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Service ( English service , French service ) is an intangible good that arises when an economic entity carries out a paid activity for another .


The compound service is made up of “service” and “performance”. Service (from Old High German  dionôst  'service', derived from dio 'servant' ) is the activity of a legal entity on behalf of another, performance are all objective-oriented actions of an economic entity and their result. The combination of the two results in a service when an economic entity takes on a paid activity for others that is oriented towards its own business purpose .

A service is primarily not in one's own interest, but that of the employer; According to Rudolph Bauer , the service can be voluntary or based on a legal or contractual obligation. Someone voluntarily does a service to another, possibly free of charge ( courtesy ). A paid service obligation arises for the servant or civil servant in the civil service . Other types of service are the altar boy or military service . Ancient Greece combined service ( ancient Greek διαχονεω diakonéo ; from here diakonia ) with activity on a person.

The term "service" used in the English-speaking area and in German-speaking countries as anglicism goes back to the Latin servitium for the free " slave service ". However, in the German-speaking area, the service is limited to product-related services from consumer and capital goods manufacturers , such as the delivery service , and can in no way be equated with the term service.


Economic subjects include companies , the state and its subdivisions ( public administration , state-owned companies , municipal companies ) and private households . Companies that provide exclusively or predominantly services are called service providers (such as banks , insurance industry , trading companies , transport companies , restaurants , doctors , notaries , hairdressers ), the rest are fixed providers ( primary production , automobile manufacturers , construction , plant engineering , mechanical engineering ). Public administration and public companies also only provide services in the context of services of general interest . The production activity of public budgets consists of purchasing goods and services from companies and using these to provide public services using their own production factors. Private households only provide services if they receive something in return and if there is no mere courtesy. Household-related services are services that are provided in a private household through gainful employment. This includes paid cleaning , tutoring or translation services . Many employable people are employees or civil servants ; they provide services as part of their employment relationships .


The Roman law knew the services of free laborers and craftsmen ( Latin locatio conductio operarum ), but most services were of slaves provided that were its owners as a cause for their services a thing rent was collected from customers ( Latin locatio conductio rei ). The person obliged to serve ( Latin locator ) had to perform his service properly to the employer ( Latin conductor ) and received remuneration ( Latin merces ) for this. The right to services was considered a real right ( Latin res operae servorum ) to be able to benefit from the work of foreign slaves. Services of doctors or teachers with intellectual achievements ( Latin operae liberales ) were carried out on the basis of an order ( Latin mandatum ) without remuneration. Even here, “being a servant” ( Latin servire ) included submission to unpaid slave service ( Latin servitum ).

In the Middle Ages broke servant , maid and servant from the former slaves. The servants performed manual and tension services in exchange for goods or wages . The verb “serve” underwent a change in meaning at that time, because “serviceable” in the sense of “useful” did not appear until the 16th century. The social relationship between rulership and servants linked the workplace with humiliation , degradation and degradation . "Serving" is a "lordly personal superiority and subordination relationship between people in different social positions". The service personnel now worked as workers or employees in companies or as civil servants in the public service for the employer , always connected with a superior and subordinate relationship. The “merit” advanced to a value acquired through activity.

The General Prussian Land Law (APL) of June 1794 contained a type of contract through which "things are promised against actions or actions against actions" (I 11, § 869 ff. APL). The ADHGB of May 1861, which was derived from this, was not generally dedicated to service, but dealt with service-oriented special forms. It included the employment relationship of the clerks (Art. 57 to 65 ADHGB). At that time there would have been no material production without services . In the 19th century, functionally necessary services such as transport or banking emerged synchronously with industrialization , because the goods produced required transport, payment and financing .

The economist Nassau William Senior said in 1854 that products are divided into services and goods ( english products are devided into Services and Commodities ). In 1953, the business economist Erich Gutenberg rejected the application of the term production to services, which solidified the doctrine by 1969 that material goods were produced and services were "provided". It can be assumed that Gutenberg wanted to limit his knowledge , but did not consciously deny the manufacturing process of services. The area of ​​services gained in importance, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries, and is now one of the main areas of our economy.

The German Civil Code (BGB), which came into force in January 1900, takes into account, in addition to the service contract , work contract and order (including agency ), some special forms ( broker , custody ). Others were added later ( travel contract in May 1979, payment services in October 2009, treatment contract in February 2013), but without even remotely covering the existing diversity of everyday life. Certain commercial services received in - simultaneously entered into force - Commercial Law a special position (eg sales representatives , commission agent , forwarder , freight business or storage ).


In the case of service companies, the focus is on the range of services, even if goods are sold at the same time, as in the catering trade . It is not just about the sale of food and drinks , but above all the related services of preparation , serving and hospitality . Therefore, the creation of a service may or may not be associated with material products . While the ice cream maker is a manufacturing company, the ice cream parlor is a service company. The distinction between the two is not always easy because production companies also offer (product-related) services and, conversely, service companies also sell products.

The distinction between service and non-cash benefits is ultimately fluid. Service components in business-to-business marketing, for example in mechanical and plant engineering, are becoming increasingly important (e.g. consulting , teleservice ). In the consumer goods industry , too , service components contribute to increased differentiation and thus to the achievement of competitive advantages (e.g. sales financing of hi-fi electronics or cars through car banks ). Last but not least, such service components can make a purchase decision and thus advance to the main component of the product .

The attempt to differentiate services from benefits in kind is therefore increasingly being abandoned. All sales objects are understood here as a service bundle, the service result of which is on the one hand more material or immaterial, the service creation process is more autonomous or integrative. Such an understanding allows a differentiated conception of the sales policy instruments.

Definition options

For a more precise definition of the service term - which is controversial in the specialist literature - there are negative definitions (according to the principle of exclusion), the enumerative definition approach (list) or characteristic definitions in which the constitutive characteristics describing the service are determined. In the context of a negative definition, services can be understood to mean all activities “that are not aimed at the direct extraction , processing or processing of material goods ”. The production of tangible goods ( goods , commodities , commodities ) represents the opposite of services. List definitions fail because the heterogeneity of the service sector and constant innovations (see financial innovations ) make an exhaustive list impossible. Characteristic definitions lead to the result that services often represent an invisible and intangible intellectual achievement, that is, they are an insubstantial good. The typical constitutive features of a service are its immateriality , fluctuations in the service quality, inseparability of service provider and service, inadequate storage and transport capability and mostly synchronicity of production and consumption of the service. This temporal coincidence of production and consumption is also called the uno-actu principle .


In business, a general distinction is made between tied and unbound services . If the production and consumption of the service are synchronized (e.g. when taking a taxi), one speaks of linked services; the taxi ride is not possible without the taxi driver. Unbound services are characterized by a temporal and spatial decoupling of production and consumption, especially for company-related services. In modern economies, the use of information technology enables production and consumption to be separated in terms of time, space and person, so that increases in productivity are possible.

Services also differ according to standardized and individual services . The latter are created for a specific individual . The characteristic of standardized services is that they are provided for a fictitious average customer. The degree of participation (degree of integration) of the customer is higher for individual services.

With regard to the provider of a service ( service provider ) one differentiates:

Personal services

Personal services (PBD) are services that are performed on or with the person, e.g. B. the services of a curative educator or a teacher . These services only come about with the participation of the customer . The customer's involvement can be more passive, as in the case of the rescue service, or more active, as in the acquisition of knowledge in a learning situation. Personal services have the following characteristics:

  • The goals are more or less negotiated between the service provider and the customer - both are on the result, i. H. involved in the intangible product. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities goes z. B. assume that a satisfactory result is only possible with common goals.
  • The processes or measures are also negotiated between the customer and the service provider - the customer must participate in the process if the goal is to be achieved. Social workers / educators speak of the client . Although the measures can be planned in detail, the implementation of the measures often depends on the customer's disposition .
  • The social relationships between the service provider and his customer are the basis for implementing measures and achieving their goals. The social roles and status of customers and service providers must be clarified.

David A. Garvin summarizes these personal service (PBD) phenomena as follows:

  • PBD are immaterial
  • PBD follow the uno actu principle
    • Consumption and production coincide
    • The service producer is part of the service, just like the service consumer
  • PBDs are heterogeneous
  • PBDs cannot be stored or transported
  • Standardization of PBDs is difficult or impossible

For the organizations and professions that provide personal services, this has consequences for their management systems:

  • The needs and problems of the customer must be assessed personally. Since the customer should contribute to the service, his resources, i. H. His abilities, options for action and the degree of his willingness to participate are assessed.
  • The future outcome, i.e. H. the goal of the service must be negotiated with the customer as much as possible and made transparent. This goal is the quality standard for the customer and the service provider. One goal is e.g. B. a certain rehabilitation or treatment success, the achievement of a school leaving certificate or a certain behavior. Motivating conversations can be a concept for this.
  • The associated measures must also be planned with the customer and be as transparent or plausible as possible so that they are motivated and able to participate.
  • The planned measures must be carried out. The service provider has a special role to play as controller and motivator, as the customer's dispositions are sometimes fragile, especially in the health, social and educational sectors. The customer is often asked to pay for the service and also to work or even suffer for the success of the service.
  • Goals and measures must be evaluated. That means:
    • The degree of target achievement, i. H. the degree of success must be determined with the customer.
    • The meaningfulness of the target achievement and the measures must be analyzed with the customer. The central question can be: “We fulfilled the plan. Was he good too? "
  • After the evaluation or intermediate evaluation, new goals and measures can be defined with the customer.

The difficulty for personal service providers, such as B. counselors , therapists or social workers , sometimes consists in the fact that they have little or no insight or influence on what the customer is actually doing or the goals and measures cannot be evaluated because the customer no longer meets the service provider. Personal service providers often deal with incomplete service processes.

Material services

In the case of factual services, the focus is not so much on the person of the service provider, but on the service as such B. Healthcare , building cleaning , freight forwarding , credit institutions , insurance , telecommunications , business software , advertising .

Original services

These are services provided by companies that exclusively or predominantly provide services and do not produce any material goods . Such service companies include B. hospitals , banks , insurance companies , telecommunications companies , advertising agencies , tour operators , freight forwarders , parcel services , cleaning companies , laundries and towing services .

The knowledge-intensive services provided by freelancers are a special case. Special features that apply to these service companies; see also Professional Service Firm .

Product-related / industry-related services

Companies that also manufacture material goods in addition to services, such as vehicle manufacturers or producers of capital goods, offer them. One also speaks of hybrid products. Industrial services are offered in addition to the physical product, that is, they are marketed in connection with the self-created physical product. Therefore, industrial services are referred to as secondary services because they represent an additional benefit for the customer. These are services that are created in direct or indirect connection with the material goods for other companies. Therefore, a service becomes economically dependent on a material asset.

After-sales services

After-sales services are after-sales services, such as spare parts supply , servicing and maintenance , modernization ( retrofit ), teleservice .

The seller endeavors to continue to look after his customers after the sale of goods in order to be able to do additional business if necessary . One tool for this is customer relationship management . The professional handling of customer service , warranty work ( complaint management ), but also the further support of the customer by the seller (sales employee) are typical tasks of after-sales management .

In the area of ​​capital goods ( B2B marketing), regular after-sales service is expected from the customer. Often a long-term business relationship only develops through intensive follow-up support. Intensive aftercare should improve customer satisfaction and customer loyalty .

Legal issues

According to the legal definition of Art. 57 TFEU , services are services outside of the movement of goods and capital, which are usually provided for a fee. In particular, according to this provision, commercial , commercial , manual and freelance activities are considered to be services. Remuneration is a consideration for an economic activity carried out with the intention of making a profit . This means that there is always a commercial activity in the case of services . If no remuneration has been agreed for a service, it is an order .

Pursuant to Article 87f (1) of the Basic Law, the federal government guarantees appropriate and sufficient services across the board in the postal and telecommunications sectors, with these services being provided as private-sector activities. This regulatory responsibility of the federal government affects the infrastructure and guarantees the constant availability of the services offered by postal service providers and telecommunications companies for everyone.

The general civil law legal basis for services is the service contract , in which, according to Section 611 of the German Civil Code (BGB), the person obliged to perform service is to provide services of all kinds for the person entitled to service against payment. It is an individual legal exchange contract between the client and the contractor for the independent or dependent performance of a service for a fee . This broad version of these regulations also includes service contracts with dependent activity ( employment contracts ), because the work performed by an employee represents a dependent service. In addition, there are service contracts with self-employment by entrepreneurs or freelancers with economic and social independence. For all services, the obligation to provide service and the obligation to pay are main contractual obligations . In case of doubt, the service must be provided personally by the service provider ( Section 613 BGB). However, this personal dependency does not apply to generic activities within the framework of freelance workers. The duty to provide services requires care when taking action, but not success , as is the case with a work contract .

Process model

Every service is part of a business process that i. d. Usually consists of several phases. In these phases, characteristic actors appear who differ from one another through specific tasks ( roles ):

  • In the initiation phase
    • the service provider who offers the (provision of) the service and
    • the service enquirer who asks for the (provision of) the service.
  • In the agreement phase (also: contract phase )
    • the service supplier ( contractor ) who receives the order to provide the service and
    • the service customer ( client ) who commissions the provision of the service.
  • In the service phase (also: implementation or operational phase)
    • the service provider who provides the service personally and
    • the service consumer who uses the service (or its result) personally or who personally benefits from the service provided. Depending on whether the consumer is designated as the beneficiary in the service contract or not, the consumption (i.e. the use of) the service takes place legitimately or unjustifiably.
  • The concept of the external factor is also located at the operational level . It refers to a person or thing that is not the property of the service provider (hence "external") and on whom the service is performed. In order for the service to be successful, support services (provision) by the client are often required (e.g. premises, work equipment, information, personal cooperation).
  • In addition, there are people or organizational units who are only indirectly involved in the provision of the service, namely through scheduling tasks (e.g. planning , control and coordination of the service provision ).
  • In the consideration phase

In reality, the roles of the service provider, supplier and provider as well as the recipient of the service are often performed by different people or organizational units, but in simple cases also by one and the same person (e.g. taxi driver). The same applies to the roles of the service requester, customer and consumer as well as the provider in return. Likewise, the roles of the external factor and the service consumer can coincide in one person.

economic aspects

The peculiarities resulting from the characteristics of services compared to the production of material goods require special consideration in the operational structure and process organization . The quality of a service can fluctuate; this is difficult to measure or evaluate ( quality management and quality control ). The inadequate storage and transportability can be countered on the one hand by a suitable capacity policy and on the other hand by observing the queuing theory (e.g. in authorities ). The inseparability of service provider and service and the synchronicity of production and consumption can be eliminated through online services (such as online banking ). In addition to the performance result of a service, the service creation process (integration of the external factor) as well as the performance potential (e.g. appearance and competence of a management consultant) gain in importance. All three so-called performance dimensions are included in the assessment of service quality.

Almost every offer from a company contains a service component, whereby the service share can be low or high. Services are very labor-intensive because the focus is on human activity and therefore the personnel costs usually have the highest share of the total costs. The market price of services is often called remuneration , fee , market interest or commission . Like goods, it includes a profit margin . In the case of public administration , full or partial cost coverage is sufficient for payment .

The sum of all goods and services produced in an economy in one year is called the gross domestic product . This economic key figure thus also includes the services provided. In the three-sector hypothesis , the economy is divided into the primary sector of raw materials production , the secondary sector of manufacturing and the tertiary sector of services. The observed trend towards the service society leads to an increasing share of the service sector in the gross domestic product at the expense of the primary and secondary sectors . The balance of services as part of the balance of payments records all export-related payment receipts and import-related payment expenditure in trade in cross-border services.


  • Manfred Bruhn, Bernd Stauss: Service marks . Gabler, Wiesbaden 2008, ISBN 3-8349-0609-3 .
  • Rudolph Bauer: Personal social services. Concept, quality and future . West German, Wiesbaden 2001, ISBN 3-531-13599-6 .
  • Rudolf Maleri, Ursula Frietzsche: Basics of service production . Springer, Berlin / Heidelberg 2008, ISBN 978-3-540-74058-2 .
  • Magnus Richter, Rainer Souren: On the problem of a business definition of the service term . Technical University of Ilmenau, Ilmenau 2008, ISBN 978-3-940882-09-7 .
  • Hans R. G Rück: Services in the economic theory . Deutscher Universitäts-Verlag, Wiesbaden 2000, ISBN 3-8244-7104-3 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Service  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Service  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

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  3. ^ Heribert Meffert, Manfred Bruhn: Service Marketing. 1995, p. 27.
  4. Werner Ehrlicher (Ed.): Compendium of Economics . tape 1 , 1975, p. 22 ( limited preview in Google Book search).
  5. ^ Hartmut Häußermann, Walter Siebel: Service companies. 1995, p. 25 f.
  6. ^ Heinrich Honsell: Roman law . 2010, p. 144 ( limited preview in Google Book search).
  7. ^ Friedemann W. Nerdinger: To the psychology of the service. 1994, p. 35.
  8. ^ Rudolph Bauer: Personal social services. 2001, p. 55.
  9. Michael Knoll, Britta Oertel (Ed.): Services for the energy-efficient city . 2012, p. 4 ( limited preview in Google Book Search).
  10. Michael Knoll, Britta Oertel (Ed.): Services for the energy-efficient city. 2012, p. 4.
  11. ^ Nassau William Senior: Political Economy. 1854, pp. 51-53.
  12. Erich Gutenberg: Basics of business administration: The production. 1953, p. 328.
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  14. Philip Kotler: Basics of Marketing . 2011, p. 692 ( limited preview in Google Book search).
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  19. ^ Wolfgang Burr, Michael Stephan: service management. 2006, p. 19.
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  21. Philip Kotler: Basics of Marketing. 2011, p. 694.
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  26. ECJ, Case 269/86 (Humbel), Slg. 1988, 5365.
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  29. Otto Palandt , Walter Weidenhoff: BGB commentary. 73rd edition, 2014, § 611 marginal number 24.
  30. ^ Avedis Donabedian: The Definition of Quality and Approaches to Its Assessment. Explorations in Quality Assessment and Monitoring. Volume I, Ann Arbor, 1980.
  31. Philip Kotler, Basics of Marketing , 2011, p. 692.