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In daily life, I usually hear the words お客様{きゃくさま}, お客{きゃく}さん, and maybe other variants that use 客{きゃく}/客{かく} to refer to customers at a shop.

However, in the dictionary, the first word that comes up for customer is 顧客{こきゃく}.

I feel like I've never heard that word, though it wouldn't be the first time I realize a word I was unfamiliar with had actually been all around me all along.

When is 顧客{こきゃく} used, and how does it differ from the other variants of 客{きゃく}?

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Can 客様 be used without お (お客様)? –  fefe Jan 15 '12 at 14:55
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Hmm, I don't think I ever heard 客様/客さん/[客]{かく}... Ah, you mean お客様/お客さん/お客? But we don't say お[客]{かく}.... '顧客' is more likely to be translated as 'client', no? –  Choko Jan 15 '12 at 15:03
    
I see. Well usually they address their customers as 'お客様', sometimes as お客さん. When they talk about customers they say お客/お客さん. 顧客 is more formal, and more likely to be said in a meeting or written in a document. –  Choko Jan 16 '12 at 1:22
    
p.s. Ah, and 顧客 is used in the news/newspapers too. –  Choko Jan 16 '12 at 1:28
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@DaveMG san, Lol sorry, I thought these were not enough to be an answer cos I didn't refer to any sources... –  Choko Jan 16 '12 at 3:13
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1 Answer

up vote 5 down vote accepted

[顧客]{こきゃく}:

  • 客/おとくいの客/customer/custom/client/patron/patronage

お[客様]{きゃくさま}/お客/客:

  • たずねてくる人([訪問客]{ほうもんきゃく}/[来客]{らいきゃく})
  • [招]{まね}かれてくる人([招待客]{しょうたいきゃく})
  • [旅館]{りょかん}に[泊]{と}まる人/caller/visitor/ company/guest
  • [物]{もの}を[買]{か}う人/customer
  • 物を[見]{み}に[来]{く}る人([観客]{かんきゃく})/audience/spectator
  • [船]{ふね}や[車]{くるま}に[乗]{の}る人([乗客]{じょうきゃく})/passenger

Shop owners/sales clerks usually address their customers as 'お客様', and sometimes as 'お客さん', which sounds less polite and formal. When they just talk about customers, they might say 'お客さん/お客'.

'顧客' is more formal (but not 'polite', so they never address their customers as '顧客様' or '顧客さん'.), and I think it is more likely to be used in a meeting or written in a document, and in the news/newspapers too.

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I think the one thing you said in the comments that you forgot to include in your answer is that 顧客 is more accurately translated as "client". –  Dave M G Jan 16 '12 at 15:06
    
@DaveMG san, あ・・・ –  Choko Jan 16 '12 at 15:48
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