Word alert #3: client vs. klient
When you do business in Poland you use just one word for clients and customers – klienci. This is why it is sometimes incorrectly translated into English as “clients”. So what is the difference between the two words?
A customer is someone who buys products or services from a store or business. So if I buy an iPhone in Apple’s store I am its customer. “Customer” is usually used in reference to retail.
If a person or company offers professional services to other people or businesses it has clients. The term is usually used by law companies, freelancers, business consultants etc. So such professionals or businesses that sell their knowledge, solutions and services to others.
The Difference is in relationship
So the main difference between the two words is relationship. It’s different for a store selling goods to people and a company selling its services to other company or an individual. Sometimes companies can have both customers and clients. For example, an interior design company sells everyday products for home in its stores to customers, but it can have a special offer or line for luxury hotels – its clients.
From a historical point of view
The meaning “client” and “customer” can be explained by its etymology and historical usage. It was dictated by the fact that certain industries adopted different terms.
late 14c., “customs official;” later “buyer” (early 15c.), from Anglo-French custumer, from Medieval Latin custumarius, from Latin consuetudinarius. More generalized meaning “a person with whom one has dealings” emerged 1540s; that of “a person to deal with” (usually with an adjective,tough, etc.) is by 1580s.
late 14c., from Anglo-French clyent (c. 1300), from Latin clientem (nominative cliens) “follower, retainer,” perhaps a variant of present participle of cluere“listen, follow, obey or, more likely, from clinare “to incline, bend”.
The ground sense apparently is of one who leans on another for protection. In ancient Rome, a plebeian under protection of a patrician (called patronus in this relationship); in English originally “a lawyer’s customer,” by c. 1600 extended to any customer. (source: www.etymonline.com)
From the explanations above it can be seen that “customer” refers more to the commodity market, whereas “client” to professional services.
Hanna Gembus is a professional Polish English and Polish German translator and communication specialist based in the United Kingdom providing translation, content, interpreting and market research services to small, medium-sized and large companies and organisations. She specialises in business, marketing and e-commerce, using linguistic and cultural knowledge to help both start-ups and established companies improve their presence on the market and increase sales. http://langoa.eu