Why I Call My Clients “Customers” Behind Their Backs

I’ll tell you why I call my clients “customers” behind their backs in a jiffy but first I want you to join me as I go on a merry rant. Let’s begin by discussing your car mechanic.

Your mechanic does not apologise or beat about the bush when it comes to charging you for his (or her) services. He just tells you what needs doing and why and when you ask how much he doesn’t even blink as he says “that will be about $X”. They don’t apologise when you grimace, and they sure as shit aren’t going to do it for less or for free.

If you ask them to fix something, they charge you. If you were to query the price, he would probably politely tell you that you’re free to go elsewhere if you don’t want to pay what they charge.

So why would it be any difference with websites and related digital services?

The thing about websites is that the customer either knows A) nothing about websites or B) a little bit about websites, but not enough to do the job. Customer A cannot do it themselves. Customer B MIGHT be able to do it themselves, but probably not very quickly and probably not at all. Customer B often makes a better client because they know enough to know that it is often fiddly, frustrating and time consuming to “just do” anything web-related.

Most customers often do not fully understand the difference between “scope” and “not scope”.

They almost always don’t understand the difference between “content” and “design and/or development”. You have to manage this diplomatically yet fiercely. When you quote a price to import content from an old site, you have to stop and re-quote when they start asking you to add extra content that was not part of the initial import.

When they pay for 10 pages, but then send through two more, you have to stop and let them know this will cost them extra. When they say they will upload their own content, but then ask for help when they can’t make the page look as pretty as the theme demo, you have to stop and re-quote.

Even if they just email you and say “can you just add a link to page X from page Y” – you must charge them for minimum 15 minutes work. Probably more, actually, because you should factor in the years you spent acquiring your knowledge and also the time it takes to move your headspace from one job to another.

Whatever you do – don’t do the work and grumble to yourself about “just this once”. This sets a precedent that will trigger a cascade of unpaid work down on your head and curse you to poverty.

When this type of thing goes wrong, none of it is the client’s fault. It’s your fault. They don’t understand the difference in workload between exporting and importing an xml file and manually creating new pages from word docs and image files, but you do – and painfully so! Same goes for most tasks.

So why don’t I call my clients “clients”?

Because this: People in web consulting tend to use the word client as it is traditionally associated with high-end consulting work. Given this, for positioning, it may well make sense to use the word in your customer facing communications – but internally I prefer the word “customer”.


Because customers pay – and they pay straight up.

You go into any shop and “become a customer”, it means you bought something. It doesn’t mean you got a free ride.

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Seamus Anthony

Seamus Anthony is a web marketing consultant, musician and a transformational writer. He works from home in the Dandenong Ranges, just out of Melbourne, Australia, where he is currently thoroughly enjoying his children’s obsession with Kate Bush. No really...

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