Services play an important role in the US economy. It’s important to realize that how you go about marketing your services should be different from the traditional approach to product marketing.
How Are Services Different?
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.
On the other hand, a service offering is intangible. A service has no physical size, shape, color, or weight. You can experience a service or see the end results, but the service itself cannot be touched or put in a box. Some characteristics of services:
- An intangible act, such as legal services, financial services, education, medical care, or consulting, just to name a few.
- An activity performed by the service provider that requires the presence and involvement of the customer. For instance, a medical procedure, a haircut, education, or fitness training. In these cases, the customer has to be present and involved in the process, in one way or another, in the delivery of the service.
- An activity applied to someone’s business, home, or other possessions. For example, lawn care, car repair, house painting, dry cleaning, or janitorial services. Although car repair involves a tangible object, the car, the repair process is intangible.
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.
There may be a tangible aspect to the service, e.g., a legal document produced by a lawyer, a house getting painted by a painting crew. But, the service itself, e.g., legal advice, the activity of painting a house, is not tangible.
Services Are Delivered, Distributed and Consumed At The Same Time
Typically, delivery, distribution, and consumption of a service all happen seamlessly and essentially 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 service outcome may degrade over time, at the time of service delivery it’s 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, or car repair.
You cannot put any of these services on a shelf, waiting for distribution and delivery to the customer at a later time.
Services Are Customized
In most cases, the service offering is tailored to a specific customer, their particular needs and situation. 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 highly customized to the customer’s specific situation and needs.
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 provider may attempt to remedy the situation, if at all possible, by redoing the services or perhaps offering a refund, but the initial activity cannot be erased.
Services Are Highly Dependent on People
The quality of a service offering depends on the skills, training, experience, and attitudes of the people providing the service. 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.
Services Marketing Is Different from Product Marketing
Given these important differences between services and products, you need to pay attention to your approach to services marketing as compared to traditional product marketing.
Creating a Service Offering
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 is the customer’s need
- Which benefits are to be provided
- How will the service be performed
- Which resources are needed
The Marketing Mix for Services
Traditionally, marketers have used the product marketing approach of the classic “4 P’s” of the marketing mix (Product, Place, Price, and Promotion), developed for products, for services as well.
These four elements are still important in developing a marketing strategy. However, for services marketing three more P’s need to be added to this marketing mix: People, Process, and Physical Evidence.
This results in the well-known “7 P’s” for the marketing mix for services.
Employees need to have the right training, skills, tools, and attitudes to provide the service, properly and efficiently. In addition to technical skills, people skills, good communication, and customer focus are important as well.
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 element of the marketing mix for services is 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.
Also, 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” of the Marketing Mix for services, Physical Evidence, deals with anything ‘tangible’ about your service operation, such as the appearance, location, and cleanliness of your facility, the appearance of your delivery vans, the quality of your letterhead, etc. It also applies to how your employees behave, dress, and interact with the customer as well as with each other.
Customers take notice if your business facility is not clean, safe, well lit, or properly maintained. Your office or store 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 expectations that need to be met. Make sure you do.
Develop a Service Description
Customers are not only the buyer but also participants in the service delivery process. Therefore, it is important to manage their expectations of what will be provided and to clarify what their role is in the process.
Every employee interacting with your customers is involved in service delivery. A service description helps those customer-facing employees to understand the details of what the service is about, what their role is, and how to interact with the customer. It sets the standard and serves as a training tool.
Unlike products, services do not provide customers with visual clues about function, performance, and benefits. A good service description helps customers 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 customer problem does it solve
- What the service is – what is performed or provided
- How the service is provided – the roles of the service provider as well as the customer in the process
- Benefits of the service – improved health, a resolved legal or financial situation, a great-looking home, etc.
- Deliverables – for instance, a legal document, a fixed car
Now, what does this all mean as far as promoting your service offering, given the differences between intangible services and tangible products? Here are a few thoughts:
Make The Service Tangible
Try to make the service and the service experience more tangible in the mind of the customer by using flyers, brochures, videos, etc., that clearly demonstrate what the service is for, how the service is delivered, the results, e.g, before and after shots.
A portfolio of previous work, if possible, can also help potential customers learn more about the services offered.
Keep in mind that the quality of your marketing material reflects on your firm and the perceived quality of the service.
Highlight The Emotional Benefits
Create a connection to the service by highlighting the emotional benefits. For instance, showing how your service benefits the client’s health, beauty, safety, financial security, etc., generates an emotional response.
The stronger the 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 qualifications 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 are very powerful in creating a level of trust.
Offer A Free Trial or Money-Back Guarantee
This does not work for every type of service, but if possible you can offer a free trial. This will let the customer experience what the full service may look like and the benefits they would receive.
A compelling money-back guarantee reduces the risk to the customer and can be a strong motivator to try your service.
Hopefully, this information gave you a better understanding of the differences between services marketing and product marketing and the marketing mix considerations. I’m looking forward to your questions and comments.