Services and products are fundamentally different in a couple of ways. As a result, service marketing requires a different approach than product marketing.
Understanding this will help you improve the marketing strategy of your service offerings.
Services Are Intangible
A product has physical characteristics, such as shape, weight, color, texture, etc. A product is tangible. For instance, a car, a washing machine, a computer, a widescreen TV, a pair of jeans, etc., are all examples of tangible objects. In simple terms, you can put a product in a box.
A product provides benefits to the user because of what it does, the functions it performs.
On the other hand, a service offering has no physical size, shape, color, or weight. You can experience a service or see the result, but the service itself is intangible. For instance, IT services, legal services, car repair services, web design services, etc., are clearly intangible. You cannot put a service in a box.
Services are performed, not manufactured
The benefit to the client of a service comes from an activity performed by one or more people, not from a physical object.
Although equipment, tools, etc., may be involved in the process of creating the service, it’s the end result that the customer is looking for.
For instance, a car mechanic uses tools and parts to fix a car, but what the customer is really buying are the mechanic’s knowledge, skills, and activities needed to get the car fixed.
While an attorney relies on their education, law books, legal databases, etc., what their client is looking for is the attorney’s expertise. What they’re really buying is the resolution of their legal problems.
Services cannot be kept in inventory
Another key difference between services and products is that it’s impossible to create an inventory of service offerings. You just can’t create an inventory of, for instance, root canal treatments, haircuts, oil changes, legal advice, or consulting projects.
You cannot put a service on a shelf, waiting for distribution and delivery to the customer at a later time.
Services cannot be returned or undone
Once a service has been provided, it cannot be undone or returned. You cannot “undo” a haircut, a paint job, a medical procedure, or legal advice.
If the service was not provided properly or if the customer is not satisfied, the service provider may try to remedy the situation. If at all possible, they could try to fix the problem by redoing the service to fix the problem or perhaps offering a refund. But, the service initially provided cannot be erased.
Service Marketing Requires a Different Approach
Clearly define the offering
What the service offering is all about needs to be clearly stated to help the customer make the decision if this is the right solution for them. Make sure that the right benefits are offered, to the right customers, and for the right reasons.
A good service definition is very helpful for selecting your target markets. In addition, it helps employees to understand what the firm does and for which customers.
Often, customers are active participants in the service delivery process. It is important to manage their expectations of what will be provided and to clarify what their role is. A service description can make this clear.
Unlike products, services do not offer customers visual clues about function, performance, and benefits. A good service description makes it easier for customers to understand what the service is all about, the process, the value, and the benefits.
Without this information, the customer may not understand the service well enough to be able to make the purchase decision. A service description should clearly state:
- Why the service is important
- What the service is
- How the service is provided
- Who the service is for
- Benefits of the service
Also, a service description helps customer-facing employees as well as the “behind-the-scenes” employees to understand what the service is about and their role in the process. It sets the standard and can be used as a training tool.
Marketing Mix for Services – The 7 P’s
Developing a marketing strategy for a service can build upon what we know about product marketing, but with a twist.
Traditionally, product marketers have used the well-known “4 P’s“:
In services marketing, these elements are still important. But, three more elements need to be added:
- Physical Evidence
Employees interacting directly with customers need to have the proper training, skills, tools, and attitudes to provide the service, effectively and efficiently. In addition to technical skills, they should know how to deal with people, have good communication skills, and be focused on the customer.
These hard and soft skills not only streamline the delivery process but also improve the quality and value of the service as perceived by the customer.
Another aspect is the service delivery process. Well-defined and documented processes ensure that the service is delivered in a consistent manner. This is important for efficiency as well as for service quality. Proper documentation of the service delivery process makes it easier to train employees.
Customers perceive a service where everything goes smoothly as a sign of quality.
The final “P” – physical evidence – deals with anything ‘tangible’ about your services business, such as the appearance, location, and cleanliness of your facility, the appearance of the reception area, the look and feel of your company’s website, documents produced, etc. It even applies to how your employees behave, dress, and interact with the customer as well as with each other.
Keep in mind that customers notice if your business facility is not clean, safe, well-lit, or properly maintained. Your office has to look the part and match your firm’s positioning and branding. For instance, if you want to be a high-end firm, you have to make sure that every client experience with your firm matches that image.
How to Promote a Service
Now, what does this all mean as far as promoting your services?
The inbound and outbound marketing communications that work for products apply to a service offering as well, such as the need for a compelling website, putting effort into SEO, running email campaigns, blogging, etc. However, there are some specific aspects to be aware of and pay attention to.
Here are a few thoughts:
Highlight the emotional benefits of the service
Create an emotional connection to the service by highlighting the benefits. For instance, showing how your service improves the client’s life, benefits their health, beauty, safety, financial security, legal situation, etc., will generate an emotional response.
The stronger the emotional response, the greater the perceived value in the eyes of the customer.
Also, try to make the service and the service experience more tangible in the mind of the customer by using flyers, brochures, diagrams, videos, etc., showing the process, etc., that clearly demonstrate what the service is for, how the service is delivered, the tangible benefits, etc.
Emphasize your experience and qualifications
Build confidence in you, the service provider, by highlighting your experience, training, education, and qualifications. Make the potential customer feel comfortable with your ability to do the job.
Provide proof-points of the service
Using images, videos, before and after shots, etc., you can show the end results and quality of the services offered.
Also, customer testimonials endorsing your firm can be very powerful in creating a level of trust.
Offer a free trial or money-back guarantee
If appropriate for your type of business, offering a free trial might make sense. This lets the customer experience what the full service may look like and the benefits they would receive.
Also, a compelling money-back guarantee reduces the risk to the customer and can be a strong motivator to try your service.
Offer a freemium pricing plan
If you can make it work for your business, offering a freemium pricing plan allows customers to become familiar with your basic service and the benefits at no cost. Premium features are made available only in the paid option.
Conduct demos or tours
You may also want to think about conducting demos or tours to explain what’s involved in the service, the benefits, and how it will be delivered. This can trigger a customer’s emotional connection with your firm and services. Anything with a “wow” factor is worth showing off.
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