Most people have heard of widgets, hypothetical thingamajigs manufactured and sold to hypothetical customers of hypothetical businesses. They are often used in exam questions in business courses such as accounting, economics and even more often in marketing classes. However, the study of marketing has evolved from discussion of selling mere widgets.
It could be argued that marketing is not only about selling manufactured things, like widgets, but rather providing a service to customers. In their 2004 paper, Stephen Vargo and Robert Lusch describe this concept nicely when they say:1
“…times have changed. The focus is shifting away from tangibles and towards intangibles, such as skills, information, and knowledge, and towards interactivity and connectivity and ongoing relationships.”
So what does this migration away from manufactured objects and towards services mean for the business manager?
Managing the Myths
If you’re looking to understand why everything you offer is a service, it’s important to consider four aspects of what you’re marketing. Again, borrowing somewhat from Stephen and Robert:2
be mindful of your customers’ perception of your service
Even tangible objects that you sell have an element of service to them. A more obvious example is a smart phone (a physical object) with a subscription to phone and internet services. It is important to examine everything you have on offer and try to understand the service it provides and how it can better meet your customer needs.
Customer’s perceptions play a large part in how they evaluate what you have on offer. This is because service levels can vary a great deal more than the physical dimensions of quality-controlled, manufactured widgets. As a business manager, you need to be mindful of your customers’ perception of your service and make the most out of the opportunity to customise your service to match individual customers’ needs.
You don’t necessarily need to be there for the customer to provide a service. There are countless opportunities to add and enhance the service component of what you’re offering customers. One of the best examples of this is making information about the support that you provide to customers pre- and post-purchase available on online.
Services, like objects, can fail, they can become less fashionable, they can be replicated. It is essential that you continuously improve and innovate your services. It is vital that you ensure you understand the needs of your customers and look at new and more effective ways to meet their needs.
No one just makes widgets anymore; if there is a physical object to be offered at all, it is entwined with a service of one kind or another. A lucid manager understands how to make the best advantage of the service aspect of what they offer to customers and understands that a widget is merely a tangible and small part of the service being offered.