by Raymond Fisk

The COVID-19 Pandemic is rippling across our Planet and compelling us to hunker down at home. The new public health mantra of “social distancing” is the opposite of normal human interactions for our very social species. While we struggle with this isolation, at least we have the Internet to bring us together.

As we ponder this new isolated reality, I think our service research community should begin discussing what we can do to reduce massive public health problems.

Of course, we do not work in health care like medical doctors, nurses, and the many other health care staff at the nexus of treating this public health care crisis.

Nonetheless, as the World Health Organization‘s Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, recently said “We’re all in this together.”

So, what can we do? As the founder of SERVSIG, I have been thrilled to witness the growth of our service research community across our 27-year history. This growth occurred because we helped each other.

If we work together, our service research community is large enough now to help solve public health problems. We can and should rise to the occasion!

Here are three recommendations:

Broadening Our Thinking About Service

Like the discipline of marketing, the service discipline has steadily broadened its thinking. As this broadening has occurred, we have expanded our perspective from service encounters, to service systems, and to service ecosystems. The transformative service research movement has broadened our perspective on the outcomes of our efforts to improve human wellbeing. This shift in perspective is moving our service discipline from the periphery of human life to the center of human life.

In a forthcoming article with Linda Alkire, Laurie Anderson, David Bowen, Thorsten Gruber, Amy Ostrom, and Lia Patricio, we propose the concept of human experience (HX) rather than our more specific service research concepts of customer experience or employee experience. In short, we should reframe our thinking toward a human logic focused on the full spectrum of human life.

If we fully absorb the meaning of “improving human wellbeing,” then we should view service systems as public health systems. Our species lives in nested service systems of ever-growing complexity. When these service systems malfunction, the malfunctions ripple across the systems and result in “wicked” problems that are difficult to solve.

One of the most wicked of service system problems is the profound social exclusion that characterizes so many modern human societies. Social exclusion is the root of the economic inequality, illiteracy, poverty, and crime that are common around the world. These are public health diseases, just like health diseases.

The fact that inequality is common in our service systems today is not a flaw in our human nature. Inequality is a flaw in the design of the service systems. The bureaucracies that manage service systems were designed by and for the powerful. Inequality was a key design goal. Inequality has a long history in service systems. The systems of emperors, enslavement, aristocracies, feudalism, colonialism were designed for inequality.

In a recent article with Alison Dean, Linda Alkire, Alison Joubert, Josephine Previte, Nichola Robertson, and Mark Rosenbaum, we argued that “Service inclusion should be a moral imperative for service organizations, systems and nation-states.” (p. 851). The service systems of the world tend to ignore, neglect, or poorly service the most vulnerable humans, which includes women, minorities, the poor, and refugees. Service systems should be designed to include the full circle of humanity.

Creating New Service Research Collaborations

Many of you already know that I announced in 2018 that I had begun creating ServCollab. The name ServCollab is a contraction of “Serving Humanity Through Collaboration.”  ServCollab is still in its infancy, but the need for large scale service research collaboration is great. Like SERVSIG, ServCollab is a volunteer-driven organization. You can get involved with ServCollab through our web site –

As an independent and unfettered entity, ServCollab seeks to build the collaborative capacity of the service research community by collaborating with service researchers, with service research centers at universities, with service conferences, and with SERVSIG. ServCollab advocates service design and action research for reducing human suffering and improving human wellbeing.

ServCollab will help train and mentor research collaborators. ServCollab will also seek research partnerships with nonprofit and profit seeking organizations and seek research funding from nonprofit foundations. ServCollab will also seek new forms of inclusive collaboration that go beyond our own service discipline to include any disciplines that are human facing.

ServCollab is interested in encouraging large scale service research collaborations that seek to reduce the root causes of human inequality.

Building Public Impact

Currently, our service discipline has little public policy impact. We can see service system problems that other disciplines with much more public policy influence cannot see, but we are not being seen by the public policy officials. How can we get the attention and respect of public policy officials so that we can push for changes in public policy that focus on fully serving human needs?

Our service discipline still has only a modest impact on higher-level business policies. Too many businesses are more focused on serving their stockholders than their customers and employees. Such businesses are prone to impoverish their workers and underserve their customers. How can we change that?

Since most of us work for business schools, we need to push for changes in business school curriculums so that business school graduates understand the importance of serving their customers and support their employees.

Finally, it is imperative that we help our species learn profound lessons from this public health crisis so that the underlying dysfunctions and disservices of modern society are diagnosed and remedied. Service systems should be resilient and flexible as they adapt to fulfilling human needs.

If social inclusion became the way human service systems were designed and delivered, we would be much less likely to need to practice “social distancing” in the future.

Raymond Fisk
Professor of Marketing
Honorary Professor of International Studies
McCoy College of Business Administration
Texas State University

Mentioned Research

Fisk, R.P., Alkire (née Nasr), L., Anderson, L., Bowen, D.E., Gruber, T., Ostrom, A.L. & Patrício, L. (2020), “Elevating the human experience (hx) through service research collaborations: Introducing ServCollab”, Journal of Service Management, Forthcoming.

Fisk, R.P., Dean, A.M., Alkire (née Nasr), L., Joubert, A., Previte, J., Robertson, N. & Rosenbaum, M.S. (2018), “Design for service inclusion: Creating inclusive service systems by 2050”, Journal of Service Management, Vol. 29 No. 5, pp. 834-858.