June 08th 2015

Service Characteristics

In many countries, particularly within the developed west, the growth of the ‘service’ element prompted marketers the need to consider additional approaches to marketing.

In a review of 46 publications by 33 authors during the period 1963-83, Zeithaml, Parasuraman, and Berry (1985) determined that the most frequently cited service characteristics were intangibility (mentioned by all), the inseparability of production and consumption or simultaneity (cited by the great majority), heterogeneity or non-standardisation (noted by about 70%), and perishability or inability to inventory (cited by just more than half of the authors). The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM, 2008) term these principles slightly differently, intangibility, inseparability, variability and perishability. Because the CIM in the UK has become the industry standard in the marketing environment, their definitions will be used.


With services, there is no physical evidence for the consumer to judge the quality of the service they are about to receive. There is no physical product for a customer to pick up or try out or directly compare it with a similar product.


In the most part services require the direct contact of customers and service providers. This is not always the case, for instance with the development of the internet there are some aspects of services that have become automated. For instance, customers no longer have to visit a store to shop. What can be said however that the customer and the service provision are in the same place at the same time, in the case of the online store, the eCommerce site becomes the service channel?


Where the service is delivered via a person-to-person transaction we have to appreciate that people are subject to variability on both sides of the interaction, people will have different expectations. This isn’t just on a personal level. It might also change regionally or country by country. Likewise, the person delivering the service could make a difference to the perceived quality of the service.


Services cannot be stored. This is why if you have booked a service and then want to cancel you may be charged, subject to various terms and conditions of course. A half-hour dental appointment may cost £40, but if you do not turn up the dentist has now lost the revenue forever.

TMS suffers less from this problem but from an organizational point of view, it still has to manage its resources carefully. The benefactors are not paying directly for the service themselves but there is still an associative cost against supplying that person.

Although these service characteristics are still valid today and are an underlying concept to how we need to think about services they are not always applicable to all services. In fact, it is perfectly possible for some physical products to share these characteristics (Lovelock and Gummesson 2004). I believe this is the way forward, to see product and service as interchangeable, instead of focusing on the user interacting with these elements as part of a bigger journey.

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