If you sell services, your approach to marketing these services needs to be different from traditional product marketing.
Services marketing is different from product marketing because services and products are fundamentally distinct.
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 simple terms, you can touch a product, perhaps hold it in your hand.
In contrast, a service offering has no physical size, shape, color, or weight. In other words, services are intangible. You can experience a service or see the outcome, but the service itself cannot be touched or put in a box.
Services are performed, not produced
The essence of a service offering is an activity performed by one or more people. Tools and equipment may be used, but someone’s personal activity is essential.
Although tangible objects may be part of the service provided, it’s the intangible component that the customer is really buying.
For instance, car repair involves the parts and supplies needed to fix the car, yet the repair process itself is intangible. What the customer is really buying are the mechanic’s time, skills, and experience.
Similarly, a lawyer may produce a business contract, a will, or some other legal document, or they could represent their client in court. The intangible service involves their knowledge of the law, the creation of the legal document, and arguing for their client in court.
Services are delivered and consumed at the same time
Typically, delivery, distribution, and consumption of a service all happen more or less at the same time. There is no clear distinction between these stages, nor is there typically a time delay.
And, while there may be scheduling or capacity problems as a result, the simultaneous delivery and consumption provide the benefit that a service offering is always “fresh”. Although the benefits of the service performed may degrade over time, at the time of delivery the service is always “new”.
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 are highly customized
In most cases, the service offering is tailored to a specific customer and their needs. Unlike products that are usually produced in volume to a common standard, services are not ‘cookie-cutter’, standard solutions.
For instance, legal advice, getting a haircut, and lawn care services, just to name a few, are customized to meet the customer’s situation.
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.
Service delivery is highly dependent on people
The quality of a service offering depends on the skills, training, experience, and attitudes of the service providers. Lawyers, doctors, hairstylists, car mechanics, etc., they all need to have the right skills, training, and tools to do their job properly.
Often, the customer is a direct participant in the process. For example, you cannot have a medical procedure done without being present. A lawyer cannot work on a case if the client does not provide documents and other input. The customer’s ability and willingness to play their role in creating the service has a direct impact on the outcome.
How to Approach Services Marketing
With these differences between services and products in mind, developing a marketing plan for services requires a different approach than what you would do for product marketing.
Clearly define the service offering
First of all, make sure that the right benefits are offered, to the right customers, and for the right reasons. When you’re developing a service offering, 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 is very helpful for selecting your target markets and communicating with employees what your firm does and who the customers are.
Marketing Mix for Services
Traditionally, marketers have used the classic marketing mix of the well-known “4 P’s” (Product, Place, Price, and Promotion). These elements are still important in developing a services marketing strategy. But, three more elements need to be added: People, Process, and Physical Evidence.
Together, these are the “7 P’s” of the marketing mix for services.
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.
Customers perceive a service where everything goes smoothly as a sign of quality. Also, proper documentation of the service delivery process makes it easier to train employees.
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 the facility looks the part. When they engage with your firm, customers have certain initial expectations that need to be met. Make sure you do.
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 as well as “behind-the-scenes” employees to understand the details of what the service is about and what their role is 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 be reluctant to buy. 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:
Make the service more visible in the mind of the customer
Make the service and the service experience more tangible in the mind of the customer by using flyers, brochures, diagrams, videos showing the process, etc., that clearly demonstrate what the service is for, how the service is delivered, the tangible benefits, etc.
Highlight the emotional benefits
Create an emotional connection to the service by highlighting the benefits. For instance, showing how your service benefits the client’s health, beauty, safety, financial security, resolved legal situation, etc., will generate an emotional response.
The stronger the emotional response, the greater the perceived value in the eyes of the customer.
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.