a guest article by Amy L. Ostrom and A. Parasuraman
In a recent article, “Service Research Priorities in a Rapidly Changing Context” (JSR, May 2015), co-authored with David Bowen, Lia Patricio and Christopher Voss, we discuss 12 research-priority topics – and 80 related subtopics – that emerged from a global, interdisciplinary, two-phase data collection (qualitative and quantitative) effort. In addition to identifying service topics worthy of scholarly inquiry, our project assessed the topics’ importance and current state of knowledge as perceived by service researchers. With assistance from 19 service centers/networks from around the world to conduct 23 roundtable discussions with academics and practitioners, we generated rich qualitative data about important service issues. Based on an in-depth analysis of the qualitative data we identified the research-priority topics and subtopics and included them in a global online survey. The survey was completed by 334 service researchers from multiple disciplines and 37 countries.
From among our key findings we spotlight four here.
- Improving Well-being through Transformative Service was ranked as the most important priority by the largest percentage of respondents (more than 18%). Clearly the emerging area of transformative service research (TSR), which examines the relationship between service and well-being, resonated with service researchers.
- In addition to well-being outcomes, the priority Measuring and Optimizing Service Performance and Impact and some of its related subtopics were also rated as particularly important, highlighting the need for more service research on outcomes that are relevant to both society and business.
- A common theme cutting across priorities and subtopics was a call for research on how to coordinate seamlessly across actors, technology and touch points so as to enhance the customer’s co-creation efforts and overall experience.
- Not surprisingly, technology was viewed as a ‘game-changer,’ with a large majority of respondents citing some aspect of new or converging technologies as the most dramatic change likely to affect the service field in the near future. We conceptualized Leveraging Technology to Advance Service as a cross-cutting priority because technology truly does have the potential to affect every aspect of service.
In the article we also argue that moving the field forward would require service researchers to collaborate more – and more effectively – with practitioners, as well as across different parts of the world and across different disciplines. We will need to continue to partner with companies to be able to study, in many instances, the latest advances in technology. We will need partnerships with organizations and nonprofits that can implement changes to enhance well-being based on TSR findings. Relatedly, to study global issues and move beyond research that tends to focus on a small subset of relatively wealthy consumers, we need collaborations that enable us to study service in settings around the world, especially those where consumers possess limited financial resources such as individuals living at the base of the pyramid. We will also need to expend greater effort than at present on making our research interdisciplinary. Although designing and implementing truly interdisciplinary research can be challenging, to effectively address the big service questions confronting us we will need to undertake such research and strive to succeed at it more often. Our priority-setting project itself benefited immensely from the international and interdisciplinary perspectives of our research team and from the diverse set of participants in both qualitative and quantitative phases of the project.
We hope that the priority topics, subtopics and research imperatives stemming from our work serve as a catalyst for important new service investigations and novel research collaborations that significantly augment extant service knowledge and enhance service practice. Our article is available at http://bit.ly/1ctyQw6.