Services being intangible, customers often rely on tangible cues, or physical evidence, to evaluate the service before its purchase and to assess their satisfaction with the service during and after consumption. General elements of physical evidence are shown in Table 9.1. They include all aspects of the organization’s physical facility (the services cape) as well as other forms of tangible communication.
Elements of the services cape that affect customers include both exterior attributes (such as parking, landscape) and interior attributes (such as design, layout, equipment, and decor). Physical evidence examples from different service contexts are given in Table 9.2. It is apparent that some services communicate heavily through physical evidence (e.g. hospitals, resorts, child care), while others provide limited physical evidence (e.g. insurance, express mail).
Role of service evidence:
A distinction is made in services marketing between two kinds of physical evidence:
(a) Peripheral evidence
(b) Essential evidence
(a) Peripheral Evidence:
Peripheral evidence is actually possessed as part of the purchase of a service. It has however little or no independent value. Thus a bank cheque book is of no value unless backed by the funds transfer and storage service it represents.
An admission ticket for a cinema equally has no independent value. It merely confirms the service. It is not a surrogate for it. Peripheral evidence ‘adds to’ the value of essential evidence only as far as the customer values these symbols of service.
The hotel rooms of many large international hotel groups contain much peripheral evidence like directories, town guides, pens, notepads, welcome gifts, drink packs, soaps and so on. These representations of service must be designed and developed with customer needs in mind. They often provide an important set of complementary items to the essential core service sought by customers.
(b) Essential Evidence:
Essential evidence, unlike peripheral evidence, cannot be possessed by the customer. Nevertheless essential evidence may be so important in its influence on service purchase it may be considered as an element in its own right. The overall appearance and layout of a hotel; the ‘feel’ of a bank branch; the type of vehicle rented by a car rental company; the type of aircraft used by a carrier are all examples of physical evidence.
Managing the Evidence:
Service organizations with competing service products may use physical evidence to differentiate their service products in the marketplace and give their service products a competitive advantage. A physical product like a car or a camera can be augmented through the use of both tangible and intangible elements.
A car can be given additional tangible features like a sliding roof or stereophonic radio equipment; a camera can be given additional tangible features like control devices which enable use in a wide variety of light conditions.
A car may be sold with a long life antirust warranty or cost- free service for the first year of ownership; a camera with a long-life warranty or free lens insurance. Tangible and intangible elements may be used to augment the essential product offer. In fact organizations marketing tangible dominant products frequently use intangible, abstract elements as part of their communications strategy.
Service marketing organizations also try to use tangible clues to strengthen the meaning of their intangible products.
Make the Service more Tangible:
The bank credit card is an example of the tangible representation of the service, ‘credit’. The use of a credit card means:
(a) The service can be separated from the seller;
(b) Intermediaries can be used in distribution thereby expanding the geographic area in which the service marketer can operate;
(c) The service product of one bank can be differentiated from the service product of another bank (e.g. through colour, graphics and brand names like Visa).
(d) The card acts as a symbol of status as well as providing a line of credit.
Make the Service Easier to Grasp Mentally:
There are two ways in which a service can be made easier to grasp mentally.
(a) Associate the service with a tangible object which is more easily perceived by the customer.
This approach may be used in advertising messages where the intangible nature of service is transferred into tangible objects representing that service. These may have more significance and meaning for customers. It is easier for the customer to grasp what their service means compared with competitors.
With this approach it is obviously vital to:
(a) Use tangible objects that are considered important by the customer and which are sought as part of the service. Using objects that customers do not value may be counter-productive.
(b) Ensure that the ‘promise’ implied by these tangible objects in fact is delivered when the service is used. That is, the quality of the goods must live up to the reputation implied by the promise.
If these conditions are not met, then incorrect, meaningless and damaging associations can be created.
(b) Focus on the Buyer-seller Relationship:
This approach focuses on the relationship between the buyer and the seller. The customer is encouraged to identify with a person or group of people in the service organization instead of the intangible services themselves.
Advertising agencies use account executives; market research agencies assemble client teams; the Bank uses ‘personal’ bankers. All encourage a focus on people performing services rather than upon the services themselves.
However before a service organisation can translate intangibles into more concrete clues it must ensure that it:
(a) Knows precisely its target audience and the effect being sought by the use of such devices.
(b) Has defined the unique selling points which should be incorporated into the service and which meet the needs of the target market.