I came across a new word the other day. Nothing unusual in that, you might say. But this was a word that immediately made me think it was quite unnecessary: servitization. Was this yet another example of word-coining from a management writer seeking attention? Possibly, but the more I looked at it, the more it seemed to chime in with a current feeling.
Was it closely related to servitude? Being in an unequal position and living at the whim of one’s masters? And servitude may be only a step away from bondage and slavery. Did servitization mean the process by which people were being put into servitude? It seemed a word that would definitely find a place, if that was its meaning, to describe some of the consequences of the financial crash of the past two years. The bank forecloses, and you lose your house: you are servitized. Your company relocates its production to China, and you lose your job: you are servitized. Or as happened to a friend of mine, a teacher of Russian; come 1989 and she’s told ‘tomorrow you teach English if you want to keep your job’: she was servitized. Yes, it seemed to be a useful word. It could capture in a single word a lot of emotion of the challenging economic times.
But then I looked it up. Apparently, it’s been around for 20-25 years, but I hadn’t noticed it. I discover it means, roughly, ‘the adding of value-added services to a product or service by paying close attention to how customers or clients use the product or service’. So one word for quite a complex process. And you can see its usefulness. A garage that sells cars adds on the maintenance and repair service, financial services to assist people to make purchases, insurance services, and so on. Or in my own business of language education, adding on editing and translating services, an online helpdesk for clients to respond immediately to questions, language mediating services in case of miscommunication, and so on. Yes, we could servitize.
But it doesn’t stop it being an ugly word.