A service is an act of labour or a performance that does not produce a tangible commodity and does not result in the customer’s ownership of anything. Its production may or may not be tied to a physical product. Thus, there are pure services that involve no tangible product (as with psychotherapy), tangible goods with accompanying services (such as a computer software package with free software support), and hybrid product-services that consist of parts of each (for instance, restaurants are usually patronized for both their food and their service).
Services can be distinguished from products because they are intangible, inseparable from the production process, variable, and perishable. Services are intangible because they can often not be seen, tasted, felt, heard, or smelled before they are purchased. A person purchasing plastic surgery cannot see the results before the purchase, and a lawyer’s client cannot anticipate the outcome of a case before the lawyer’s work is presented in court. To reduce the uncertainty that results from this intangibility, marketers may strive to make their service tangible by emphasizing the place, people, equipment, communications, symbols, or price of the service. For example, consider the insurance slogan “You’re in good hands with Allstate.”
Services are inseparable from their production because they are typically produced and consumed simultaneously. This is not true of physical products, which are often consumed long after the product has been manufactured, inventoried, distributed, and placed in a retail store. Inseparability is especially evident in entertainment services or professional services. In many cases, inseparability limits the production of services because they are so directly tied to the individuals who perform them. This problem can be alleviated if a service provider learns to work faster or if the service expertise can be standardized and performed by a number of individuals or in some cases by software that the consumer purchases or uses online for a fee (as H&R Block, Inc., has done with its network of trained tax consultants and its tax-return software packages and online tax-return service).