A service is the intangible equivalent of a good. Service provision is often an economic activity where the buyer does not generally, except by exclusive contract, obtain exclusive ownership of the thing purchased. The benefits of such a service, if priced, are held to be self-evident in the buyers willingness to pay for it. Public services are those society pays for as a whole through taxes and other means.
By composing and orchestrating the appropriate level of resources, skill, ingenuity,and experience for effecting specific benefits for service consumers, service providers participate in an economy without the restrictions of carrying stock (inventory) or the need to concern themselves with bulky raw materials. On the other hand, their investment in expertise does require consistent service marketing and upgrading in the face of competition which has equally few physical restrictions. Many so-called services, however, require large physical structures and equipment, and consume large amounts of resources, such as transportation services and the military.
Providers of services make up the tertiary sector of the economy.
Services can be paraphrased in terms of their generic key characteristics.
Services are intangible and insubstantial: they cannot be touched, gripped, handled, looked at, smelled, tasted or heard. Thus, there is neither potential nor need for transport, storage or stocking of services. Furthermore, a service cannot be (re)sol owned d or by somebody, neither can it be turned over from the service provider to the service consumer nor returned from the service consumer to the service provider. Solely, the service delivery can be commissioned to a service provider who must generate and render the service at the distinct request of an authorized service consumer.
Services are perishable in two regards
- The service relevant resources, processes and systems are assigned for service delivery during a definite period in time. If the designated or scheduled service consumer does not request and consume the service during this period, the service cannot be performed for him. From the perspective of the service provider, this is a lost business opportunity as he cannot charge any service delivery; potentially, he can assign the resources, processes and systems to another service consumer who requests a service. Examples: The hair dresser serves another client when the scheduled starting time or time slot is over. An empty seat on a plane never can be utilized and charged after departure.
- When the service has been completely rendered to the requesting service consumer, this particular service irreversibly vanishes as it has been consumed by the service consumer. Example: the passenger has been transported to the destination and cannot be transported again to this location at this point in time.
The service provider is indispensable for service delivery as he must promptly generate and render the service to the requesting service consumer. In many cases the service delivery is executed automatically but the service provider must preparatorily assign resources and systems and actively keep up appropriate service delivery readiness and capabilities. Additionally, the service consumer is inseparable from service delivery because he is involved in it from requesting it up to consuming the rendered benefits. Examples: The service consumer must sit in the hair dresser's shop & chair or in the plane & seat; correspondingly, the hair dresser or the pilot must be in the same shop or plane, respectively, for delivering the service.
Services are rendered and consumed during the same period of time. As soon as the service consumer has requested the service (delivery), the particular service must be generated from scratch without any delay and friction and the service consumer instantaneously consumes the rendered benefits for executing his upcoming activity or task.
Each service is unique. It is one-time generated, rendered and consumed and can never be exactly repeated as the point in time, location, circumstances, conditions, current configurations and/or assigned resources are different for the next delivery, even if the same service consumer requests the same service. Many services are regarded as heterogeneous or lacking homogeneity and are typically modified for each service consumer or each new situation (consumerised). Example: The taxi service which transports the service consumer from his home to the opera is different from the taxi service which transports the same service consumer from the opera to his home - another point in time, the other direction, maybe another route, probably another taxi driver and cab.
Mass generation and delivery of services is very difficult. This can be seen as a problem of inconsistent service 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 service quality. For many services there is labor intensity as services usually involve considerable human activity, rather than a precisely determined process; exceptions include utilities. Human resource management is important. The human factor is often the key success factor in service economies. It is difficult to achieve economies of scale or gain dominant market share. There are demand fluctuations and it can be difficult to forecast demand. Demand can vary by season, time of day, business cycle, etc. There is consumer involvement as most service provision requires a high degree of interaction between service consumer and service provider. There is a customer-based relationship based on creating long-term business relationships. Accountants, attorneys, and financial advisers maintain long-term relationships with their clientes for decades. These repeat consumers refer friends and family, helping to create a client-based relationship.
Any service can be clearly, completely, consistently and concisely specified by means of the following 12 standard attributes which conform to the MECE principle (Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive)
- Service Consumer Benefits
- Service-specific Functional Parameters
- Service Delivery Point
- Service Consumer Count
- Service Delivering Readiness Times
- Service Support Times
- Service Support Languages
- Service Fulfillment Target
- Service Impairment Duration per Incident
- Service Delivering Duration
- Service Delivery Unit
- Service Delivering Price