I bought a pair of hiking poles from REI for a trek across the Grand Canyon. I used them on a couple of warm up runs in the high desert on dusty hikes when I discovered that the locking mechanisms began failing. I assumed that dust was preventing the poles from locking. Because I change pole lengths depending on whether I am ascending or descending, I didn’t want to risk having them fail on a 25 mile/10,000 foot elevation through-hike. I tossed them in the trunk of my car and used another pair with a different locking mechanism. Was I a disappointed customer or a disappointed client?
Marketers need to think about this question, “Do we have clients or customers?”
In the classic definition, customers are people who buy a products from you, and clients buy services. The problem with that definition is that the lines are blurring with the advent of the Internet where I can get the same things you sell from three other vendors at a lower price. (This may even be true for products which are not commodities.) Marketers need to consider the lifetime value of their buyers, word of mouth, and the speed of negative comments that can happen through social media. It may be cheaper to think of buyers as customers. It’s easy to do in this tough economy with a micro-focus on the bottom line. If they never come back to you because they are only going to ever buy one widget from you in their lives, maybe you can think of your buyers as customers.
But I believe we might be better off thinking of our buyers as clients, regardless of whether we sell a product or a service. It changes our way of thinking: the way we structure our businesses, train our employees, develop products, and deal with our buyers.
A couple of months after my hike, I found the poles in the trunk of my car and brought them back to REI. They were almost brand new. I expected some hassle. Instead, they happily accepted them back, indicated they would submit a case to the manufacturer so they could make the product better, apologized, gave me my money back, and pointed me in the direction of another set with a different locking mechanism. I was their client. I recommend everyone buy their outdoor gear from REI!
Do your clients recommend you?
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