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Here comes mass customization to the rescue. And you thought marketing your services was going to be hard....
In many of the world's advanced economies, services today account for a far greater proportion of gross national product than manufactured goods. In fact, they comprise more than 75 percent of GDP and jobs in the United States. Yet only in recent years have marketing academics, practitioners, and even service firms begun to give serious attention to the marketing of services, as distinct from products. Service marketing is generally considered more difficult, complex, and onerous because of the problems created by unique service characteristics.
The 1990s, however, have seen the emergence of a phenomenon we believe will dramatically change this received wisdom forever: the World Wide Web. Most service problems really don't matter on the Web; services are no longer unmanageably different. Cyberservice not only overcomes previously conceived limitations of service marketing, it creates hitherto undreamed of opportunities for the marketers.
The Web is best thought of as a platform that rides on the Internet - a hypermedia information storage system that links computer-based resources around the world. Browser software, such as Netscape's Navigator or Microsoft's Explorer, allows highlighted words or icons, called hyperlinks, to display a multitude of media, including text, video, graphics, and sound, on a local computer monitor - no matter where the source is physically located. The Web has introduced a much broader audience to the Internet, and allows any organization or individual to have a 24-hour-a-day presence there. Marketers can provide full-color virtual catalogs, on-screen order forms, and online customer support. They can announce and even distribute certain products and services easily, then elicit customer feedback. The medium is unique because the customer generally has to find the marketer rather than vice versa, much more so than is the case with most other media.
Initial presence on the Web is relatively easy and inexpensive to establish. Any organization that has a Web presence is international by definition, whether it chooses to trade globally or not. Compared to other media, the Web provides a more or less level playing field for all participants; access opportunities are essentially equal for all players, regardless of size. No individual or business has a better right to establish a place on the Web than others, so voice share is essentially uniform. No player can be drowned out; it is difficult, if not impossible, to shout louder on the Web. Presence cannot be achieved by purchasing limited physical space in newspapers or magazines, or buying time on radio or TV.
Service, says Kotler (1988), is "any act or performance that one party can offer to another that is essentially intangible and does not result in the ownership of anything. Its production may or may not be tied to a physical product." What makes services different from products? What unique characteristics do they possess that products do not? Here are four of them:
How does the Web handle these differences? Cyberservice overcomes many of the traditional problems of service marketing by giving the marketer unprecedented control over the previously capricious characteristics of services. As an interactive medium, the Web combines the best of mass production (based on the manufacture of products) and customization (typically found in services). The ultimate tool for mass customizing, it can treat millions of customers as though each were unique. Innovative firms find a number of ways to use their Web sites to manage the difficulties traditionally associated with service marketing.
Unlike products, services are performances or experiences that are intangible or impalpable; they cannot be seen, held, or touched. The main problem this creates for service marketers is that there is nothing to "show" the customer. Experience and credence qualities are crucial.
Service marketers have to make sure their customers know the services exist. To do so, they can use the Web to provide abundant evidence of the services that are available, "tangibilize" the intangible, offer samples in cyberspace, and multiply memories for the customer.
Giving customers evidence of what they will get when purchasing a service has long been a stratagem employed by successful service marketers. McDonald's emphasizes its commitment to cleanliness not only by maintaining clean restaurants but by having employees constantly cleaning. Cyberservice puts evidence management into overdrive. The Royal Automobile Club (RAC) enables users to enroll for …