Guest article by Bart Larivière, Recipient of the 2016 SERVSIG Emerging Service Scholar Award

Somewhere over the North Atlantic Ocean, flying from New York to Brussels – unlike other passengers – I cannot fall asleep. Not because of my neighbor is snoring continuously. No, the adrenalin and excitement of the past few days are keeping me awake. I was fortunate to be part of the 5th (and celebration!!) edition of the Let’s Talk About Service (LTAS) workshop being held at Fordham University. I met young service scholars with brilliant research ideas and listened to the wise feedback from established scholars who were passionate about mentoring these young scholars. Such events always remind me how wonderful and supportive our SERVSIG community is.

Being a great “service scholar” implies much more than doing research on one of the miscellaneous topics that are listed on the websites of various service journals or called for papers and special issues. Equally important is to help to shape our field in various other ways. In the next paragraphs, I reflect on three avenues worth considering – all relating to “serving” our service community in different ways. I encourage you to use your service DNA to engage in them.

Service Avenue 1:
Make a Difference by Better “Marketing” our Service Discipline!

Service research is often too narrowly perceived and understood as being a subdomain of the marketing discipline (e.g., the marketing of services as opposed to the marketing of goods). As a result, service “marketing” is considered as another subfield in addition to consumer behavior (CB) and modeling.

This false perception by outsiders is partially caused by the fact that (i) many of our leading scholars are faculty members at a marketing department, and (ii) SERVSIG – our service community – acts as a special interest group of the American “Marketing” Association.

Most research fields aim at multidisciplinary research, for instance by drawing on literatures from various fields beyond their own discipline. Nevertheless, service research is different and more interdisciplinary in nature. For instance, the mission and goal of the Center for Service Intelligence (CSI) at Ghent University is defined as follows:

“Our ambition is to intertwine academic rigor and managerial relevance by envisioning excellence in Research (Think), Education (Learn), and Seminars & Conferences (Network). An integrated approach on the customer (Marketing), the personnel (Human Resources) and processes (Operations and IT) is warranted to foster service innovations and meet today’s challenges in diverse industries: private, public and social profit. The best experience for different stakeholders is the one that achieves the greatest mutual value for all parties involved: delivering what customers want/need in an effective and cost-efficient way.”

This interdisciplinary vision of CSI is visualized in Figure 1:


Fig. 1: Service management from an interdisciplinary perspective @ CSI Ghent

And these are not just words or figures, the facts prove that scholars from 7 different departments at Ghent University are united and join forces under the umbrella of CSI:

  1. Department of Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Service Management
  2. Department of Marketing
  3. Department of Business Informatics and Operations Management
  4. Department of Public Governance, Management and Finance
  5. Department of Human Resource Management and Organizational Behaviour
  6. Department of Public Health
  7. Department of Translation, Interpreting and Communication

The first five departments are part of the Faculty of Economics, the sixth of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, and the last of the Faculty of Arts and Philosophy. As such, during our food for thought seminars and monthly (i.e., 3th Friday of each month) meetings – which we call “Happy Fridays” – we meet with a diverse group of scholars having different backgrounds and talking about and sharing the same passion: service research!

Paradoxically, in my opinion, marketing is rather a subfield of “service management/research” than the commonly held belief that “service marketing/research” is a subdomain – and hence, fraction – of the marketing discipline. You can’t value what you can’t define. You can’t appreciate what is unknown.

I encourage service scholars to become true apostles of our field in their respective regions, by better promoting and making clear what “service research” stands for. As a result, we won’t only get the recognition that we deserve, we will also be able to welcome more scholars from other fields to join forces with us in order to address (business) problems more holistically. 

Service Avenue 2:
Make a Difference by Addressing Problems that Matter

It’s not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change (quoting Charles Darwin, Evolution Theory). Despite this conventional wisdom, one of the most consistent patterns in business is the failure of leading companies to stay at the top of their industries when technologies or markets change (Bower & Christensen, 1995; Christensen, Raynor, & McDonald, 2015).

As noted by Kay Lemon during the LTAS workshop (December, 9, 2016): “Our service field is important because our research starts from addressing real business problems”.

I fully agree, it is important to acknowledge real business problems as well as societal effects and trends. Just to name a few: our field is pioneer in addressing the impact of technological changes on customer – firm relationships, in understanding what is making customers loyal, in linking employee performance to firm profits through customer experience, in studying co-creation with customers and building networks or ecosystems to better serve the customer and finding service innovations, in adopting a multi-stakeholder perspective on well-being (e.g., transformative service research) in various industries, and countries (also having attention for the base of the pyramid), etc.

I encourage service scholars to address real (business) problems and to consider the managerial and societal impact of their research efforts.

We are in the best position to address these challenges, especially if we create an interdisciplinary team. To quote the wise words of Roland Rust “What should companies do differently? How will your insights change their behavior?” It is essential to keep this relevance check in mind throughout the entire research journey: from problem definition to finding a team to data collection to analysis to the dissemination of new knowledge.

Service Avenue 3:
Make a Difference by “Paying Forward” in Your Own Way – That’s the “Circle of Academic Life”

Similar to the Circle of Life, I am convinced that we need to envision the “Circle of Academic Life”. There exists an opportunity to see the bigger picture. Much like a PhD trajectory is more than a bunch of bundled papers, so is your entire academic career. You cannot make a “true” difference by solely focusing on yourself and your own track record (e.g., how many papers you have published). For sure, these are important, but don’t necessarily set you apart and make you happy.

When I wrote about my role models for a former SERVIG newsletter, I acknowledged that “we should be very grateful to the pioneers of our service community: the ones who wrote textbooks on service marketing and management that changed our conventional way of thinking, the ones who founded and organized our service conferences, and the founding and subsequent editors of all our service journals. It’s their ‘service’ enthusiasm that laid the foundation for our service research community.”

I still remember a conversation that I had with Lerzan Aksoy and Tim Keiningham years ago when I asked them how I could ever pay them back for what they had done for me. Their answer was pretty straightforward: “you don’t need to pay us back, you have to pay forward, that’s how the system works”.

The “Circle of Academic Life” is a mindset, a way of working. It is about doing something back for the community, not just because reciprocity is a proper thing to do, but rather since paying back is rewarding. “The best way to pursue happiness is to help other people, because there’s nothing else that will make you happier” (Quote by George Lucas).

I encourage service scholars to find their own spot in the “Circle of Academic Life.” People are a company’s greatest assets. The same applies to our SERVSIG community. Equally important is to realize that people are known for their heterogeneous skills. We don’t need everyone to set up journals, become an editor, or organize events… it is important to find your own strength in helping the community moving forward, which can be as simple as doing a friendly review, sharing great examples and cases for teaching purposes, welcoming and encouraging people to contribute to our field, mentoring young scholars, sharing great ideas on our SERVSIG Facebook and Twitter account, etc. It doesn’t matter what you do; the act of “serving” in your own way is more important.

In sum: Let us use our service DNA to advance our field. Every single detail matters and can make a huge impact… Let’s envision a great community and a great future together!

bartBart Larivière

Recipient of the 2016 SERVSIG Emerging Scholar Award

Associate Professor of Service Management – Ghent University

Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Service Intelligence – Ghent University (www.CenterforServiceIntelligence.org)

Co-Founder of the Let’s Talk About Service (LTAS) workshop (www.LetsTalkAboutService.org)

Founder of the Belgian Service Research Days

Co-chair of the Service Marketing Special Interest Group (SERVSIG) of the American Marketing Association (AMA) (www.SERVSIG.org)

Associate Editor of the Journal of Service Theory and Practice