Building and managing a service brand can pose challenges quite different from that of a product brand. What makes the task tougher is the fact that customers can't see or touch the services before they actually consume or purchase them.
"If service brands have to flourish profitably, people and processes in an organisation should together try to deliver 'branded customer experience'. Service brands must move away from customer transaction to customer relationship," said Hemant Sachdev, Corporate Director-Marketing, Bharti Group. He identified the need for a formal measurement and review mechanism that links itself to the overall policy and the rewards within the company. Explaining further he said, "Airtel spends large amounts on brand development, employee training and customer care, and we have a mechanism in place to formally measure the returns on such expenditures through our models like Brand Track, quarterly customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction check".
Commenting on the issue of brand loyalty in the telecommunication industry, he said, "Statistically there are three essential elements involved: network, billing process and customer care, which need to be taken care of for high brand loyalty." He made an interesting observation: that for service brands there is no simulation environment, as they are produced and consumed simultaneously. "India has all the requisite resources to be the global leader in the service industry but there is a long way to go before our service brands stand tall with the mature economies of the world," he commented about the future of service brands in India.
Sanjeev Bikhchandani, CEO, Naukari.com, observed that the branding basics are more or less the same for both service brands and product brands. He said, "The basic idea is to reflect the core value of the brand through an effectively devised communication strategy". The biggest challenge for service brands, according to him, is that there is "no product that can be showcased".
"Process standardization, strong belief in the core values of the brand and people training are ways to encounter the 'no-product' challenge of service brands," Bikhchaandani said. He is very positive about the future of service brands in India, adding that the service industry contributes substantially to the country's GDP. But his mantra for successful service branding is to give a "tangible form to a service brand, which itself is an intangible, through an effective and coherent communication strategy".
Ashutosh Khanna, VP, Grey Worldwide said, "Marketing and delivery of service brands are very critical in themselves. Every interaction between the service brand and its customers has to be unique and fulfilling". Citing the example of Barista, he said, "Service brands need to consistently deliver quality, brand promise and value for money. Advertising comes only second to these".
According to him, the key to customer retention in the service industry is "recognising your customers and building a relationship with them. Such relationships last long, very long, provided these are nurtured carefully".
Anil Syal, GM-Marketing, Safe Express Pvt. Ltd., lays emphasis on disciplined systems and procedures to give customers a wholesome service experience. "Brand positioning in the lead role with the other organizational aspects such as employees and corporate philosophy in the supporting cast are the key ingredients that make for a successful service brand," asserts Syal. Lack of global benchmarking in the service sector, he thinks, is a major area of concern. On India's prospects, he said, "India is already there and the escalating BPOs and the growing software industry is very clear evidence of our dominance. Indian service brands are close to global standards and are available at lower prices".
Developments in the service industry suggest that there are many parameters crucial to a service brand's growth but branding in the service sector is all about what you believe about your brand as much as what you say about it. And internal brand management and communication as well as external communication are equally vital to the marketing success of service brands.