyers as clients rather than customers.
In a real estate transaction, the only party that has a fiduciary responsibility and a client relationship is the agent. Inspectors may disagree with this and I will probably not argue with them. We should be seeking clients, not customers. If each of us keeps this definition and responsibility at the forefront, our referral business can overflow.