Again, thanks to my Oxford resources for helping me work this through – examples are my own.
According to the Concise Oxford English dictionary …
A “client” is a person who uses the services of a professional organisation or person.
A “customer” is a person who buys goods or services from a shop or business.
So, really, a customer buys things and a client buys services … I suppose a good way to differentiate it is: a client is NOT someone who buys an apple from a greengrocer, and you could buy an accounting software package from an accountant as a customer, but most people would say you’d still be their client for their services (even though the dictionary suggests otherwise); if you were just buying the package, you’d be a customer of their re-selling arm. As clear as mud?
Maybe we should just stick with: customers for goods; clients for services. Using the dictionary selectively but not going against it. I call the people I work for clients, by the way.
And an added bonus: “clientele” is the collective set of clients!
For more troublesome pairs, have a look at the category cloud to your lower right, or click here!