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Customer or client? What’s in a name?


For those of you in the UK enjoying the last of the Indian summer I am writing this in the real India. The monsoon is over but the tourist season has not yet started so I am alone save for a lifeguard at the pool of a glamorous hotel in Powai, Mumbai. The hotel’s guests are mostly singles here on work contracts and out all day. It’s a typical hotel so I could be anywhere in the world but it’s hot, it’s sunny and I need to keep my shoes on to get to the water’s edge. The customer service is impeccable if not a little intrusive. A maid waits all day in the ladies ready to hand you a towel after you have washed your hands. The same on the flight with Jet Airways where the staff seemed inured to the constant summoning throughout the night via the call bell. The lady next to me rang her bell in the middle of the night for the steward to pick up her blanket which had slipped down to the floor. I mused about whether the mostly Indian passengers were more demanding of receiving excellent customer service. I wondered if our expectations are cultural or simply reflect our wealth or our personalities. Jet Airways call their customers ‘guests’. But I always equate a guest as someone who perhaps comes to my home as a guest and is not expected to pay for the pleasure. They must have got the word from hotels who talk about us as guests but charge us for every aspect of our stay. Another way of thinking about it that ‘customers’ are those who simply have a one off financial arrangement with a supplier. This then lets us return to the word ‘client’ who are customers with whom you have an ongoing relationship. That is a customer who has continued to buy over a period of time. This is why our customer service training concentrates on the art of building relationships so you have lots of clients and the only customers you serve are waiting for you to turn them into clients. When my daughter was at college she argued with the then marketing manager that she was a student not a customer. Her relationship was not one of choice dependent on the service she received nor did a sale take place thanks to the local authority footing the educational bill. When you are in hospital are you not the patient rather than the customer? Can you diagnose your medical symptoms enough to enable you to choose your doctor, your treatment? So maybe next time you arrange customer service training for your staff or you attend a customer service briefing or workshop you need to clarify what is meant by the word customer and stop trying to change the names to something new and maybe misleading. Right, I am getting too hot again, time to order another fresh fruit juice and slip back into the pool again. Charlotte Mannion is a director of Quicklearn providing imaginative and thought provoking customer service training.

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