Services are not like products. As a result, services marketing is different from product marketing. The approach to marketing services is more involved and requires paying attention to additional detail.
Business services are becoming an increasingly important part of the US economy. For traditional product companies offering services can be a great way to diversify their portfolio.
First, let’s take a look at the fundamental differences between services and products.
Services are intangible
A product provides benefits to the user because of what it does, the functions it performs. A product has physical characteristics, such as shape, weight, color, texture, etc.
In contrast, a service offering has no physical size, shape, color, or weight. You can experience a service or see the outcome, but the service itself is intangible.
Services are performed, not manufactured
The essence of a service offering is an activity performed by the service provider.
Although equipment, tools, etc., may be part of the service delivery process, it’s the intangible deliverable 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 his time, knowledge, and expertise. A cell phone provider relies on cell phone towers, routers, etc., to offer their service, but what the customer is buying the ability to make calls.
Services cannot be kept in inventory
It’s impossible to create an inventory of service offerings prior to delivery. You can’t create an inventory of root canal treatments, haircuts, oil changes, or consulting projects.
You cannot put any of these services 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 done 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 or perhaps offering a refund. But, the service initially provided cannot be erased.
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How to Approach Services Marketing
With these differences between services and products in mind, developing a marketing plan for services requires a different approach.
Define the service offering
What the service entails needs to be clearly defined to help the customer understand what they’re buying. Make sure that the right benefits are offered, to the right customers, and for the right reasons. You need to think about:
- What does the service entail
- Who is the customer
- What are the customer’s needs
- Which benefits are to be provided
- How will the service be performed
- Which resources are needed
A good definition of the service offered is very helpful for selecting your target markets and making it clear to your employees what your firm does and who the customers are.
The “7 P’s” – The Marketing Mix for Services
Traditionally, marketers have used the well-known “4 P’s“: Product, Place, Price, and Promotion for product marketing. These elements are still important in developing a services marketing strategy. But, three more elements need to be added: People, Process, and Physical Evidence.
Customer-facing employees 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.
Develop a service description
Customers are often 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.
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 serves as a training tool.
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 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
- Benefits of the service
Now, what does this all mean as far as promoting your service offering? Here are a few thoughts:
Highlight the emotional benefits
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 experience and qualifications
Build confidence in you, the service provider, by drawing attention to your experience, training, education, and professional 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 present 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 business, offering a free trial might make sense. This will let 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.
I hope this post gave you some ideas for fine-tuning your firm’s services marketing.