guest article by Timothy Keiningham, Christopher Lovelock Award Recipient 2018
I was thrilled when SERVSIG asked me, as the most recent Christopher Lovelock Career Contributions to the Services Discipline recipient, to give my thoughts on the future of service research and practice. Since I began as a service researcher two decades ago, the discipline has grown dramatically in scope and influence. I am certain that this will continue given the dramatic technology-driven changes that are occurring in almost all business sectors. Given the disruptive service-driven changes underway, there are numerous opportunities for discussion.
As I contemplated what thoughts I should share, however, a quote from Socrates kept playing in my head. “I do not know anything … I appear to be wiser than he, because I do not fancy that I know what I do not know.” This recognition of the limits of our current understanding was hammered home in a recent presentation given by Professor Leonard Schlesinger1 of the Harvard Business School, co-creator of the seminal Service-Profit Chain.2 He began his talk with the recognition that new developments—one of which was a comprehensive meta-analysis of the Service-Profit Chain by Jens Hogreve, Anja Iseke, Klaus Derfuss, and Tönnjes Eller3—had caused him to question many of the tenets he had believed most strongly.
Professor Schlesinger’s talk caused me to reflect on precisely what drove most of my service research. The conventional wisdom and much of the supporting scientific research at the time wasn’t working for me in practice. I needed to figure out why or choose a different career path. It would be a huge stretch to say “I (or “we”) figured it out—do X, Y and Z and great things will happen.” Of course, we certainly know more about what works and why than we did twenty years ago. But as a friend once told me, “humanity is described in the error term” in our models.
As I look back over my own career, and at the body of knowledge that makes up the service literature, I am awed by the evolution of my (and the field’s) thinking over this time. And I still find myself regularly surprised to learn that things I believed strongly to be true were at best oversimplifications, and often completely wrong.
A decade ago, medical research was recoiling from the widely publicized argument that as much as 85% of published research findings are false.4 I certainly do not believe that to be the case for service research. Nonetheless, I believe that many of the concepts we consider proved or even self-evident can be superseded by more nuanced investigations. From my own research, I think of the evolution of conceptualizations of customer commitment from a one-dimension, to a three-dimension, to a five-dimension construct.5
Clearly, the business opportunities and challenges on the horizon—automation and artificial intelligence, industry 4.0, robotics, etc.—offer tremendous opportunities for service researchers to explore new vistas. But I believe that many of our greatest discoveries will be those that overturn our current certainties. It is my hope that at some point in my lifetime every major contribution I have made to the literature will have been superseded by something more complete and useful. I encourage all interested researchers to take up this challenge…but you will have to beat me to it!
“It’s not what you don’t know that kills you, it’s what you know for sure that ain’t true.” – Mark Twain
- Schlesinger, Leonard A. (2017), “What Great Service Leaders Know and Do: Implications for Service Futures,” plenary presentation at the 2017 Frontiers in Service Conference, Fordham University, New York, NY (June 23).
- Heskett, James L., Thomas O. Jones, Gary W. Loveman, W. Earl Sasser, Jr., and Leonard A. Schlesinger (1994), “Putting the Service-Profit Chain to Work,” Harvard Business Review. vol. 72, no. 2, 164-174.
- Hogreve, Jens, Anja Iseke, Klaus Derfuss, and Tönnjes Eller (2017), “The Service-Profit Chain: A Meta-Analytic Test of a Comprehensive Theoretical Framework,” Journal of Marketing. vol. 81, no. 3, 41-61.
- Ioannidis, John P. A. (2005), “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False,” PLoS Medicine. vol. 2, no. 8, e124. Available at: http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124
- Keiningham, Timothy L., Carly M. Frennea, Lerzan Aksoy, Alexander Buoye, and Vikas Mittal (2015), “A Five-Component Customer Commitment Model: Implications for Repurchase Intentions in Goods and Services Industries,” Journal of Service Research. vol. 18, no. 4, 433-450.