In addition to working as an analyst at RMS, I am an adjunct faculty member at the SUNY Oswego School of Business. This semester, I am teaching a section of a course called Marketing Principles. One great thing about teaching an introductory course is that it requires me to think a lot about the basics of marketing. Every week I get to take a fresh look at the foundational concepts that I had come to take for granted over the years and think about how they apply to our clients at RMS. That happened last night when I was reviewing the course textbook and came across the section that talked about a concept called the inseparability of services.

inseparability of services

Your Product is our People

Inseparability refers to the idea that in a customer’s mind, a service is essentially indistinguishable from the person providing it. This is another way of saying that the individual person we deal with to obtain a service is the service to us — or at least so significant a component of the service that they “make or break” our experience with it.  It is because of the principle of inseparability that the success of a service-based business will largely depend on the quality of its salespeople, customer service representatives or other front-line employees who deal with the customers. While this may seem like a piece of common sense so obvious that it doesn’t even bear mentioning, my experience in the market research business tells me that it actually needs to be pointed out constantly. At RMS, we see inseparability at work all the time. Consider these examples:

  • In survey research across a variety of industries, we consistently find that a customer’s satisfaction with a company overall correlates most highly with their rating of dealings they have had with a front-line person at that company. For example, a person who has been a customer at a bank for 20 years can adopt a negative view of the bank as a whole based on a bad transaction with a single teller.
  • In hospital research involving the HCAHPS® survey, a consistent finding is that patient satisfaction with a hospital is most powerfully influenced by how well those patients felt their doctors communicated with them. There is quantifiable evidence that “bedside manner” matters a great deal in perceptions about something as complex and scientific as healthcare delivery.
  • Our mystery shopping research for banks, credit unions, colleges and other organizations often uncovers how dramatically different a transaction can be evaluated based on whether the shopper felt they were treated with courtesy and respect. Oftentimes, the “attitude” of the employee, good or bad, has a more powerful impact on the evaluation than the extent to which the person provided the appropriate information or went through the right steps.

All of those cases demonstrate how inseparable a consumer’s evaluation of a service is from how they felt about the individual service provider. To many of our clients, results like this can be quite eye-opening, even surprising. Decision-makers in service-based organizations are constantly thinking about the intricacies of the services themselves – the features, the benefits, the logistics and all of the other nuts-and-bolts. Those are all important consideration, but when one is immersed in that level of detail, it’s easy to lose sight of something as basic as the importance of the one-on-one relationship that the individual service provider has with the customer.  That’s why it’s important for service-based organizations to constantly monitor the customer experience through tools like satisfaction surveys or mystery shopping. Organizations that don’t do that are missing opportunities to improve aspects of the customer experience that are inseparable from customers’ evaluation of the entire service.

If you’d like to learn more about how RMS can measure your customers’ evaluation your service or your service providers, call our Business Development Director, Sandy Baker, at 1-866-567-5422 or email her at