Guest article from Linda Hollebeek, recipient of the 2020 SERVSIG Emerging Service Scholar Award.

I am honored to receive the 2020 SERVSIG Emerging Scholar Award, which has been conferred to highly respected colleagues in prior years. I would’ve never expected to be following in their footsteps, and am truly thankful for this recognition. In particular, I’d like to thank SERVSIG, the Emerging Scholar Award Committee, my co-authors, Montpellier Business School, Tallinn University of Technology, editors, reviewers, and my family for helping make this possible.

Watch the SERVSIG Awards online show (July 2020).

So, what are some of the key factors that have contributed to my fortune in receiving this award? I hope the following reflections will be helpful to early career researchers, and hopefully beyond. 

In the mid to late 2000s, the notion of customer- or consumer engagement (CE) came into vogue, with many practitioner accounts addressing the concept. For example, back in 2006, the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) referred to engagement as “a measure of attention paid by a consumer to a piece of communication. There is a two-way flow of information resulting in easier measurement.” This statement (and many others) highlight CE’s unique interactive nature that sets it apart from most other concepts, including customer involvement or satisfaction (e.g., Brodie et al. 2011). However, academic coverage of CE remained extremely sparse back then, offering an important research opportunity. At the turn of the last decade, the Marketing Science Institute also began recognizing this, as evident in their inclusion of CE in their biennial Research Priorities (MSI 2010), where it remains to date (MSI 2020). In line with these developments, CE research has emerged as an important evolution in marketing thought in the last 10-12 years (e.g., Kumar et al. 2019).  

However, while these developments back then were hugely exciting, they also came with an important need to overcome the community’s perceived queries around new concept development. For example, sceptical colleagues have frequently asked me “What’s new here? Is this just old wine in a new bottle? How is CE different to existing constructs like brand love, attachment, or attitudes?” To address these issues, I’ve learned about the importance of thorough, theory-driven conceptualization. For example, different theoretical lenses can be used to frame a concept, which are expected to yield differing insight (e.g., by highlighting the concept’s unique dynamics in some salient regard). In my own work, I’ve often used service-dominant logic to inform CE, which tends to highlight its value co-creating (or -destructive) capacity (e.g., Hollebeek et al. 2019). I remember taking much of my first year of working on CE to read and digest the literature and define the concept, which took many long hours of hard work and several iterations or evolutions. However, myriad other perspectives (e.g., social exchange theory, social identity theory, uses-and-gratifications theory, congruity theory) can also be used that each offer a unique angle on the concept.  

Once a concept has been suitably defined, the fun starts in many ways. That is, with the concept’s fundamental understanding and delineation (in my case, CE), it’s possible to develop a measurement instrument for it, explore it within its broader nomological net, and so on. In my own journey, I used my newly developed conceptualization, supplemented by qualitative research, to operationalize CE. In this process, different approaches are available, including reflectively (vs. formatively) modeled construct development (e.g., Churchill 1979 vs. Diamantopoulos and Winklhofer 2001), which offer important crossroads or choices for researchers. In my case, I took a reflective modeling approach for CE, yielding a three-dimensional, 10-item scale (Hollebeek et al. 2014). By permitting CE’s measurement or quantification, this and other CE scales (e.g., Calder et al. 2009; Vivek et al. 2014) have acted as an important catalyst for the field’s further development (e.g., by enabling the undertaking of CE-based experimental or survey research). 

Today, we’ve arrived at a position of relatively “luxury” that was almost unthinkable a decade ago: Our toolkit contains multiple CE conceptualizations and measurement instruments that may lend themselves to different research purposes or contexts. However, despite these benefits, researchers should also approach the myriad of differently framed views of CE with some caution, given their potential risk of fueling the field’s fragmentation. For example, while specific CE conceptualizations or operationalizations may have high relevance to the context at hand, their respective tenets may not necessarily generalize to other settings, thus limiting their validity. Therefore, as the guardians of evolving marketing thought, we need to preserve the field from such fragmentation, which is likely to impede, or at least decelerate, its advancement (Hollebeek et al. 2019).  

Alongside the aforementioned trends, a range of CE sub-niches has also developed, which offer key opportunities for further research. For example, though new technology (e.g., artificial intelligence, virtual reality) takes a growing role in our everyday lives, the effect of specific new technologies on CE and its downstream effects remains poorly understood (e.g., Xiao and Kumar 2021), thus offering an important avenue for further study. In addition, CE’s interface with other stakeholders and their respective role-related engagement (e.g., Hollebeek et al. 2020), offers a promising area for further research, including on service interactions, service ecosystems, or service design.

Linda D Hollebeek
Senior Associate Professor of Marketing, Montpellier Business School
Full Professor of Marketing (Adj.), Tallinn University of Technology 

– ARF: Advertising Research Foundation (2006). Engagement: Definitions and Anatomy. ARF White Paper, J. Plummer (Ed.), 21 March.
– Brodie, R., Hollebeek, L., Ilic, A., and Juric, B. (2011). Customer Engagement: Conceptual Domain, Fundamental Propositions & Implications for Research in Service Marketing, Journal of Service Research, 14(3), 252-271.
– Calder, B., Malthouse, E., and Schaedel, U. (2009). An Experimental Study of the Relationship between Online Engagement and Advertising Effectiveness. Journal of Interactive Marketing, 23(4), 321-331.
– Churchill, Gilbert A., Jr. (1979). A Paradigm for Developing Better Measures of Marketing Constructs. Journal of Marketing Research, 16(1), 64-73.
– Diamantopoulos, A. and Winklhofer, H. (2001). Index Construction with Formative Indicators: An Alternative to Scale Development. Journal of Marketing Research, 38(2), 269-277.
– Hollebeek, L., Glynn, M., and Brodie, R. (2014). Consumer Brand Engagement in Social Media: Conceptualization, Scale Development and Validation. Journal of Interactive Marketing, 28(2), 149-165.
– Hollebeek, L., Srivastava, R.K., and Chen, T. (2019), S-D Logic-Informed Customer Engagement: Integrative Framework, Revised Fundamental Propositions, and Application to CRM, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 47(1), 161-185.
– Hollebeek, L., Kumar, V., and Srivastava, R.K. (2020). From Customer-, to Actor-, to Stakeholder Engagement: Taking Stock, Conceptualization, and Future Directions. Journal of Service Research, in press.
– Kumar, V., Rajan, B., Gupta, S., and Dalla Pozza, I. (2019). Customer Engagement in Service. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 47(1), 138-160.
– MSI: Marketing Science Institute (2010). Research Priorities 2010-2012.
– MSI: Marketing Science Institute (2020). Research Priorities 2020-2022.
– Vivek, S., Beatty, S., Dalela, V., and Morgan, R. (2014). A Generalized Multidimensional Scale for Measuring Customer Engagement. Journal of Marketing Theory & Practice, 22(4), 401-420.
– Xiao, L. and Kumar, V. (2021). Robotics for Customer Service: A Useful Complement or an Ultimate Substitute? Journal of Service Research, 24(1), 9-29.