There are several things that an e-commerce business can do to sell services using web technology and smart marketing acumen. Special care should be made to make services feel like products to the customer, to make the service seem tangible. They can do this through humanizing the service, bundling services, and giving the client a rich online experience that gains their trust while convincing the customer of the story or promise behind the service. Allowing customers to customize their own solutions and involve customers in reducing customer errors through self-service and notifications.
Intangible Services Can Become Tangible Online
Since services are inherently intangible, it is important for companies to market their services to prospective customers in a way that ‘shows’ them what they are getting, adds value to the offer, and creates trust by making the service more tangible (Richards-Gustafson, n.d.).
E-commerce companies can make their services more tangible by bringing in testimonies, reviews, and portfolios to build trust and humanize the service, in addition to creating an emotional connection from the service to the customer (Richards-Gustafson, n.d.). An example of a service that is often humanized with an emotional connection is life insurance, reaching people at their core fears of leaving their family unable to financially survive. Liberty Mutual’s website (https://www.libertymutual.com/life-insurance) draws attention to family with its graphics and text about needing life insurance after buying a new home, when expecting a baby, or after getting married. These are all emotional events that Liberty Mutual is tying their intangible service to on their website.
E-commerce companies also turn their services into tangible products through bundling to meet the customer’s needs (Richards-Gustafson, n.d.). The services are usually bundled in a way that adds overall value. An example is purchasing voice-over-IP phone service from 8×8.com. Their X Series small business bundles (https://www.8×8.com/x-series/small-business/plans-and-pricing) give the illusion of tangibility because they are giving so much value in each package, while still giving the customer some choice over which bundle and features. Rather than selling à la carte service, 8×8 sells their service as an inclusive solution.
Web sites and apps sharing videos and pictures along with content telling the story help to make a service tangible. Psychologists say that ‘call cues’ are pieces of tangibility that a customer looks for when they cannot see a tangible product (Watson, 2008, p.86-87). The customer is looking for proof of the service and its quality. E-commerce companies can answer this need by providing the customer with a high-quality website that reflects the quality they are looking for in the service. Videos, graphics, and content should be carefully chosen and well-designed. The page should load quickly, and content needs to be updated often as well (Watson, 2008, p.86-87). Customers want to see that the service is still meeting their needs with current videos and content. An example of a cloud-based service that is sold in a business-to-business model that is marketed with a lot of tangibility is the Palo Alto Networks Prisma service (https://www.paloaltonetworks.com/prisma). Palo Alto’s site is rich with video, eBooks, demonstrations, customer stories (testimonials), whitepapers, research, blogs, and webinars. Palo Alto has made the Prisma cloud-based service into something that seems very tangible.
Customization of Services Online
Services sold by e-commerce businesses are increasingly customizable. It is easy to build a form that allows the customer to pick a bundled solution and any add-ons, as well as build their own custom solution from scratch. Cloud hosting providers such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon AWS, and Google Cloud Platform allow customers to bolt together their own custom solution easily. If they want to add a database, a web service, a firewall, a load balancer, AI services, analytics capabilities, or simple storage, they can pick and choose from hundreds of services to customize. A customer can sign up and use just a small webserver, or they can build their own custom apps at the scale of Netflix (which is running on Amazon AWS). This customization process makes the service tangible to the customer who customized their own solution.
Although AWS, Google Cloud Platform, and Azure have different brands and platforms, their core services are the same. Microsoft Azure’s site (https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/) markets the ideas of “building on your terms” and they give no shortage of services (https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/services/) and resources to learn and use those services (https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/).
Even car insurance is highly customizable through online vendors. In fact, a cursory search on the web reveals that every car insurance vendor pitches their service as personalized and customizable. Liberty Mutual (https://www.libertymutual.com/auto), for example, emphasizes “Only pay for what you need” in their approach to customized and personalized auto insurance service they sell online.
Reducing Customer Errors
E-commerce businesses can sell a service by reducing customer errors. Since the customer introduces a margin of error to anything that is produced and one-third of all customer complaints are actually customer-caused, it is important to improve processes so that customer mistakes do not interfere with service delivery (Watson, 2008, p.90). Before, during, and after a sale, there are opportunities to help the customer select their service, check out correctly, and provide post-sales guidance and support for the service.
Since online self-service is the model of most e-commerce sites now, it is important to make e-commerce services and checkout processes streamlined and simple for the customer. Especially in the millennial mentality (Lonoff-Schiff, 2016), users do not want to call and talk to someone these days when they need help. They want to do a support chat or hunt through a solution knowledgebase. Users do not want to call someone for a quote. They want to go search for the service and purchase it immediately (Lonoff-Schiff, 2016). It is important for an e-commerce company to enable customers to self-service.
Service businesses can also enable customers to be in control of their order and involved in the confirmation and tracking of their orders through SMS notifications, email notifications, and in-app push notifications. A great example of this is the Dominoes Delivery Tracker. This app allows for a highly-customizable experience. After an order using the Dominoes Pizza app, a customer can watch as the pizza is being made and delivered. This engages the customer, and they often follow the order through the whole process. During the order, the app pushes notifications to the customer of any status updates. Another example of this notification is Expedia. When a customer books a trip with Expedia, they receive text message, email, and in-app notifications, reminders, and adjustments if there are any delays. Expedia reduces customer error in going to the wrong gate or the wrong baggage claim, because Expedia is giving push notifications to the customer with any status change.
In conclusion, there are several tools that an e-commerce business can use to make their intangible services seem tangible, allow customization, and reduce customer errors to enable sales of services through self-service and highly-customized order screens that are tuned to reduce errors. Although other factors of selling services online certainly exist, online companies are increasingly selling both products and services with these concepts. As companies are selling on a more one-to-one basis with the customers (or so it seems thanks to big data, A/B testing, etc), they are able to give the customer the services that they want in a bundle that they can customize, in a way that the customer can self-serve and get what they need.
Lonoff-Schiff, Jennifer. (2016). 5 ways ecommerce businesses can improve customer service. Retrieved from https://www.cio.com/article/3040119/5-ways-ecommerce-business-can-improve-customer-service.html
Richards-Gustafson, Flora. (n.d.). How to Bring Life to a Service or Intangible Product. Small Business – Chron.com. Retrieved from http://smallbusiness.chron.com/bring-life-service-intangible-product-25799.html
Watson, R.T., Berthon, P., Pitt, L. F. & Zinkham, G. M. (2008). Electronic Commerce: The Strategic Perspective. Global Text Project. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Retrieved from https://my.uopeople.edu/pluginfile.php/641203/mod_page/content/39/ElectronicCommerce.pdf