Customer's AttitudeWhen you work for a consumer goods company – it’s easy to know who your customers are. They are the people who buy your product, right? But what if your business is selling to other businesses? What if you work in a multinational company? Who is the customer?

One simple way to break this down is to work with the client/customer distinction. The WiseGeek suggests that looking into the history of these words can provide us some direction. The word “customer” is related to “customs” in the sense that a custom is a way of “doing things,” while “client” comes from the Latin cliens meaning dependent or follower. There are plenty of other nuances, but for our purposes, let’s go with:

  • Customers – a person or entity who buys goods or services. The customer relationship is based on a transaction of some sort
  • Clients – those customers who not only purchase goods or services, but also seek advice. This pushes the relationship to a deeper level

What we have seen over the last decade or so is a transformation of the relationship between our businesses and our customers. There are increasingly sophisticated approaches to customers that provide not just transactional value, but deeper engagement. Sometimes this occurs through customer relationship management systems, branding and social media. Sometimes this occurs through the personal one-on-one relationships we make at the storefront, on the support desk or over the phone. Often these “touchpoints” are monitored, tracked and evaluated. The data is pooled and cross-matched to help businesses improve their processes, products and customer service.

But it strikes me that while we are making an effort to turn our customers into clients, there is also enormous value in understanding customers as customers. This is especially true in the business to business world where we are working mostly with “clients”.

But let us not forget that these clients have customers of their own.

What would we do differently if we needed to reach our clients’ customers? This is not to suggest leapfrogging your clients. But how could you work with your clients to create value that extends beyond your relationship so that it directly impacts your clients’ customers. Perhaps we could call this “co-innovation.”

How do we get there? This is what I call “customer oriented thinking,” and it is something I’ll be investigating in the coming months as part of the innovation program we’re running at the SAP Premier Customer Network.

Nina Nets It Out: We have had decades of customer relationship management and eCommerce – and a slew of terms used to describe how we relate to our customers and clients. Perhaps the real opportunity for business leaders is not in the transaction, but in the deeper relationship that comes from co-innovation.