Which is better, a client or customer? If you see your career as a lawyer would see his career, you will call them clients. If you are a person who is only interested in selling your efforts as a craft without your corresponding professional expertise and knowledge base backing it up, then you would probably call them customers.

If you see yourself, your company and your industry as noble, honorable, specialized and important, then you will call those who pay your bills clients. If you see them as purchasing your expertise, resources and skilled services from a tradition of looking through the phone book until your company’s display ad catches their eye, then they would be customers.

It’s important to treat all of those within your life by The Golden Rule. Remember that as many as one to four residential service customers also own a small business. They can steer more and better work to you from spreading unbeatable word-of-mouth free advertising. This can ultimately bring in higher quality and higher profit work down the road.

Always remember that a customer is a person who purchases goods or services from another person or company for a short-term solution.

A client is a person or group that uses the professional advice or services of a lawyer, accountant, architect or project manager to help them with long-term interests of themselves and their respective companies.

It’s important to understand that you can build a client relationship over time from that of a customer one. The art of giving perfect attention to one and all totally spoils them and makes them want to reciprocate in turn and help you, no matter the size of transaction.

Be proud
Even though most project managers have a healthy ego to say the least, I really believe many in our industry are still somewhat ashamed of the down-and-dirty nature of it, ashamed of its blue collar heritage and because of that tend to be somewhat defensive at times about where our industry came from instead of being proud of where it is at and where it’s going.

If you don’t see yourself as a professional, if you don’t speak, act and conduct yourself as a professional, others won’t see you as a professional.

When you say “I’m a project manager”, do so with authority. Have pride in being a project manager. All of us start as greenhorns and then eventually emerge as seasoned veterans for the remainder of our lives. No one ever learns all there is to know. We are always growing. Be confident, but also maintain an honest humility about your strengths and weaknesses.

Treat customers like clients
I’ve always maintained that as a project manager you are a frontline salesman, like it or not, for your company since you’re the one that directly  interfaces with your company’s clients about past, current and future jobs. It’s up to you to build the lines of communication and maintain them in good times and bad. Typically a customer is someone who buys only once because you just happen to have what they want or be able to accomplish a task that only a handful of firms can. Your goal is to turn the customer into a client.  It’s an attitude. They are all customers, but a client is a business term for a person who returns again and again.

Treating your customers like clients means you don’t continually try to upsell them, but instead treat them like you’d treat a family member and “rightsell” them instead and over time they become clients.

Customer implies a short term economic relationship. A customer comes into a store, buys and then leaves. We all end up going to one or more national big box retailers per week because they offer better price and selection options usually than smaller local independents do but our relationship with them is about as impersonal as it gets. When we need specialized advice and expertise about something, then we go to our trusted mom-and-pop storefronts because we know they’ll spend whatever time necessary trying to help us which will be worth the extra dollar or two extra cost versus the national giants. That’s the only reason small independents have survived in this Great Recession.

Being a client has more prestige than being a customer. I realize many use the words interchangeably as if they were the same. As professionals in our respective fields, we need to make the distinction. The best advice I can give you is learn the difference. Calling a client a customer is saying they are not as important. Let me repeat, your client is under your protection and the customer is someone who pays money to buy your product or service, then they are gone.

The bottom line is clients are forever while customers come and go. Clients are the most important aspect of your career. If you don’t have a client list, then begin today. One client whom you service mostly if not exclusively is better than none.

I look at those of you who read my columns as clients. My only goal is to help you do better. The only thing we truly leave behind are actions of helping others in our own ways that turn into memories that are carried with us by those clients, customers, friends and family of ours from this side of the veil to the next, drops of right behaviors and actions added to your endless stream of a well-lived life.

Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor with unlimited Master’s licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating and plumbing. You may contact him via e-mail at: hkcraig@gmail.com.