Characteristics of Services: What is a Service – And what makes it so special?

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What is a service, and what distinguishes a service from a product? We will go into the various special service characteristics.

Definition of Service

What is a service? Services are a special form of product which consists of activities, benefits or satisfactions offered for sale that are intangible and do not result in the ownership of anything.

Service - Characteristics of Services
Service – Characteristics of Services

Importance of Services for the World Economy

Without doubt, services have grown dramatically in recent years, and are growing quickly in the world economy, becoming more and more important. Today, they make up already more than 65% of the gross world product (read more at CIA World Factbook). In the developed countries, the service sector contributes more to economic growth than any other.

However, service is not service. That is, service industries vary greatly. Not only companies do offer services, but also governments and non-profit organisations. However, all services have certain characteristics in common: the characteristics of services.

Characteristics of Services
Characteristics of Services

Characteristics of Services

In the following, we will go into the most relevant characteristics of services. Characteristics of services apply universally to any service. The most important characteristics of services are:

  • Lack of ownership
  • Intangibility
  • Inseparability
  • Variability
  • Perishability
  • User participation

Lack of Ownership – Characteristics of Services

Lack of ownership may be one of the most obvious ones of the characteristics of service. It refers to the fact that you cannot own and store a service like you can a product. This characteristic is strongly linked to several other characteristics of services, such as intangibility, perishability, inseparability.

Intangibility – Characteristics of Services

When thinking about the characteristics of services, intangibility may come to your mind first. Service intangibility means that services cannot be seen, tasted, felt, heard or smelled before they are bought. You cannot try them out. For instance, airline passengers have nothing but a ticket and a promise that they will arrive at a certain time at a certain destination. But there is nothing that can be touched.

Inseparability – Characteristics of Services

Characteristics of services include inseparability, which means that services are produced and consumed at the same time. This also entails that services cannot be separated from their providers. Contrary to services, physical goods are produced, then stored, later sold, and even later consumed. Services are first sold, then produced and consumed at exactly the same time. A product can, after production, be taken away from the producer. However, a service is produced at or near the point of purchase. For instance, when visiting a restaurant, you order your meal, the waiting and delivery of the meal, the service provided by the waiter/ress etc. All these parts, including the providers, are part of the service and therefore inseparable. In services marketing, a service provider is the product.

Variability – Characteristics of Services

Variability does also belong to the important characteristics of services. It refers to the fact that the quality of services can vary greatly, depending on who provides them and when, where and how. Because of the labour-intensive nature of services, there is a great deal of difference in the quality of service provided by various providers, or even by the same providers at different times.

Perishability – Characteristics of Services

Perishability means that services cannot be stored for later sale or use. In other words, services cannot be inventoried. This is one of the most significant characteristics of services, since it may have a major impact on financial results. Doctors or dentists often charge patients for missed appointments because the service value has foregone. The value existed only at that particular point and disappeared when the patient did not come. When demand is steady, the perishability of services is not a problem. However, in case of fluctuating demand, service firms can have difficult problems. For this reason, transport companies own much more equipment than they would if demand were even throughout the day: the demand during rush-hours needs to be served at that specific time, it cannot be served later or earlier. Consequently, service companies use various techniques for creating a better match between demand and supply: Demand shifting.

User participation – Characteristics of Services

Finally, the characteristics of services include user participation. Indeed, users participate in every service production. Even when the user is not required to be at a location where the service is performed, users participate in every service production. A service cannot be separated from its provider, but neither can it be separated from its user.