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A customer ( english customer , client ) is generally in the economy and especially in marketing a person , a company or an organization ( business entity ) serving as buyers a business with a counterparty completes. Such a business is, for example, a sales contract , rental or leasing , a service or a work contract . Usually the customer pays money for it , but his consideration can also be free of charge or in the form of a mutual exchange transaction .


The word “customer” comes from Old High German Kundo (“local, acquaintance, knowledgeable”), which was first found around the year 870. The German dictionary of the Brothers Grimm from 1868 contains a variety of directions of meaning that reflect both the change in meaning and the different regional usage. According to this, the Old High German chundo means “acquaintance” (next to chundeo “witness”) and retained the meaning “who is known, whom one knows, the local, the confidante” in Middle High German as well. It was not until the early New High German of the 16th century that the use for the in the initial phase established itself as regularly recurring, i.e. H. Customers of a restaurant, a merchant, a craftsman or another business area presented as "known" to the provider. Also in the early New High German period, generalized colloquial uses with meanings such as “guy”, “kumpan” emerged. Since the 16th century, the narrower definition of “the one who regularly buys in a (shop)” developed, which was also adopted by business literature.

Since 1828 the word customer in Rotwelsch has been given the special meaning "wandering craft fellows, beggars, tramps". Following on from this, Rotwelsch research has been using the terms customer language and customer song for the special linguistic words and songs of this group of speakers since the 19th century , while in the linguistic usage of the group of speakers itself since 1906 the self-designation Kundenschall has been used and the Rhenish dictionary in particular uses the term customer language in general for special language- Rotwelschen vocabulary used in the Rhenish language area, without special assignment to a socially defined speaker group.


All economic subjects ( private households , companies , other institutions , the state ) come into question as customers . When defining a customer, it is important that the customer has concluded at least one deal with his business partner. Also DIN EN ISO 9000: 2005-12 defines the customer as "any organization or person that receives a product". In the Good Manufacturing Practices of the WHO , the customer is defined as a trading partner, the better convertible value ( money supplies) in exchange for the worse convertible value (product / service). The mere intention to conclude a business transaction turns the market participant into a potential customer (prospect); customer status is only achieved with the client . If only a single transaction is made, one speaks of walk-in customers , in a regular business relationship between the same business partners over a certain period of time, these are regular customers . If a customer signs a contract for the first time, he is a new customer from the perspective of the supplier . If he has already concluded a contract with the supplier, he is an existing or existing customer . Clientele is the entirety of all clients, client group within the framework of market segmentation is the breakdown of clients according to age , income , needs analysis or social status .


The term customer is broader than that of the buyer , because other forms of sales such as the service or work contract are also possible with customers. The business can therefore be buying , renting , leasing , leasing or swapping ; products or services come into question as business objects. The role of the customer can be that of an end consumer , a business partner in the trade or a processor in a value chain .


Customers in a Göttingen bakery

The customer does not appear in German civil law . A customer can either be a consumer ( § 13 BGB ) or an entrepreneur ( § 14 BGB). Natural persons can be considered as consumers , whose customer status may not result from a commercial or self-employed activity . Entrepreneurs are therefore customers as natural persons and all legal persons with commercial / self-employed activity.

This consumer-entrepreneur relationship results in the customer relationship combinations business-to-business ( English company-company ), business-to-consumer ( English company-consumer ) and business-to-administration ( English company-public administration ). Business-to-business is about customer relationships between companies, e.g. the connection between commercial debtors and commercial creditors , between credit institutions ( interbank trade , correspondent banks) or between banks and large companies . Business-to-consumer describes the relationships between companies and consumers (e.g. banks for consumer loans , buyers in supermarkets ), business-to-administration relates to the customer relationship between companies and public administration ( authorities , public companies , municipal companies ). The consumer-to-consumer relationship between consumers, for example through electronic commerce such as eBay , can also be viewed as a customer relationship. In the field of prostitution and sex work , the term “ customer ” is common for clients.


The writer Hans Heinrich Path (* July 9, 1934 - December 13, 1984), who lived in the Cismar Monastery in the 20th century, is quoted in particular in the specialist marketing literature about his view of customers:

“A customer is the most important person in the company. He does not depend on us, but we depend on him. It does not mean an interruption in our work, but is its content. ... A customer is a person who tells us what they want. It is our job to do this to his satisfaction. "

The quote reflects the importance of the customer in today's economy. The importance of a customer for a company is expressed in their customer value . A major customer causes more damage in churn than a less significant customer. The damage consists in a lack of profit contribution. Only customers allow companies about their operational purpose to fulfill its corporate objective of profit maximization . Every customer relationship in a company is integrated into customer relationship management and customer management in order to systematically design customer relationships.

Phases of customer acquisition

The starting point is a market analysis that identifies the potential customers from the market potential and determines their needs through customer surveys . The subsequent customer analysis initially deals with customer expectations , which are compared with the range of products or services . Ultimately, the aim of marketing is the customer order , which should provide the customer with a customer benefit and the provider a marginal profit. A subsequent customer service ensures that the future product or service quality is ensured and thus contributes to customer satisfaction . An intense customer focus must then try each customer through active customer service a customer loyalty to subject, which the supplier credit up to the lock-in effect all possibilities exploits, customers and long-term loyalty to the company to.

The internal evaluation of the customer value is carried out through the customer calculation . It shows strengths and weaknesses of a customer relationship and provides a basis for decision-making for a future market strategy .

The market behavior of customers is largely determined by their bargaining power . This is expressed in market power . While the normal consumer has no bargaining power and can neither influence the market price nor the quantity (“option recipients”), large customers are able to influence this market data in their favor (quantity or price fixer) due to their market share .

Public administration customers

The public administration ( authorities ) increasingly regards the applicant and user of public services in the context of services of general interest as customers. In the course of New Public Management , attempts are made to transfer private management techniques to the public sector . The classification as a customer is not easy for the administration, especially since it has a monopoly and citizens are forced to use certain authorities. The “city service company” is “primarily demand and customer-oriented” and is supposed to organize itself “from the outside to the inside”, which is expressed in organizational terms in the conversion of administrative offices into service and customer centers or citizens 'offices and citizens' offices . The administration is increasingly emphasizing its service function, which improves proximity to the citizen . “Every employee must be aware that he is dealing with customers”. The customer as a buyer of public administration services is mostly (involuntarily) compulsory buyer of these services from an unrivaled administrative monopoly, which - among other differences - distinguishes the welfare recipient as a customer of the social welfare office from the buyer of a luxury good .

Bank customers

Customers in the bank regulatory senses are "all natural or legal persons for whom investment services company providing investment services or ancillary services or initiate" ( § 63 para. 1 WpHG ). This legal definition turns someone into a customer through the initiation of business and not through the conclusion of the deal. In the case of bank customers, credit institutions differentiate between private customers under Section 67 (3) WpHG, who are legally protected by investor protection , and professional customers . According to this regulation, private customers are all customers who are not professional customers. After the "suitability rule" banks are required only private clients a financial product recommended when it suited (for her English suitable is). A financial instrument is suitable for private customers if it corresponds to the customer's investment goals, the resulting risks can be borne by the customer and the customer knows how to correctly assess the risks. Among the professional customers include not only banks insurance companies , funds , public sector , pension funds or other non-banks such large companies as well as the federal government and the states two as national governments or regional governments within the meaning of § 67 para. Sentence 2 no. 3 WpHG. According to the clarification of the BaFin of June 25, 2010, municipalities , rural districts and urban districts are considered private customers within the meaning of section 67 (3) WpHG because they are not “regional governments” within the meaning of section 67 (2) sentence 2 no. 3 WpHG are. In the case of professional customers, according to Section 67 (2) WpHG, credit institutions can assume that they have sufficient experience , knowledge and expertise to make their investment decisions and to be able to adequately assess the associated risks.


In many consulting professions , the customer is called a client to emphasize the service character. These include notaries , lawyers , tax consultants , auditors and social pedagogues . Lawyers and tax advisors often use the term client .


The doctor's client is called the patient to emphasize the dependency and need for help, regardless of whether the client is sick or healthy. In the case of voluntary services or private "patients", one also speaks of customer in order to emphasize the service character. The customer is also called the patient in the hospital. In psychotherapy, depending on the therapist's view of the profession, both client and patient are common, and in reports it is usually a patient. Dentists also speak of the patient . Members of medical auxiliary professions (physiotherapist, masseur, nurse, etc.) use client or patient depending on their professional view. Midwives do not have a name that expresses the relationship with their pregnant women or women who have recently given birth. Pharmacists and opticians usually speak of customers . Health insurance companies use either the term member or, depending on the corporate culture, customer or policyholder .


The term customer is occasionally used colloquially for people or institutions that have no real interest in concluding a contract or working together. For example, the police call the accused or suspects in some contexts their “customers” or “customers” and mean people / groups who are regularly encountered with the same problems. This rather euphemistically intended classification is not actually about customers, because in these cases the cooperation is mostly not voluntary, and often there is even no alternative. This is especially true when it comes to sovereign acts. In these cases there are other common terms (such as “accused” or “witness”), but sometimes they have negative connotations.

See also

Web links

Commons : Customers  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: customer  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Gerhard Köbler : Etymological legal dictionary. 1995, p. 240.
  2. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, German Dictionary Vol. 11, Sp. 2620, Art. “Customer, m. notus "( online )
  3. ^ Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, German Dictionary Volume 11, 1868, Col. 2620, Art. "Customer" m. witness "( online )
  4. Mathias Lexer, Middle High German Concise Dictionary , Vol. 1, 1872, Sp. 1771 ( online )
  5. ^ Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, German Dictionary Vol. 11, 1868, Col. 2620, Art. "Customer", m. notus , § 2
  6. ^ Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, German Dictionary Vol. 11, 1868, Col. 2620, Art. "Customer", m. notus , § 3
  7. Günther Drosdowski, Duden-Etymologie , 1989, p. 394
  8. Rötger Nötzel, Kunde , in: Bernd Falk / Jakob Wolf (eds.), The large lexicon for trade and sales, 1982, p. 392
  9. ^ A b Siegmund A. Wolf, Dictionary des Rotwelschen , Bibliographisches Institut, Mannheim 1956, p. 188, no. 3017
  10. Markus Müller-Martini, Customer Competencies as Determinants of Customer Loyalty , 2008, p. 32
  11. Norbert Hochheimer, Das kleine QM-Lexikon , 2011, p. 146
  12. Gunter Eberling, Customer Value Management , 2002, p. 26
  13. Melanie Mattes / Holger Nohr, customer orientation , 2007, p. 25
  14. and not, as often stated, in the 12th century
  15. Matthias Krieg: App marketing as an instrument for customer loyalty . Diplomica, Hamburg 2013, ISBN 978-3-8428-8829-6 , p. 33 ( limited preview in Google book search).
  16. Oliver Kohrmann: Multi-level market segmentation for new customer acquisition . Deutscher Universitäts-Verlag, Wiesbaden 2003, ISBN 3-8244-7958-3 , p. 24 ( limited preview in Google book search).
  17. Municipal joint agency for administrative management (KGSt), The new control model , KGSt report No. 5/93, 1993, p. 13 f.
  18. G. Jan Wolters, Public Administration: A “System of Organized Irresponsibility” or a Service Company? , in: Journal Organizational Development, Issue 3, 1994, p. 88
  19. DIIR - German Institute for Internal Auditing e. V. (Ed.), Current Internal Audit: Profession 07/08 , 2008, p. 47 f.
  20. BaFin of June 25, 2010, customer classification of municipalities, rural districts and urban districts according to Section 2 (1) Securities Service Conduct and Organization Ordinance (WpDVerOV) , reference number WA 31 - Wp 2002–2007 / 0127
  21. ^ New police water cannon , Spiegel Online website December 7, 2009