Service Research Priorities: Managing and Delivering Service in Turbulent Times published in the current issue of JSR, is the next in the series of articles on service research priorities that were published in 2010, 2015, and now 2021. This article was the result of a multi-year collaborative effort of the author team along with hundreds of service scholars and practitioners to determine a service research agenda for the next 5-10 years.

The world-at-large and services, in particular, are experiencing tectonic shifts resulting from technological innovations, challenges to institutions, demands for social justice, climate change, and a global pandemic, among other disruptions. Consequently, services need to evolve to be robust to such persistent turbulence, which requires a comprehensive reexamination and extension of service scholarship and practice. In this article, we utilize a multiple-stakeholder lens that integrates the perspectives of those who influence, and are influenced by, the design and delivery of any (commercial or non-commercial) service. Customers, employees, managers, and the community are, and will remain, key stakeholders and have specific wants regarding service content and processes. We set out to develop service research priorities (SRPs) rooted in, and responsive to, these wants, and to identify under-researched topics for which new insights could significantly influence business, organizations, and society.

Our goal was to be as inclusive and expansive as possible. We reached out to service scholars, practitioners, and the online public sphere to identify a set of thought-provoking and socially relevant priorities. Our multi-phase, multi-method approach enabled us to identify priorities that span disciplines, along with key stakeholder-wants associated with each SRP. We utilized multiple data sources and analyses: surveys of service scholars and practitioners, web scraping of online documents analyzed through machine learning and natural language processing, a review of published service scholarship, and roundtable discussions conducted at the world’s foremost service research centers. 

We examine priorities related to significant changes in the world that urgently require additional research. The first two—“technology and the changing nature of work” and “technology and the customer experience”—focus on leveraging technology for service provision and consumption. The next two—“resource and capability constraints” and “customer proactivity for well-being”—focus on responding to the changing needs of multiple stakeholders. The issues identified in these four priorities represent critical, actionable areas that all scholars can begin to tackle.

A recurrent theme throughout this article is the uncertainty and turbulence that societies, firms, governments, and consumers face in the provision, access, and consumption of services. The priorities and specific stakeholder-wants showcase the depth and breadth of these seismic changes. Whether it is challenges to institutions, demands for social justice, the need to address climate change, stresses related to global crises, or technological advances blurring the distinction between humans and machines, the priorities offer a call to action. For example, technology serves as an enabler and a potential threat in terms of its implications for the changing nature of work and for the customer experience (SRP1 and SRP2). Climate change brings key challenges for resource and capability constraints (SRP3). Increased uncertainty necessitates consumers taking on a more proactive role in their well-being (SRP4). 

From scholars and practitioners alike, we heard the call—at once affirming and ambitious—regarding the potential of our interdisciplinary field of services to respond to technological, societal, and business challenges. To increase the field’s relevance, we need to heed this call by developing responsible and actionable research that has the power to create a way forward for all stakeholders. 

Read the article here.