Guest article by Sara Leroi-Werelds.

The Let’s Talk About Service (LTAS) conference was founded in 2012 by Wafa Hammedi (University of Namur), Annouk Lievens (Antwerp University), and Bart Larivière (UGent, KU Leuven). In 2016 Sertan Kabadayi (Fordham University) joined the club and hosted the anniversary edition in New York. After 2 years of COVID-delay, the 9th edition of LTAS took place from December 7 to 9, 2022. LTAS2022 was organized by Hasselt University (Sara Leroi-Werelds, Sandra Streukens, and Allard Van Riel).

The aim of LTAS is to introduce young scholars to the wonderful world of service research and guide them through their journey in academia. This initiative is unique in its kind since the target audience is the new generation of service researchers, including PhD students and junior faculty. For each edition, a workshop on a particular emerging topic is selected and participants have a chance to learn something new regarding research and publications in the field of services.

The theme of LTAS2022 was “service agility: moving the discipline forward”. The aim was to enhance our understanding of how external forces impact the future of service research and management. What are the key lessons that we can learn in order to help service providers succeed in a turbulent business world?

In line with the LTAS tradition, the event kicked off with a welcome reception on the evening of December 7. Participants, coaches, and speakers were welcomed at the conference venue: The Old Prison of Hasselt. The architecture and design of the building created a special atmosphere, but participants were also pleased that there were clear LTAS signs in the building so they couldn’t get lost. It seems that prison buildings are designed so you cannot escape.

The sessions on Thursday morning started with an amusing welcome speech by Sandra Streukens, followed by an inspiring keynote speech by Mike Brady about turbulence and service agility. He also provided insights into the Editor’s Gold by using a tree metaphor, in which the trunk of an oak tree represents a phenomenal idea that sprouts into big and small branches representing great and good ideas.

After the coffee break, Jay Kandampully talked about the future of service research. Maybe it has to do with Hasselt being located in one of the greenest regions of Belgium, but Jay also used a tree to make his point. He used the banyan tree to emphasize that helping others and placing the needs of others above your own (i.e., compassion) is crucial for the future of our field. Next, Marianna Sigala provided an inspiring talk about the Metaverse. By using some great and thought-provoking examples, she emphasized the need for more research on this matter. Mark Rosenbaum closed the morning session by expressing how service research can have a positive impact on society. He provided ten key research topics that need our attention.

After a networking lunch, the afternoon sessions started with a presentation by Gaby Odekerken-Schröder about getting your career started in an agile world. She discussed the importance of work-life balance and encouraged participants to reflect upon their own personal values. In addition, she talked about when and how to say ‘no’. After the break, she continued with a service design workshop. In this workshop, participants worked in teams and used posters and post-its to start with the development of a research proposal. There were 9 different teams each working on a different topic: customer experience, digitalization, frontline employees, healthcare, service robots, sustainability, technology and wellbeing, and Transformative Service Research.

After a day of hard work, it was time for the fun part of LTAS. Participants could select one of four social events: a city walk, a brewery visit, a visit to the jenevermuseum (FYI: jenever is a local alcoholic spirit), or a visit to a museum of contemporary art called Z33. Afterwards, we had dinner in ‘Het Smaaksalon’ which provided a great venue for enjoying a nice meal and evening together.

On Friday, participants continued the teamwork. Each team had its own separate break-out room and was guided and supported by two academic coaches. The objective of the teamwork was to develop and present a research proposal (1) starting from the keynote presentations and workshop and (2) focusing on the topic of the team. The keynote speakers acted as ‘flying’ coaches during the teamwork sessions. They visited the different teams to ask questions and give feedback in order to improve the research proposal. In addition, two experienced reviewers visited the different teams to trigger and challenge the teams by asking critical questions.

At the end of the day, each team presented a research proposal to the entire audience. All teams did an impressive job in such a limited time and got praise and constructive feedback. After the concluding remarks of the LTAS2022 team and the LTAS founders, the event was closed with party food and Belgian beers. 

Overall, LTAS2022 offered a lot of food for thought, but the ‘real’ food served at the conference is also worth mentioning. Participants had the opportunity to enjoy great food including local specialties such as speculaas, fruit juices, chocolates, cookies, specialty beers, Belgian fries (yes Belgian, not French!), and Limburgse vlaai. With regard to the latter, we encourage participants to compare the LTAS vlaai with the Frontiers vlaai that will be served by our friends in Maastricht.

Some personal notes:

I have experienced LTAS as a participant in 2014 and an academic coach in 2018, so I felt privileged to organize it in 2022. It was a real pleasure to host LTAS2022 at Hasselt University and serve the service community. I truly enjoyed wonderful keynotes, connected with old and new friends, witnessed the development of excellent research proposals, enjoyed great food and had a lot of fun. This is what LTAS is all about: fun, friends, food and a safe environment for PhD students to be(come) part of the service community and LTAS family. A sincere thank you to all participants, keynotes, LTAS founders, academic coaches, reviewers, and to our UHasselt team for making this happen! Let’s meet again in Namur for the 10th edition of LTAS!

Best wishes from Hasselt,

Sara Leroi-Werelds
Associate Professor
Department of Marketing & Strategy
Hasselt University, Belgium

All pictures are available here.