In economics and marketing, a service is the non-material equivalent of a good. Service provision has been defined as an economic activity that does not result in ownership, and this is what differentiates it from providing physical goods. It is claimed to be a process that creates benefits by facilitating either a change in customers, a change in their physical possessions, or a change in their intangible assets.
Services can be described in terms of their main attributes.
- Intangibility - They cannot be seen, handled, smelled, etc. There is no need for storage. Because services are difficult to conceptualize, marketing them requires creative visualization to effectively evoke a concrete image in the customer's mind. From the customer's point of view, this attribute makes it difficult to evaluate or compare services prior to experiencing the service.
- Perishability - Unsold service time is "lost", that is, it cannot be regained. It is a lost economic opportunity. For example a doctor that is booked for only two hours a day cannot later work those hours— she has lost her economic opportunity. Other service examples are airplane seats (once the plane departs, those empty seats cannot be sold), and theatre seats (sales end at a certain point).
- Lack of transportability - Services must be consumed at the point of "production".
- Lack of homogeneity - Services are typically modified for each client or each new situation (customised). Mass production of services is very difficult. This can be seen as a problem of inconsistent quality. Both inputs and outputs to the processes involved providing services are highly variable, as are the relationships between these processes, making it difficult to maintain consistent quality.
- Labour intensity - Services usually involve considerable human activity, rather than precisely determined process. Human resource management is important. The human factor is often the key success factor in service industries. It is difficult to achieve economies of scale or gain dominant market share.
- Demand fluctuations - It is very difficult to estimate demand. Demand can vary by season, time of day, business cycle, etc.
- Buyer involvement - Most service provision requires a high degree of interaction between client and service provider.
Contunued in Wikipedia on service...