To market services successfully, first we need to understand the nature of services. According to Wolak, Kalaftis & Harris, the characteristics of services are intangibility, inseparability, heterogeneity and perishibility.
So what are the 4 characteristics of services?
- Intangibility the service cannot be touched or viewed, so it is difficult for clients to tell in advance what they will be getting:
- Inseparability (simultaneity) of production and consumption, the service is being produced at the same time that the client is receiving it (eg during an online search, or a legal consultation)
- Heterogeneity (variability): services involve people, and people are all different. There is a strong possibility that the same enquiry would be answered slightly differently by different people (or even by the same person at different times). It is important to minimise the differences in performance (through training, standard-setting and quality assurance)
- Perishibility unused capacity cannot be stored for future use. For example, spare seats on one aeroplane cannot be transferred to the next flight, and query-free times at the reference desk cannot be saved up until there is a busy period.
Marketers also need to understand the services marketing mix framework. The services marketing mix is an extension of the 4Ps framework. The essential elements of product, promotion, price and place remain but 3 additional elements – people, physical evidence and process are included to the 7Ps mix. The need for the extension is due to the high degree of direct contact between service providers and its customers, the highly visible nature of the service process, and the simultaneity of the production and consumption. Although it is possible to discuss people, physical evidence and process within the 4P framework (for example people can be considered part of the product offering) this extension allows a more thorough analysis of the marketing elements necessary for successful services marketing.
People – because of the simultaneity of production and consumption in services the company’s staff occupy the key position in influencing customer’s perceptions of product quality. In fact the service quality is inseparable from the quality of service provider. An important marketing task is to set standards to improve quality of services provided by employees and monitor their performance. Without training and control employees tend to be variable in their performance leading to variable service quality. Training is crucial so that employees understand the appropriate forms of behaviour and trainees adopt the best practises.
Physical evidence – this is the environment in which the service is delivered and any tangible goods that facilitate the performance and communication of the service. Customers look for clues to the likely quality of a service also by inspecting the tangible evidence. For example, prospective customers may look to the design of learning materials, the appearance of facilities, staff, etc.
Process – this means procedures, mechanism and flow of activities by which a service is acquired. Process decisions radically affect how a service is delivered to customers. The service in organisations includes several processes e.g. first contact with customers, administrative procedure regarding delivery, preparation and evaluation of service offerings. The following guideline can be useful for successful services management:
- ensure that marketing happens at all levels from the marketing department to where the service is provided
- consider introducing flexibility in providing the service; when feasible customise the service to the needs of customers
- recruit high quality staff treat them well and communicate clearly to them: their attitudes and behavior are the key to service quality and differentiations
- attempt to market to existing customers to increase their use of the service, or to take up new service products
- set up a quick service recovery system to customer problems and complaints
- employ new technology to provide better services at lower costs
- use branding to clearly differentiate service offering from the competition in the minds of target customers
Due to the nature of services, potential customers will always face various forms of risks such as functional, financial, temporal, psychological, social and sensory risks. Risks can be reduced in the form of:
- provide as much information as possible
- references & testimonials
- firm"s reputation
- provide guarantees or warranties
- standardise the service
- internet search
- be visible. Give speeches, write articles, attend functions where you will meet prospective clients.
- offer the first one or two hours of service for free
- offer trial or pilot project
When marketing services, marketers must keep in mind that reputation, value, delivery of service and follow-through are keys to keeping a customer satisfied and thus achieving a successful services marketing.