As firms increasingly seek to innovate and compete through service, so there has been a growing focus on the building of a science of service. The Center for Service Leadership has identified the following building blocks of such a science.
"All businesses are service businesses" is a fairly well-worn saying - and yet it is one that seems to be increasingly pertinent. Services have become a driving force in economies around the world, and this growth has created significant opportunities and challenges for businesses as they seek to innovate and compete through service. Service design, for instance, is attracting increasing attention worldwide as firms look to improve service quality and customer experience by reorganising the infrastructure, people and material components of service and how it is delivered.
These challenges and opportunities - along with the complex nature of services and fragmented research efforts to date - have led to an increased focus on building a science of service. Businesses, governments and academic institutions alike see the need for research in the area.
The Center for Services Leadership at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University recently undertook a mammoth project to establish priorities and outline a foundation for the science of service. With input from over 300 business executives and academics from a variety of disciplines, functions and geographies, the Center’s work led to the development of the following 10 priorities:
- Foster service infusion and growth
Organisations need to enhance their ability to pursue services by transforming from goods-dominant organisations into goods and services/solutions enterprises, and developing, integrating and aligning related strategies and portfolios. Challenges and opportunities for successful practices include: developing value propositions for services, pricing service offerings, and training customer-centric contact personnel to be capable of matching customer needs with company offerings.
- Improve well-being through transformative service
Improving customer/community well-being through service requires the examination of transformative and restorative experiences and requires researchers to consider the impact of the customer’s role in consumption and value creation, relationship development and social interaction, servicescape and service design, planning, building and managing service infrastructure, and technology and innovation on well-being.
- Create and maintain a service culture
The overarching question is how to develop and sustain a service culture and mind-set in historic product companies. Service culture is focused on achieving a sustainable competitive advantage in the marketplace by an organisation developing, sharing, and sustaining a set of service-focused values and beliefs around why the organisation exists, what it offers, and how it operates. These service-focused values are reflected both internally with employees and externally with customers.
- Stimulate service innovation
Service innovation is focused on creating value for customers, employees, business owners, alliance partners, and/or the communities they serve through new and/or improved service offerings, service processes, and service business models. Issues include: how can firms innovate to alter the three generic roles of customers: as users (co-creating value), buyers (making a buying decision), and payers (providing monetary feedback for exchange)? and how can firms relieve customers from the activities they are not willing or unable to perform, or how can they enable customers to perform the activities they prefer to do?
- Enhance service design
The focus of service design is to realise service strategy and innovative service ideas by aligning various internal and external stakeholders around the creation of holistic service experiences for customers, clients, employees, business partners, and/or citizens. The discipline is young, and one research challenge will be to evaluate and measure systematically the effects of service design.
- Optimise service networks and value chains
The focus of service networks and value chains is to profitably meeting customers’ needs and expectations through the configuration, connection, facilitation of various activities and interactions between various parties across the entire customer experience. Within this area, key questions include: how can firms ensure that service standards and quality of customer care are delivered especially in cases in which there is an informal governance structure and limited coordination among partners (unlike traditional supply chains)? Furthermore, how can firms maintain ownership of their customer relationships when much of the value and key contact is delivered by partners?
- Effectively brand and sell services
The focus of service branding and selling is to identify, package and communicate the critical but intangible elements of the service, good-service combination, or solution that resonate most with customers and provide differentiation from competitive offerings. The study of strong service brands raise questions such as: What roles can marketing personnel effectively play to improve the consistency and overall quality of customers’ experiences using the service? And what are the important distinctions between external branding (to customers and prospects) and internal branding (to service providers), and what are the implications of these distinctions?
- Enhance the service experience through co-creation
Collaborative efforts between the company and customer can provide enhanced value for both parties. Further exploration of the underlying questions and implications of co-creation is needed. For instance, how do we determine intellectual property rights of co-created services? How do we manage and measure the impact and returns of online customer communities?
- Measure and optimise the value of service
By identifying, implementing, tracking and finding a balance of the components of value creation in the service across the customer experience, the value for customers and companies can be optimised. There is a pressing need for more comprehensive frameworks for offering managerial guidance in determining the most appropriate services and service levels to offer. A need exists for developing appropriate metrics for operationalising non-monetary costs (e.g. customer frustration due to poorly designed services) and benefits (e.g. potential increase in customer loyalty due to the provision of complementary services) in the value-assessment models
- Leverage technology to advance service
In the service space, technology can break down siloes, and create more seamless and user-friendly customer experiences, enabling new service offerings. But there are some challenging elements to contend with, for instance, it will be important to understand customers’ adoption and usage behaviour for new services that are emerging from new connectivity such as smart devices and also understand how usage data are predictive of future customer needs and behaviour, realising how data can play a role in innovation and customer relationship management.
Across these 10 areas, the Center for Services Leadership identified six broad and important themes:
- The need for interdisciplinary research.
- A shift to a service-based mindset.
- A trend towards globalisation.
- Underrepresentation of business-to-business research.
- The emergence of transformative service.
- The importance of technology for service.
Using the findings of this report, it is hoped that the framework containing the 10 priorities and targeted research topics under each priority provide business executives, academics, and government leaders with a point of reference to guide their thought leadership and future research efforts as the push towards a comprehensive science of service takes shape.
The Center for Services Leadership is a research and education center within the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University (ASU) and serves as an outreach arm from ASU to the business community and the global academic community. The Center offers corporate membership, executive and student education opportunities, and cutting-edge research on the science of service.
This article is based the Research Priorities for the Science of Service: CSL Business Report 2010 and the Journal of Service Research article entitled “Moving Forward and Making a Difference: Research Priorities for the Science of Service” in the February 2010 issue. The full report and related podcasts can be found at: http://wpcarey.asu.edu/csl/knowledge/Research-Priorities.cfm and the Journal of Service Research article can be accessed at: http://jsr.sagepub.com/content/vol13/issue1/