Services marketing is difficult to define

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Victoria Haynes  SN 02002158

Services marketing is difficult to define.  Grove & Fisk (1983, 1992) produced work based upon the metaphor of services as theatre.  How appropriate do you feel this metaphor is in defining services and how may it help or hinder the services marketer?

“A service is an act or performance offered by one party “A service is an act or performance offered by one party to another. Although the process may be tied to a physical product, the performance is essentially intangible and does not normally result in the ownership of any of the factors of production” (Gronroos, 2000 )

It can be difficult to define just what is meant by a service because most products we buy

contain a mixture of both goods and service elements. A meal in a restaurant contains a combination of goods elements (the food) and service elements (the manner in which the food is served). Even pure goods such as coal often contain service elements, such as the service required in transporting it from where it was produced to where a customer requires it. A contemporary definition is provided by Kotler, Armstrong, Saunders and Wong (1996); "A service is any activity or benefit that one party can offer to another which is essentially intangible and does not result in the ownership of anything. Its production may or may not be tied to a physical product".

A major contribution to an understanding of services has been made by Gershuny and Miles who made a distinction between four conceptions of the term 'service'.

 While these distinctions are useful there are other equally valid arguments by various authors, Levitt for instance distinguishes between tangibles and intangibles, Christopher suggests that the distinction is that 'service products are those which produce a series of benefits which cannot be stored'.  Wyckham however maintains that 'services are not different from products' as does Levitt " there is no such thing as service industries. There are only industries where service components are greater or less than those of other industries" (Levitt 1972). Others have pointed to the distinctiveness of services which makes the application of traditional marketing principles inappropriate.

The nature of marketing is different due to the basic characteristics of services and there are implications for the way in which they are marketed. While there may be little agreement on the definition of a service there is some common ground regarding the basic differences between a service industry and a product based industry. There are distinguishing characteristics of services that differentiate them from goods; these characteristics are often described as intangibility, inseparability, variability, perishability and the inability to own a service.

Intangibility means the service cannot be touched or viewed, so it is difficult for clients to tell in advance what they will be getting. The components of the service product cannot be analyzed as easily as a manufactured good.

The inseparability of production and consumption means that a service is produced and consumed at the same time for example during an online search, or a legal consultation.

This particular aspect of services places a great deal of emphasis upon the individual member of staff dealing with the customer. TGI Friday provide financial incentives as a way of encouraging staff to sell and establish a rapport with the customer.

 Customers want a specific type of service and they expect the service to be provided in a specific way by a specific individual and to be of a specific quality. Service quality is not homogenous and hence there is variation between service providers, this is most evident in services that are people-based. 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. Services are usually designed around the specific requirements of the customer.

 Service providers can not store unused capacity for future use so the service is perishable, for example, spare seats on an 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. This creates massive problems when demand fluctuates, as expensive capital asset and staff costs must still be met.

The inability to own a service is related to the characteristics of intangibility and perishability. When a service is performed, no ownership is transferred from the seller to the buyer. The buyer is merely buying the right to a service process such as the use of a car park.

Customer contact comprises the necessary interaction between the service provider and the customer, consequently this varies depending on the service. The characteristics of services require that marketers consider additional issues when it comes to the four major marketing mix variables product, distribution, promotion, and price. There has been the extension of the marketing mix from the classical product, price, place (channel) and promotion “4Ps” to include at least people, physical evidence (ambience) and process.(Booms and Bitner 1981)

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Marketing is not a science hence there is no single correct definition or approach to undertaking marketing. The definition of services marketing is especially complicated mainly due to the input of intangibility, inseparability, variability, perishability and the inability to own a service. As discussed these factors complicate the services marketing process and making it difficult to define as each service, customer and service experience can be unique and individual.

In addition in order to define services marketing the service would have to be defined as pure and in reality most products which we buy are a combination of ...

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