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What is Service Intangibility in Marketing?

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
This lesson goes over a concept known as service intangibility. You'll learn exactly what this is, why it can pose a problem, and numerous solutions marketers can use to overcome it.

Buying & Selling Products

When you go to any store to buy any product you can think of, you can use all of your senses in order to assess that physical product. You can see how great a TV screen is. You can hear how awesome an audio system is. You can smell how delicious that pizza is. You can touch and feel how soft those linens are.

But what about services? In this lesson, we're going to go over the concept of service intangibility, its potential problems, and example solutions in marketing.

What is Service Intangibility?

Service intangibility refers to the fact that many services lack physical attributes and thus consumers are unable to assess the value they would gain from engaging such a service with tangible evidence with respect to the possible outcomes of such a service.

Examples of service intangibility include:

  • Going to see a surgeon about your back pain. It's impossible to be sure exactly how you'll feel after the surgery for your back pain. You could feel like a new person, or you might be in worse shape.
  • Hiring a cleaner for your home. Will they do a good job or leave a bigger mess? Will they steal things from you while cleaning?
  • Going to see a movie. Will the movie theater be really nice or will your feet stick to the floor? Will the movie be worth your money and time?
  • Making a reservation at a restaurant. Will the food be really all that great? Are those online reviews mainly fake or real? Will the staff treat you well?

Problems & Solutions

Problems

You can already begin to appreciate the problems related to service intangibility. The consumer is not sure exactly what they'll be getting and how it will affect them. There is a lack of physical attributes inherent to many services and the potential outcomes thereof.

So, people have to imagine what might happen if they engage the service. That's a problem because it presents an unknown risk to the consumer. They don't know what they'll get until they pay for it with their time and/or money (or both). This can, of course, drive many consumers away.

So the problems with service intangibility can be boiled down to:

  • The person cannot touch, see, and feel the service in terms of how it will affect them. They have to imagine what might be, and this can be problematic if they imagine the wrong thing.
  • The person cannot be sure of the outcome of the service (the end result as it pertains to them specifically).
  • The person is unable to fully appreciate if that outcome will be worth their time, effort, and money with respect to engaging the service.

Solutions

So how can marketers get around the problems related to service intangibility? There are thankfully many ways, and the strategies really depend on what services you are providing.

For example, let's say you are a physician offering the prospect of having a safe surgery, for whatever medical matter. A 'safe' surgery is a service. How can you market this in a more tangible manner to a consumer? Well, how about having a very clean office space? Cleanliness and safety go hand in hand in medicine as cleanliness is associated with fewer complications stemming from pathogenic germs.

Or, what if you are in the food industry? The food industry is way more than just the product (the food). It's a service industry too! How can you sell an amazing dining experience (a service) to a consumer? What about hiring extremely polite and friendly staff?

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