For services, quality is usually (though not always) realised almost immediately – one way of defining a service (to differentiate it from a product) is “consumption at the point of production and/or supply.” That doesn’t mean there’s no opportunity for subsequent disappointment (e.g. food poisoning after a restaurant meal or a car breaking down the day after maintenance) but those cases should be exceptions.
In quality circles we often talk of products and services, sometimes putting them in the same breath, as in “products/services” as though they are synonyms for the objective of a supply. There’s a lot of overlap between the terms when it comes to delivering quality but there are also significant differences.
There can be a lot of overlap. Some arguments suggest that a product is tangible (a “thing” you can touch) whereas a service intangible. OK – so where does that put our restaurant meal – are we buying food (tangible) or the satisfaction of hunger (intangible)?
Consider hiring a rental car – is that a provision of a product (use of a car for a period) or a service? What about buying a new car? When you go to a main dealer, which is more important: the product or service? The dealer will have had no control over the car’s build quality – the best he can do is a thorough pre-delivery check. To me, it’s the service I receive from the sales team because I’ve usually decided what car I want to buy. To some, it’s not so much a car they want as a personal transport service: yes, that means driving a car away from the showroom but the dealer will have recommended it based on their needs, and it will be coming back for servicing, maintenance and repairs.
There’s a case for saying that a product is something where its quality can reasonably be verified before delivery to the customer; if you can’t do that, it’s a service. I think that’s the best definition I’ve found – but, of course, it doesn’t guarantee customer satisfaction because few verification processes will be perfect, nor can a supplier know 100% what the customer expects.
In the end, though, does it matter whether it’s a product or a service – we could use the combined term “deliverable” but, somehow, that doesn’t turn me on.