Customers vs. Clients
When I started a technology consulting company last year, I had to decide: would we have customers or clients?
Typically, companies that provide professional services (e.g. legal, accounting, consulting, etc.) have clients. These firms provide personalized, unique services. As a client you expect to be treated like a VIP.
But as a client, the flip side isn’t so appealing. Professional services firms are incented to keep you dependent on their often very expensive services. The longer they can keep you as a client, the more they get paid. You might *need* their services, but it doesn’t mean you are happy about it.
Companies that provide commoditized goods or services typically have customers. When you buy a cup of coffee at a café, you are a customer. You get the same coffee as everyone else. The company doesn’t treat you differently. You don’t expect special, personalized service as a customer.
But the customer relationship is evolving. Modern technology companies like Amazon have built entire business models around obsessive customer focus, and Enterprise B2B companies now have entire departments built around Customer Success. Companies recognize they can only be successful by making their customers successful. Unlike the client relationship, they have completely aligned incentives.
I want the best of both worlds. We provide personalized and VIP service to our clients, yet with the spirit of true customer success with completely aligned incentives.
But we still had to choose whether to use the word customer or client. I polled my network on Twitter & LinkedIn with inconclusive results. Twitter favored customers; LinkedIn favored clients.
Focus on What Matters
The vision for Tenger Ways is a new type of consulting company. One where we bring the values from customer success into the highly personalized world of professional services. Some days I might use the word client. Other times I might say customer. More important than the words I choose are the values I choose to live by.
Whether I use the word client or customer, I make the same promise:
- Our clients/customers will get the benefit of proven products and offerings, but with personalized service to ensure our solutions work within their unique context and environment.
- Our definition of success is making our clients/customers successful. If they are happy, we are happy. We structure our engagements with aligned incentives to create win:win scenarios for everyone.
- We are passionate about helping organizations of all types and sizes use technology to better run their business, but our ultimate goal is to teach sustainable methods so our clients/customers don’t need us anymore.
The Ways in Tenger Ways refers to many ways to solve a problem. Thinking flexibly and different is part of our DNA. So, while other companies have internal fights over whether everyone has to stick with the word client or customer, we aren’t worried about the labels and instead we’ll double down on making our customers and our clients successful.
Learn More & Let’s Connect
If you like this topic, here are a few more links to check out, and please share your feedback in the comments or connect with me on Twitter or Farcaster.
- I wrote a longer piece on this topic on our company blog: https://www.tengerways.com/blog/do-we-have-customers-or-clients
- I’m not the only one who thinks this way. Croz wrote a manifesto for service organizations that capture the same spirit. https://croz.net/news/0800-manifesto-for-service-organizations/
- I was inspired by an excellent paper titled Good Consulting: Helping Organizations and Consulting Agencies Build Successful Engagements in the Fall 2022 DevOps Enterprise Journal, which provides insight into creating win-win scenarios for clients & consultants. https://myresources.itrevolution.com/id006657144/