Startups, Know your Customer, Consumer and Client

 By Ashok Subramanian

All begin with C. All sound similar — customer, consumer and client.  Most people use these interchangeably.  But these are distinct, and a clear understanding will help not only the usage, but also identifying the roles better.


A consumer is normally a person who ‘consumes’ your service.  He is the person who realizes the actual experience of your product or your service. How good you are, what value you are adding – he or she will tell.  Quality of product or service is always got from the consumer.  So, is it right to call it ‘customer service’?  Think!



Customer is the one who pays for your service.  He/she holds the purse strings.  For example, a mother buys a toy for her kid and pays for it.  The consumer here is the child, and the customer is the mother. In enterprises, consumers establish the need for a product or service, and the customer recognizes and pays for or ‘buys’ it. A company is a customer, and its employees, consumers. Customers are the people you do business with. Loyalty, discounts, negotiations are with ‘customers’.   It is important to keep ‘consumers’ happy through ‘experience’, while ‘customers’ retained and satisfied through ‘relationship’ and ‘incentives’.


Let us assume that the mother is going to meet a lawyer or an architect. Then she is the lawyer’s client. Clients by definition are people who get professional services — normally one to one. These services are normally personalized. The needs are understood better and deeper, and customized solutions and services are offered. Chartered accountants, doctors, architects, lawyers have ‘clients’.

A customer and consumer can evolve as a client. Even in consumer-driven businesses, high customized products and services can secure a one-to-one, highly-personalized service provider-client relationship.  Clients are normally the best referrals as well. With clients, stereotyping is the first thing to disappear.

So what are you waiting — go get more clients!

Ashok Subramanian
Ashok Subramanian


Ashok Subramanian is a serial entrepreneur, business strategist and growth hacker. You can get in touch with him at

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