Clients vs. customers: what’s the difference?

If you’ve always thought there was little difference between client and customer, you might be surprised to learn they’re quite different. While client and customer are often used interchangeably to describe people and organizations that purchase goods or services, there are some distinct differences between client and customer that everyone in business should know, especially those interested in pursuing hospitality careers.

Similarly, hospitality vs customer service is also frequently used interchangeably. However, while hospitality provides guests with a welcoming, friendly, and comfortable environment, customer service provides assistance and support to customers to ensure they have a positive experience with a product or service.

Understanding the difference between client and customer groups impacts how businesses interact with them and drives client and customer engagement. We’ll explore clients vs. customers in more detail and what sets them apart.

Clients vs. customers: what are they?

A customer buys products or services from a business in exchange for payment without any ongoing relationship or commitment. They usually have a one-time or sporadic relationship with a business and may not receive any personalized service or attention from the business beyond the transaction.

In contrast, a client usually engages in an ongoing relationship with a business and receives specialized services and personalized attention based on their needs. A business and client relationship is usually based on trust and a long-term commitment to work together.

Definition of clients and customers

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the definition of a client is someone who receives services, while a customer is a person who buys goods and services. These definitions may sound similar, but there is more difference between clients and customers in business based on the type of relationship. Businesses that primarily serve clients may prioritize building long-term relationships and providing tailored services, while those that primarily serve customers may focus more on pricing, convenience, and products.

What’s the importance of understanding the difference between clients and customers for businesses?

What’s the importance of understanding the difference between clients and customers for businesses
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Understanding the difference between clients and customers is crucial for businesses, as it can inform marketing efforts, sales, and service strategies.

  • Tailoring services and support: Clients typically require more personalized attention and support than customers. Businesses can develop tailored services and support options to meet the unique needs of clients and help build long-term relationships and increase satisfaction.
  • Building long-term relationships: Clients typically have a long-term relationship with a business and businesses can help build a loyal customer base through long-term relationships with clients.
  • Different pricing strategies: As clients receive more personalized attention and specialized services, businesses may charge higher fees or rates for these. In contrast, businesses may offer more affordable pricing for other products or services to attract a wider range of customers.
  • Understanding customer needs: Businesses can better identify and respond to the needs of each group, including tailoring marketing, advertising, and sales efforts to different needs and preferences.
  • Developing targeted marketing campaigns: Businesses can develop targeted marketing campaigns for each group based on their characteristics and preferences.

What is a client?

A client is an individual, organization, or business that engages in an ongoing, long-term relationship with a business or service provider to receive specialized services or advice based on their specific needs and goals. Key characteristics of a client include the following.

  • Ongoing relationship: A client engages in an ongoing relationship with a business or service provider.
  • Personalized attention: Clients often require personalized attention and specialized services.
  • Specialized expertise: Clients often work with a business because they require specialized expertise.
  • Higher fees or rates: As clients receive personalized attention and specialized services, businesses may charge them substantial fees for services which clients are often willing to pay because they value the expertise and personalized attention.
  • Relationship-based: Client relationships are usually based on trust and mutual understanding.

What is a customer?

A customer is an individual, company, or organization that purchases goods or services from a business in exchange for payment. Here are some key characteristics of a customer.

  • One-time or infrequent relationship: A customer typically has an infrequent relationship with a business and may purchase a product or service once or only occasionally.
  • Focus on transactional exchange: Customers focus on the transactional exchange of goods or services for payment and are less interested in developing a long-term relationship with the business.
  • Varied needs and preferences: Customers have varied needs and preferences, and businesses may need to tailor their products and services to meet these needs.
  • Higher volume, lower margins: As customers typically make one-time or infrequent purchases, businesses may need to sell more products or services to generate revenue, resulting in lower profit margins.
  • Focus on convenience and accessibility: Customers are often attracted to businesses offering convenience and accessibility, including easy online ordering, multiple payment options, and responsive customer service.

How to define clients and customers in hospitality?

How to define clients and customers in hospitality?
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In the hospitality industry, clients and customers are defined slightly differently than in other industries. Despite the difference between clients and customers, both can be an important source of repeat business for hospitality businesses and require staff to have excellent communication skills and a passion for delivering excellence in customer service. Here’s how clients and customers are defined in the context of the hospitality industry.

What is a client in hospitality?

A client in the hospitality industry is typically an organization that contracts with a hotel or other hospitality provider to arrange accommodations or services for their employees, members, or guests. This can include corporate clients, travel agents, event planners, and other organizations requiring hotel rooms or services.

Clients in the hospitality industry often have specific needs and preferences that a hotel must accommodate, such as room block arrangements, customized menus, or special event spaces.

What is a customer in hospitality?

In the hospitality industry, a customer is an individual or group that purchases goods or services directly from a hotel or other hospitality provider. This can include guests who book a room, order food and drinks or use hotel services such as the spa or fitness center. The relationship between the hotel and the customer is typically more infrequent and less long-term than between a hotel and a client.

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Why is it important to understand the difference between clients vs. customers in hospitality?

Understanding the difference between clients and customers is crucial in the hospitality industry for several reasons:

  • Personalized service: Clients in the hospitality industry often have specific needs. Understanding these allows hotels and other hospitality providers to offer tailored solutions.
  • Repeat business: Clients in the hospitality industry are likely to require repeat services over a long period. Building strong relationships through exceptional service can lead to repeat business and can result in long-term contracts or partnerships.
  • Targeted marketing: Hotels and other hospitality businesses can effectively create marketing campaigns targeting each customer and client group. Tailoring marketing messages to each group can generate more effective campaigns and increased revenue.
  • Building loyalty: Providing exceptional service to clients and customers helps build loyalty and create a positive reputation for the business. Satisfied customers and clients are more likely to recommend the business.

What are the best practices for dealing with clients and customers in hospitality?

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Dealing with clients vs. customers in the hospitality industry can be challenging. Whether you deal with customers or clients, with the following best practices you can ensure that you meet their needs:

  • Establish clear communication: Open and clear communication is essential to ensure that you successfully meet the needs of your customers or clients. Listening carefully to requests, concerns, and feedback is essential, as is responding promptly and professionally.
  • Provide personalized service: Hospitality clients often have specific requirements. Personalized services, such as customized menus, room preferences, or event spaces, can help to create a positive experience for them.
  • Anticipate needs: The best hospitality providers anticipate the needs of their clients and customers before they even express them, such as providing extra amenities or anticipating dietary requirements.
  • Train staff: While many staff will have hospitality degrees, ongoing training in areas like communication, problem-solving, and cultural sensitivity is crucial to ensure that employees provide exceptional service.
  • Resolve issues promptly: Inevitably, issues will arise during interactions with clients and customers. It’s essential to resolve these promptly and professionally to minimize negative effects on customers or clients.
  • Follow up: Following up with clients and customers after their stay or event can help to reinforce a positive experience and build long-term relationships.


Understanding clients vs. customers is important for businesses, especially in hospitality management. It can inform marketing, sales, and service strategies, enhance customer satisfaction and help build long-term relationships that benefit everyone.

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