Is the word “client” nice?

The word “client” always seemed to have a cold and distant touch to it but, on the other hand, it felt like a fair and respectful word to use. Better than “patient,” in many instances, right?

Well, so I thought. I mean, for a long time it didn’t sit totally comfortably with me but I got used to it over time. Until someone just brought it up with me.

I was talking about the elderly people with whom I work and I kept calling them “the clients.” My friend pointed out there is something not so nice about the word and suddenly I realized, it’s like saying to “the client”: “If you weren’t paying me, I wouldn’t be here.”

If you’re a lawyer it’s OK to say that. If you’re working with elderly people who you care about and have some kind of a bond with, it’s really not that nice, is it?

Also, if it isn’t nice, what word can be used instead?

Do you think the word is OK? What word might be better?


7 thoughts on “Is the word “client” nice?

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  1. Are these elderly people in a nursing home/retirement home/ home for the aged? Can you call the “the residents”? Is there a select group who are seeing you for a professional skill of yours? (are you writing their life story? providing nutritional advice?) If so, I think client is just right, otherwise… I agree.. kinda cold.

  2. That might be better. They aren’t residents. They are receiving a certain service from us. We are giving them the adult day centre (ADC) service. We run programs for them all day. They pay something. They are definitely clients. It just is, as you said, cold. Distant. Which is wrong because it’s a very personal type of service, meaning, we feel close to each other. I think.

    Maybe participants.

  3. It’s a difficult one. I use “patients” more than “clients”, seems better for what I do. The hebrew word side-steps the whole issue – “metupal” – literally “the treated one”…on the other hand, as a “metapel” – a “treater” – you could be anything from an orderly to a doctor…

    1. Thanks for the comment! Metupal wouldn’t work for a place where people go to hang out for the day and have a nice, meaningful time. It’s probably best, as much as possible, just to call them “people” or call them by their names.

  4. I just saw this as I was doing a search for a word different from “client” for my families and children who have emotional and behavioral challenges.

    Then the light went on….they ARE families and children and should be referred to that way. Calling them clients is separating them from me emotionally and hierarchically. It’s a “them” vs. “us” word.

    What about saying “the PEOPLE I work with”?

    1. Sue, that definitely sounds very neutral and so I can see it working. Maybe you could say, “The families and children I work with,” if you want to give a clearer picture to someone about who you work with.

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