Guest article by Ray Fisk.
In 1980, I began my career as a marketing scholar obsessed with improving the fairness of services. Now, 42 years later, I am starting a new career that builds on my past adventures and climbs a new mountain. This summer, I am retiring from Texas State University so that I can focus on leading ServCollab, which is the human services nonprofit I started in 2018.
How did I choose improving the fairness of services as my life’s journey? With the help of “climbing mountains” as a metaphor, I will describe my life’s journey as climbing three mountains in 25-year intervals.
First Mountain – Seeking Fairness
In 1968, I was a 14-year-old child in Las Vegas, Nevada. That year started me on my first mountain to climb. It was a year of worldwide protests. In the United States, there were many civil rights and women’s rights protests over economic and social unfairness. The unfairness I witnessed on a black and white television back in 1968 led to my lifetime obsession with fairness. Ever since, seeking fairness has been my personal quest in life. Seeking fairness was how I found my way to pursuing a marketing PhD and focusing on improving the fairness of services. In fact, my dissertation applied equity theory to satisfaction/dissatisfaction with service choices.
My focus on improving the fairness of services in 1980 was accidentally well timed. I helped pioneer the service research field with friends like John Bateson, Len Berry, Mary Jo Bitner, David Bowen, Steve Brown, Christian Grönroos, Evert Gummesson, Christopher Lovelock, Parsu Parasuraman, Ben Schneider, and Valarie Zeithaml. It was delightful to participate in the formation and rapid growth of the service research community. Mary Jo Bitner, Steve Brown, and I even wrote the first history of the services marketing literature.
Second Mountain – SERVSIG
In the summer of 1993, my second mountain to climb appeared (25 years after my childhood decision to seek fairness). The American Marketing Association (AMA) Academic Council announced that it would allow the formation of special interest groups. Excitedly, I called the two most well-connected service scholars I knew – Len Berry and Steve Brown. They were both former AMA Presidents. I was pretty sure they could tell me if anyone was already starting a special interest group for service. They both said they did not know of anyone starting one. So, I immediately decided to start one. With the help of numerous volunteers, we were the first SIG approved by the AMA. This was partially because I had the email addresses for most service researchers (from writing the history of the services marketing literature), and we did all the organizing by email instead of postal mail. We officially became the “American Marketing Association Services Marketing Special Interest Group,” which I shortened to SERVSIG.
Why did I think SERVSIG was needed? First, as a participant in the growth of the service research community, I knew that we were frequently disrespected or neglected within the AMA. I thought SERVSIG could help change that. Second, and most importantly, in the early history of the service research field, we began and grew as a friendly and inclusive research community. I thought SERVSIG could help protect and strengthen our service culture, so I tried to embed the culture in the three operating goals I wrote for SERVSIG: Open, Flexible, and Fun. “We strive to be open to new people, new ideas, global contributions, interdisciplinary contributions, practitioner contributions, and to new ways of doing things. We strive for the maximum of organizational flexibility (and a minimum of red tape). We strive to be a fun organization by being both lighthearted and intellectually nourishing.” These three goals are in harmony with my focus on fairness and improving service.
Third Mountain – ServCollab
SERVSIG has been wonderfully successful, and that success helped inspire my decision to climb my third mountain. In 2018, SERVSIG celebrated its 25th Year at the 2018 SERVSIG Research Conference in Paris. At the conference, I gave a keynote talk on the 25 Year History of SERVSIG, finishing with the surprise announcement that I had begun creating ServCollab. The name ServCollab is a contraction of “Serving Humanity Through Collaboration.”
Why did I decide that ServCollab was needed? SERVSIG, as a subsidiary of the AMA, is required to serve the service research community and no others. While SERVSIG cannot do more, the members of the service research community can do more. When I announced that I was building ServCollab, I emphasized that our service research community was now large enough to expand our research horizons to serving humanity. I suggested that we should elevate our thinking and asked, “What if life on Earth was open, flexible, and fun?”
ServCollab’s Progress and Why it Was Time to Retire
So much has changed since 2018 – for ServCollab and for the world. The first task for ServCollab was to announce itself. ServCollab’s Advisory Board (Linda Alkire, Laurie Anderson, David Bowen, Thorsten Gruber, Amy Ostrom, and Lia Patrício) and I published (Fisk et al. 2020) “Elevating the Human Experience (HX) through Service Research Collaborations: Introducing ServCollab” in 2020. We defined HX as “the totality of each person’s experience with service systems as they seek to meet their basic human needs across their life journey.” This article announced ServCollab’s mission as “to serve humanity through service research collaborations that catalyze reducing human suffering and improving human wellbeing.”
In 2021, ServCollab published its first research project Boenigk et al. (2021). That article created a Transformative Refugee Experience Framework to portray the range of refugee experiences from suffering to well-being and the range of refugee services from hostile to hospitable. This was followed by our first ServCollab Perspective article by Fisk and Alkire (2021, p. 194), which proposed the metaphor of service ecosystem health “as the interdependent state of private, public, and planetary well-being necessary for sustaining life.” The goal of that article was to elevate service science to uplift human well-being. Also in 2021, ServCollab shared a steady stream of social media news related to ServCollab’s purposes and offered a series of Live Events via Zoom.
In 2022, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to severely disrupt the service systems of the world. While the pandemic made ServCollab’s goals more urgent, it was Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the Ukrainian refugee crisis that led to my decision to retire from teaching and devote my full energies to ServCollab.
What Is Next for ServCollab?
ServCollab seeks to strengthen the foundations of human society. We recognize that human society is fragile. In ServCollab, we believe that the highest form of human interaction is collaboration. However, one of the persistent fragilities in human service systems is the logic of zero-sum contests. In many cultures, such winner and loser contests are deeply embedded in their political and legal systems. Such oppositional systems tend to degenerate into short term focus on partisan gain, especially under the pressure of social media agitation.
As service researchers, we are accidentally wiser about the fundamental role of service in human life than most academic disciplines. We know service is pervasive in human experience and are rapidly developing tools for improving human well-being in service systems. As we climb the ladder of service complexity, we need to reach out beyond our known network of scholars and share our service wisdom with researchers in other fields, especially those fields that are also human facing. Rather than oppositional logics, we should help build collaborative service systems that inclusively serve human needs. ServCollab is working on a serving humanity logic that climbs above oppositional partisanship and focuses on doing more for humanity and for life itself.
ServCollab’s next activities will occur at the 2022 SERVSIG Conference in Glasgow, Scotland from June 16 to 18. This will include a plenary session about the modern refugee crisis.
In my life, obsessing over improving the fairness of services led me to seek out opportunities to be an instigator, a collaborator, and a community builder. Please get involved and help ServCollab serve humanity through collaborating on service research that improves human well-being.
As a volunteer organization, ServCollab relies on the participation and advice of its volunteers. You can help by volunteering to get involved with ServCollab by signing up on our ServCollab website – https://www.servcollab.org/.
Seeking to serve humanity is a big mountain to climb. It will take a large research movement to help elevate the human experience. Please join me in that climb!
Professor and Chair of Marketing at Texas State University
Founder and President of ServCollab
– Boenigk, Silke, Raymond Fisk, Sertan Kabadayi, Linda Alkire, Lilliemay Cheung, Canan Corus, Jörg Finsterwalder, Aaron A. Kreimer, Nadina Luca, Mansour Omeira, Pallab Paul, Marcos F. Santos, and Nina Smidt (2021), “Rethinking Service Systems and Public Policy: A Transformative Refugee Service Experience Framework,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 40 (2), 165-183.
– Fisk, Raymond P., Linda Alkire, Laurel Anderson, David E. Bowen, Thorsten Gruber, Amy L. Ostrom, and Lia Patrício (2020), “Elevating the Human Experience (HX) through Service Research Collaborations: Introducing ServCollab,” Journal of Service Management, 31 (4), 615-635.
– Fisk, Raymond P., and Linda Alkire (2021), “Service Ecosystem Health: A Transformative Approach to Elevating Service Science,” Service Science, 13 (4), 194-204.