Marketing services is all about promoting value. Web designers, consultants, plumbers, dentists, doctors, lawyers, and a host of other professionals make their money by providing people-based services.
Selling a service is very different from selling a product. A service is a form of a relationship, and providing value in a service is a more abstract concept. When marketing services, a service provider must consider four unique characteristics: intangibility, inseparability, variability, and perishability. Differentiating your service will go a long way towards making you stand out among the competition.
Today, we’ll discuss the first of these characteristics: intangibility. In the upcoming installments of this series, we will discuss inseparability, variability, and perishability.
What is intangibility?
In marketing services, intangibility means the inability of a consumer to preassess the value of using a service. Unlike a physical product, a service cannot be seen, tasted, felt, heard, or smelled prior to its purchase. This makes it hard to evaluate its quality. You can’t “kick the tires” in a service. For example, if you’re about to undergo dental surgery, you cannot see what the final result will be before you commit yourself to sitting down in that chair. Similarly, when engaging a lawyer, you don’t know how successful they will be in pleading your case.
To reduce the risk of making the wrong decision, buyers will look for “clues” of service quality. Absent any physical characteristics in the service itself, they draw conclusions from what they can see that’s associated with the service. They’ll look at factors such as the place (location), the people (employees, or even other customers), equipment (think of a gym), communications (signage), and, of course, price. It’s up to the service provider to make tangible what is, in fact, intangible. In other words, you need to offer evidence of quality.
What you can do about it
Buying a service is an inherently risky proposition for a consumer. They always perceive pitfalls in the purchase. But if you provide the customer with adequate proof of quality, you can increase the likelihood that they will make a purchase.
You do this by providing positive responses to what the aforementioned consumer is looking for: convenient and clean locations; friendly, efficient, and helpful employees; the right price; quality equipment; clean uniforms; testimonials, where possible; etc., depending on the nature of your business.
You probably know that referrals and personal recommendations are very important in the service business. This is why the various online review sites, such as Yelp and Angie’s List, get so much attention.
To get around the limitations of intangibility, encourage reviews and provide before-and-after pictures or videos where appropriate. Make sure to have a professional-looking and easily navigable website that clearly identifies your service offerings. Include testimonials, as they speak volumes about your business’s quality. And, if possible, offer a money-back guarantee, as this will greatly reduce the risk as perceived by the customer.
The aim is to inspire confidence in the mind of your customer, so they don’t think twice about making the purchase. For all the customer “touch points,” where the customer interacts with your brand — be it online or in your location — you want to portray your business as offering a quality service.
Taken together, acting on these recommendations will allow you to present your business to the world as a reputable firm. And this is where the differentiation comes into play: it will make you stand apart from the competition. If the customer ends up liking your service, you’ll have a good chance of gaining their repeat business, because consumers will hesitate to look for a new service provider if they’ve found one they already like. It may be too risky for them to do so.