"Wow! That was great service!" In your gut, you know what the statement means. Unfortunately, no two people will have exactly the same definition. Your idea of what makes wonderful service is determined as much by your age, income, education and upbringing as the actual service experience itself. This ephemeral and elusive nature of services affects how they are marketed.
In their book "Marketing Services: Leading Through Quality", professors Leonard Berryman and A. Parasuraman explain that top-of-the-line services marketing is less about the "slick and fancy, and more old-fashioned virtues like caring and common sense." Berryman and Parasuraman contend that quality is the only real way to market services because "the performance is the product." They add that competitors will generally have an easier time copying a service marketer's concept than the service quality.
Services are, by nature, intangible, meaning they cannot be perceived by the sense of touch, and they only exist in connection with something else, as in the goodwill of a business. This intangibility of services makes defining "great service" difficult and highly subjective, especially across different demographic groups. For example, the typical Gen-Xer was not taught manners and probably would not be concerned about someone who did not say "please" and "thank you." A Baby Boomer, on the contrary, is typically irritated by such lack of social graces. Therefore, marketers have to determine and speak to the needs of each group separately.
Difficulty of Standardization
Because services are provided by people, and not by machines, variances in the level, quality, duration and intensity of service output occur. Judgments have to be made when providing a service. These judgments lead to a lack of standardization in the service delivery. For example, even if every employee in a call center receives identical training, some will spend more time answering the customers' questions and working to resolve problems. Additionally, each service employee has his own idea of what makes excellent service.
Purchase and Consumption Combined
With the exception of prepays and annual memberships, once a service is purchased, it is also consumed. The perishable nature of services means that relationship marketing becomes of utmost importance. Otherwise, a client can decide to use a different service provider after a less than satisfactory experience. The quality of the experience is the focus for marketers. Insurance agents and realtors focus on being trustworthy good neighbors. And, a 2001 study in the Journal of Family Practice entitled "Physician Behaviors that Predict Patient Trust" found that relationship strength between doctor and patient was the primary determinant of patient loyalty to their primary care provider.
- Marketing Profs; Four Factors That Distinguish Services Marketing; Cynthia Coldren; January 2006
- "Marketing Services: Competing Through Quality"; Leonard L. Berry et al.; 1991
- Dictionary.com: Intangibility
- "The Journal of Family Practice"; Physician Behaviors that Predict Patient Trust; David H. Thom, MD, PhD et. al; January 2001
- The University of Queensland; Demographic Differences in Perceived Service Quality Across Active and Passive Contact Services; Cheryl Ganesan-Lim.; 2004
- Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images