An old sage once said “poor communication potentially starts wars; but great communication can end them.”

The use of language is critical in business positioning and success – but how many of us really give this aspect of our business the time and attention it deserves?

Let me give you an example of a debate that raged on in our own business for months – before (somewhat reluctantly in some cases), there was a general recognition of the importance of one single word within our business…’customer’ or ‘client’?

Simple words – but with hugely different meaning and cultural focus.

You could expect that as we are a professional legal services firm in part – we service ‘clients’ just like law firms; accountancy practices and other professional services based firms. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

Have you noticed what firms like Virgin; Apple; ASOS; Amazon; PayPal; Starbucks all have in common? They have ‘customers’…not ‘clients – however all the accountants and law firms I talk to all seem to have ‘clients’. So what?  What’s the big deal?

The point is that a customer relationship is a very, very different one to a client relationship. A customer relationship is a long term, repeat or multi purchase, ongoing, dynamic and frequently in contact relationship. The very best of these relationships become ‘advocates’ of your business and refer others to you. A client relationship is a, largely, transaction led single moment in time relationship – intense during the transaction phase but largely forgotten thereafter…until the next transaction. More a ‘one night stand’ to a long standing relationship or ‘marriage’!

If the legal industry and other professional services firms are to seize this moment for fundamental change (by embracing and searching for the opportunities created by the introduction of The Legal Services Act a couple of years ago, for example) – this fundamental shift in thinking needs to happen first.

Placing customer needs and relationships at the heart of the business is what world class organisations like those listed above have managed to create culturally and embed into their business…and every person that works within it.

So – a simple word? Yes…but with huge connotations and implications about what your ‘customers’ or ‘clients’ really think about you; your business; your team – and your future success.

Have we cracked this simple language in our own business yet? Nearly – but we are not resting on our laurels!


We are the HR and employment law experts from esphr.

It’s our mission to advise and develop the employment law capability of HR professionals wherever we can, helping HR teams make a real commercial difference to their organisations. That way, you spend less time solving operational issues and more time actioning projects that drive far-reaching change in your company.

Call 0333 006 2929 or email today to discover exactly how we can help you.


Author: Peter Byrne

Founder, ESP Group

Pete set up ESP Group in March 2003, after running an HR resource management business for three years.