Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Do Customers Separate Product From Service?

Do customers separate product from service? Most people I talk to feel product and service are equivocal. However, I beg to differ. I feel that customers do distinguish between product and service.

I see a product as something that meets my needs. For example, I may purchase a Snickers because I'm hungry and want a nice mid-afternoon snack. Snickers really satisfies! Therefore, I find myself full and not hungry. Hence, I am satisfied with the product since my need has been met.

Customers realize they have an issue with a product when their needs are not met. For instance, a credit card holder may feel their needs are not met if their APR is too high or they are continuously charged an annual fee despite being a long time cardholder. It is at this point when a customer sees a problem with the credit card (product) they are using.

Now it is possible for a product issue to be confused with a service issue. In fact, most people feel they are one in the same. A bad product equals bad service and vice versa, supposedly. However, product issues and service issues are distinguishable. It is important to note that product issues (i.e. candy bar has a bad taste) may be worsened by bad service (i.e. inability to contact a representative to handle the situation). This is due to the fact that many people expect to get through to a representative quickly.

Unfortunately, level of service is something that is set by a customers expectations, not a companies evaluation of its ability to handle claims efficiently. Everyone has their own perception of what they deem to be good service. This may be why it is so hard for companies to meet the needs of so many consumers.

Servicing issues occur for many reasons. Now, I don't mean to keep going back to credit cards, but they are a great example for my case that product and service are different. Many customers call the bank issuing their card to have fees removed (late once - shame on me, late twice - shame on you). Customers who expect the fees to be removed find themselves dissappointed when they are told that the fees cannot be removed. This is due to their expectations about what should've happened.

To sum things up, I have included the following.

Product = Needs
Service = Expectations

Failure to meet a customers needs is a product issue.
Failure to meet a customers expectations results in a service issue.

Therefore, any company looking to get my dollar will have to meet my needs and expectations. Will you hold companies to the same standard going forward?

Anyway, I've put my two cents in on this interesting topic. I feel taking a deeper dive into this topic may prove very beneficial. Unfortunately, its 3:29 AM and I'm tired. Also, I'm just a recent college graduate who thinks he's found the holy grail for problem resolution between businesses and their customers. I have much to learn about this topic. However, it is very important in the world of Sales and Marketing. We live in an age where customers are always looking for a win-win situation with businesses (i.e. I forgot to read the fine print when I signed the contract. Is there something we can do about this since I'm unhappy with my decision?) In contrast, businesses are looking for ways to make a profit (i.e. You should've read the fine print. That's what its there for!). Obviously, customers have a lot to learn and so does business.

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