This post is by Jack White, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Jack has enjoyed a forty-one year career as a successful fulltime artist and author. He has written for Professional Artist Magazine for 14 years and has six art marketing books published. In 1976 Jack was named the Official Artist of Texas. He has mentored hundreds of artists around the world. Jack authored six Art Marketing books. The first, “Mystery of Making It”, describes how he taught Mikki to paint and has sold over six million dollars worth of her art. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
Which is better, a client or customer?
What should I use when I’m addressing the people who purchase my art? A lot depends on your attitude. If you see your career on the level of a lawyer, you will call them clients. If you are a person who is only interested in selling your craft, then you would probably use the word customer.
A physician calls us his patient, but in truth, if he is interested in our well-being, we are his clients. I think the word patient is impersonal, which most doctors are to those they treat. They refuse to get emotionally attached to the people they “see”. Today’s medicine is done with a stop watch. The average time a doctor spends with a patient is ten minutes per visit.
I went to one urologist for four years. He never remembered my name or needs. Each time, he reviewed my case on his laptop. Almost the entire time I was with him he was looking at his computer. I was talking to the top of his head. This year, I found a new doctor who remembers I want to be called Jack instead of my first name. He has total recall on my medical needs. He sits, looks at me and is actually interested in what I’m saying. After just one visit, he remembered I need an eligard shot for cancer and he took thirty minutes to make sure all of my needs were taken care of. I’m a client to him.
The first doctor’s main interest was to earn all the money he could by cramming as many patients as possible into a day; the second doctor is interested in my healing.
A customer is a person who purchases goods or services from another person or company.
A client is a person or group that uses the professional advice or services of a lawyer, accountant, architect or artist.
I think one of the main problems artists have is seeing themselves as professional.
I often explain why we don’t want to have company during the day. If we were doctors or lawyers, no one would stop by for coffee and a chat. They would respect our need for privacy. Yet people think nothing of dropping in an artist’s studio to spend the entire afternoon.
Other than the super stars of their profession, I maintain we earn on the same level as doctors and lawyer. We don’t spend our days talking on the phone. When neighbors drop in unexpectedly, we stand to talk, I’m careful to not offer them a seat. You may think this is rude, but our livelihood is dependent on production. It’s easy to waste two hours on the phone or listening to a drop in neighbor complain about the grasshoppers eating their tomatoes. After six in the evening, we welcome company. We discourage calls after 9:30 PM because we get in bed by 10:00. We have to be up early in the morning to “Go to work.”
If you don’t see yourself as a professional, others won’t either. When you say “I’m an artist”, do so with the same authority as your doctor. I’m artist Jack White. If I were a physician I’d say, “I’m Doctor Jack White.” Have pride in being an artist. If you make art, you are an artist. Once you pass the bar, you are an attorney. The title doesn’t denote how good we are. You can be an excellent doctor or a quack, but you still use the title. Let no one tell you that you are not an artist because you aren’t at the top yet. From now on you are an artist. Get rid of the titles emerging and beginning. Those are labels to put you down. Makes you sound less than others. All of us start as beginners and then emerge the remainder of our lives. No one ever learns all there is to know. We are always growing. There are snobs in the art world who love to put us down.
As an artist, you need to build a client base. You will have customers who buy your work. A customer has a want and we help them fulfill their perceived need. Typically a customer is someone who buys only once because you just happen to have what they want. Your goal is to turn them into clients.
I make the argument art is not a product people need. They need shoes, they need food, they need warm clothes for the winter. They want a new car or art. Last week I saw that Conn’s, an appliance store chain that’s only in Texas, was having a sale on HD televisions. We have a 47” flat screen but I got the wants for a larger screen. I went in looking for a 55” screen, but when I saw the 60” I had to have it. We didn’t need a bigger television, but I talked myself into needing the larger size. Mikki is so co-dependent she talked me into buying the large one along with a Blue Ray player. I’m equally as co-dependent on what she wants. The truth of the matter is she will enjoy the big screen as much as me when football season arrives. She is fanatic about football. Mikki screams at the television when the refs make a bad call.
Artists need to build a client base rather than a customer list. I know you will say I’m playing semantics with words, but not so. It’s an attitude. They are all customers, but a client is a business term for a person who returns again and again. Banks, beauty salons, doctors, lawyers and stock brokers all have clients. Food stores, gas stations, drug stores and clothing stores have customers. Unless you are in a tiny one gas station town you stop where ever you are when you need fuel. With my dialysis, I can’t go to just any doctor, I only have one; therefore, I’m his client.
The term client has a meaning of someone who is under the protection of another. My doctor is there to protect me. He is thinking of my best interests when he writes a prescription. Our CPA is our protector, we are her client. That’s why you have lawyer/client relations.
A few years ago, two women got in a bidding war over a Senkarik painting on eBay. The piece normally sells for $790 in the gallery. These two drove the bid up to $1,784 dollars. The final bid might be a little different, but this is close. Mikki said, “We can’t let her pay that much for a piece of art valued at $790.”
I suggested she call the winner. Naturally the lady was surprised to hear Mikki’s voice and shocked when she was told, “we are going to give you a $1,000 savings. We know you got excited in the bidding and paid too much.” This is what it means to treat your customers like clients. We protected her from making a mistake. Needless to say, she has become a big collector.
Treating your customers like clients means you won’t let them buy more than they can afford or pay too much. We control the gallery prices. If we didn’t, some galleries might mark the art up higher than we have them priced. We look out for our clients as if we were their doctor or lawyer.
When anyone buys a piece of art from Mikki we make them a Member of Team Senkarik. I grew up in sports and learned to win you need teamwork. My immediate thought when I began teaching Mikki to paint and market her work was to turn her customers into clients by making them members of her team.
This year’s San Antonio Spurs won the Western Conference Championship in the NBA. Many other teams had better players. Our stars are getting old, but no one passes the ball better. The players on the Spurs team didn’t care who got the shot, their goal was to win. I don’t know how deep they will go in the playoffs, but I do know they will reach much deeper than their talent level. Everyone on the team is looking out for each other. They treat each other as if they were clients.
Are you getting the picture? We live in a service orientated corporate world. The end use is always paramount in the decision making process of any major companies. The store we purchased the new television from called, asking us to judge the service we received from their salesperson. We could grade him one to five, with the higher number being best. I gave him a five because he pointed us to a sale they had just begun that day. He saved us $800. We would not have known without his pointing the sale out. He made us want to return to the store the next time we have a want.
In fast foods, the corporate office always thinks about clients, but those on the floor are constantly thinking of customer service. Corporate headquarters is concerned about us coming back; whereas the local restaurant just wants to make sure we have a good eating experience.
Galleries fall into the mistake of giving customer service rather than developing a client relationship. The gallery is looking for a satisfied customer, whereas the artist needs a client who continues to buy their art. The customer is the person who pays money in order to purchase our product, as is the client. Keep in mind “our client” is someone we accept the responsibility to insure they are protected.
A client emailed this week telling Mikki he had recommended her to a cruise line about having her art auctioned off on the ship. We thanked him abundantly, but told him we couldn’t in good faith sell through those types of auctions. The problem is many of those auctions are not honest. They mark things up so they can entice bidding. They tend to get the audience drunk so they bid more than planned. We cannot have Senkarik associated with such an auction. It was painful to tell our client we couldn’t take part in what we feel is a con game. He didn’t have a clue how they worked and thanked us for telling him.
I did some research on the two words. Customer is from the Middle English at the time of Chaucer. It refers to customs and the customs officer, a person who collects a fee on the passage of goods through a fixed point. Client has been used since Roman times. It was originally used to describe states or rulers that were clients of the Roman Empire. These clients were granted protection and trade in exchange for a vow of loyalty to the Empire.
Customer implies a short term economic relationship. A customer comes into a store, buys and then leaves. We are a customer of Red Lobster because Mikki forces me to take her there for the key lime pie. (smile)
Client has a professional sound. It means we are going to protect our buyers. Being a client has more prestige than being a customer. I realize many use the words interchangeably as if they were the same. If you look them up in the thesaurus they even appear the same. As artists, we need to make the distinction. The best advice I can give you is learn the difference. Calling a client a customer is saying they are not as important. Let me repeat, your client is under your protection and the customer is someone who pays money to buy your product or service, then they are gone. Artists teaching workshops can make those in attendance customers or clients. If they are a client, you will continue to be interested in their success long after the classes are over.
The bottom line is clients are forever while customers come and go. We have clients who have been buying Senkariks for years. Some may think you are sucking up to the customer if you show too much interest. They won’t think that if you show them your true interest is giving them the protection afforded a client. Clients are the most important aspect of your career. If you don’t have a client list, then begin today. One client is better than none.
I look at those of you who read my columns as clients. My only goal is to help you do better. I’m jealous of none and proud for all. I’m too old to envy others and smart enough to know that helps no one. I have made more mistakes than any of you reading FASO and will continue to do so until they bring the six black horses to carry my body away. I’m honored to serve my fellow artists.