The dual role of services: selling physical goods and intangibles


The services aspect of business can never be ignored. It touches the soul of an individual. Every customer wants care and attention. It is that part of selling which cannot be touched or felt, yet leaves a remarkable experience with the customer. The American Marketing Association defines services marketing as “activities, benefits and satisfactions which are offered for sale or are provided in connection with the sale of goods”.

Selling is an act – and just as a stage performer performs his or her role like the original personality to the admiration of his audience, the salesperson in selling to the customer must dramatise his activity in such a way that is so appealing to his or her buyer. Selling is also an activity – because there is a physical exchange of money, goods, communication and, of course, body-language or gestures.

Selling also provides benefits because, ideally, a serious customer would never buy anything that he doesn’t need. Therefore, what he buys must bring him some benefit or reward. ‘Benefit’ is how useful the service is to the customer. For instance, a customer who buys an Internet service expects to benefit from speed in terms of how fast he is able to browse when he establishes a connection.

‘Reliability’ in terms of twenty-four-hour availability of the service devoid of temporary or periodic breaks in Internet link supply. The client also expects to benefit from dedicated customer service personnel empowered with the best service skills, delivered with such professionalism and excellence. A client who hires hotel accommodation – apart from the rest, comfort and interior décor benefits – also expects to benefit from room service, whereby the room attendant must always be at his beck and call.

Besides all these, the client must be satisfied with the service that is delivered. In another expression, ‘satisfaction’ is how pleased or happy the client is with the service that is offered. So, the customer must have no questions about usage of the Internet service. He should have enjoyed speed from the link and his browsing session. He should have liked the way and manner customer service personnel went about his grievances, and be duly delighted and fascinated with client support services. The client who hired the hotel room should have been satisfied with the room temperature, atmosphere and human services; such that it leaves a lasting impression on his mind and he will want to come again for better-quality treatment.

Now, the service provider must understand that once he performs his activities well, and the client can give a good testimony to the benefits of his activities, expressing modes of delight and happiness, the latter will wholeheartedly pay for the services rendered. In other words, in offering a service, the service provider must have it at the back of his mind that he must portray a good demeanour by providing excellent sales activities, benefits that are devoid of complaints, and impeccable, spotless or unblemished satisfaction. Otherwise, the merits and standards for service and rewards are tampered with because there may be an unequal exchange and either or both parties are not convinced. The purpose of service is therefore defeated.

Selling physical goods also goes with activities, benefits and satisfaction. When I buy a mobile telephone from a shop, I have fulfilled the activity of receiving a phone and paying for it. I also communicated by asking questions and clarifications, and I could have been happy or sad at the end because the sales attendant may have been irritated and dropped the phone on the counter for me to pick up. It is also a form of negative activity. In buying the mobile telephone, I should have benefitted from the colourful features and applications. At the end of the transaction, I must not regret that I bought the telephone. I must be very happy.

Investor words also described service as “a type of economic activity that is intangible, is not stored, and does not result in ownership. A service is consumed at the point of sale”.

Another phrase for ‘economic activity’ is trade exchange – exchange of money, goods and services. But in this context, it is talking about an activity that is not physical. It is referring to all the activities which are expressed in the sale of the good. The service provider or salesperson must welcome the customer to the premises or sales service counter, smiling and delighted to serve him. He must involve the customer in his choices, take feedback and accept objections, corrections and criticism joyfully. He must take the heat kindly from a difficult customer.

But in all these unpleasant moments with the customer, the service provider must not show any sign of anger and/or irritation. He must be trained to smile and maintain his composure in the midst of the heat. Service is not just the sale of a physical product that can be returned in case of faultiness, but the activity that goes with it – the service provider must be careful in his momentary relationship with the customer not to exhibit behaviour he regrets later. Once an opinion is created, it becomes difficult to change even if an apology is rendered. Sometimes, experienced client service personnel are made to call in order to apologise and empathise. This is only done in an attempt to repair the damage, but an impression has already been formed.

The customer must understand that he cannot own a service rendered to him. He can only share in the experience, and therefore has the responsibility to contribute in making it the desirous and unforgettable moment he wants it to be. He must actually cooperate with the service personnel in service delivery. Some customers can prove unnecessarily difficult because they have a special relationship with authorities of the organisation. This is not too fair because human beings are prone to errors, yet customer service personnel put themselves in a strategic position so that despite the challenges they can still deliver on the organisational promises.

On this note, it is cruel to be provoked. I reckon that if customers knew that their attitude plays a major role in the sort of service outcome they desire, they will be more than cooperative. Once service activities are delivered at a sales point, they become history. The client cannot have for the second time a service that he has already received.

The service provider must also know that he cannot have a second opportunity to deliver that same service. What does this mean? Absolute accuracy and certainty are needed to deliver an impeccable service without regrets and the wish to have it rendered again. The best a client can do is to opt out of the process for a poorly anticipated service. For a client to tell a service provider that he is no longer interested is not a crime. He’s just being proactive and it saves time, energy and money.

The other alternative is for a prudent client not to come back for a bad service. This has contributed to a lot of clients signing-off or closing accounts with particular service organisations and joining others based on referrals from colleague clients with perceived better service companies. To sustain the client’s interest and to win his confidence, therefore, the service provider must be excellent in providing the correct solution to the customer so that once it is consumed there are no regrets because it was able to solve the first need.

The writer is a marketing specialist with a degree in international marketing

Email: [email protected]/Tel: 0246334085

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