Client vs Customer

Client vs. Customer

Joséphine Bonaparte, Empress of France, was a self-taught master of client service. Without her diplomatic work, there wouldn’t have been an Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte or French Empire.

What can she can teach us about the nature of client service and how it exceeds customer service?

Note |

Client vs. Customer is Part 1 of a multipart series that includes Competitive Intelligence and Brand/Marketing Strategy.

Client vs. Customer

Businesses, government agencies, and NGOs (Non-Governmental Organization–usually what we call a not-for-profit) that have been built around traditional products and services, even ones that are considered commodities by the people footing the bill, can have clients instead of customers based on a positive purchase experience and an ongoing service experience.

But what’s the difference between a client and a customer relationship?


Disney and The Ritz-Carlton Hotel chain are renowned for their customer service. Two of the key things that their entire organization actively work on every day |

  1. Ensuring that everyone knows and understands the specific mission of the organization.
  2. Empowering every employee to do what’s necessary to help their customers.

I suggest that while both of these companies succeed at being top-ranked customer-driven organizations, they haven’t taken the necessary steps to fully converting customers to clients.


A client relationship is built around communicating just as you do with a good friend.

Example |

Saying “hello” just for the sake of seeing how your friend is doing or wishing them well on more than just special occasions.

One of the many benefits of having a client relationship is when it comes time to ask for money in exchange for a new product or service, you’re just carrying on a normal, ongoing conversation.

Tip |

People do in fact realize if you or your organization only contact them when you need something from them.  Don’t be that person or organization.

Joséphine Bonaparte | From small island girl to Empress of France.

Her adventure, from growing up as a carefree girl on the island or Martinique with practically no education to first surviving in Paris and then learning to thrive is truly a story of how courage and determination can take a person to the very top of what they consider success.

When researching her life, what struck me over-and-over was how she taught herself to treat even her enemies as friends–regularly talking with them, meeting with them, and writing them letters to simply inquiry how they were doing or inviting them to a social event.

She became a master of what we now call client relations and that allowed her to ask her friends for frequent financial assistance due to what we now call her obsession with Retail Therapy.

But her knowledge and perfection of client service went beyond this step to that of regularly helping her clients in extraordinary ways and under remarkable circumstances–even during the French Reign of Terror of 1794 during which time she was imprisoned while awaiting her execution.

Although she lived and thrived during decades of extreme events in Europe, the two keys to her success are the two keys to Client service vs Customer service |

  1. Treating your clients as friends by having an ongoing, regular conversation with them.
  2. Helping your clients during extraordinary events in their lives.

I know what you’re thinking |

I’m having difficulty relating to huge corporations that have the financial means to hire the best people and train them, let alone relating to a French Empress who lived over 200 years ago.

Uncle Ed’s Oil Shoppe, Michigan

Although oil is pretty much the same everywhere and this business charges a bit more, I’ve been going back to them for years.

Excellent performance of their core function (oil changes) is a given, but here’s why we have a client relationship |

  1. Ensuring that everyone knows and understands the specific mission of the organization.
  2. Empowering every employee to do what’s necessary to help their customers.
  3. Friendly service by everyone who interacts with me.
  4. Useful information about my car that may not financially benefit them in the short-term:  “You have a problem with your car’s differential.”
  5. They call me periodically to see if everything is going well with me and my car.
  6. They’ve gone far beyond what’s required on several memorable occasions.

Notice that the first two items on this list are very much the same as the Disney/Ritz-Carlton customer service model.  But where they make the leap to the Empress Joséphine client service model is with their implementation of the last two items.  And these are the items that are critical to their success when competing in a business that’s fundamentally a commodity on both the product and service sides.

Tip |

While I understand that their motivation is to sell me additional services, the way that they’re successful is by framing our conversation as one friend checking in on another which leads to a successful suspension of disbelief. This is exactly how Empress Joséphine succeeded and by extension, how France during the late 1700s and early 1800s was the power-house of Europe.

How |

The same person who I see while I’m at their service location is the one who calls me.  Because we know each other, we’ve built up a group of inside automotive jokes that have meaning to both of us.

Success |

In return, I’ve referred over 100 new clients to them including members of my family.


If Joséphine Bonaparte was able to teach herself how to be a master of client service during one of Europe’s most terrifying eras, I suggest that there’s no reason why anyone can’t succeed by taking the steps needed to move up to client service.


This article is an excerpt from my upcoming book on Strategic Marketing & Advertising.  To learn more about my books and classes and to receive a discount, you’re invited to subscribe to my List by clicking HERE.



Photography by Rohan Reddy

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