Transformative Service Research: A Multidisciplinary Perspective on Service and Well-being

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Republished with permission. The original post was published on the Center for Services Leadership blog.

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Interview with Laurel Anderson and Amy Ostrom, Editors of the Special Issue of Journal of Service Research, Transformative Service Research: A Multidisciplinary Perspective on Service and Well-being

02JSR13_Covers.inddIn August of this year Journal Service Research published a highly anticipated special issue on Transformative Service Research, a Multidisciplinary Perspective on Service and Well-being. The entire issue will be available free of charge till November 2015 and can be downloaded from the journal’s website. We’re very excited to feature the special issue in this podcast and on our blog, where we’ll be sharing posts by the authors of the three finalists for Best Paper Award.

Darima Fotheringham: Today I’m talking to the guest co-editors of the special issue, Professors Laurie Anderson and Amy Ostrom from Arizona State University. Professor Anderson, Professor Ostrom, thank you for talking to us today.

Laurel Anderson, Amy Ostrom: Thank you, it’s good to be here.

Darima Fotheringham: As you mentioned in the editorial, Transformative Service Research is a fairly new research area that’s been gaining momentum. For those who are not familiar with the term, can you start by defining Transformative Service Research, or TSR, and explain why it is receiving so much attention and interest in the research community today?

Laurel Anderson: We define TSR, Transformative Service Research, as focusing on services and well-being, and in particular, as research that has to do with creating uplifting changes. And one of the key things about the definition is that we look not at just individuals but also at collectives like family or communities, ecosystems, society. These aspects are some of the things we found in the papers that came in that were different from a lot of the research in service.

Darima Fotheringham: And going back to the second part of the question, why do you think there is so much interest from the research community in this particular topic?

Amy Ostrom: There’s always been some interest in studying well-being issues in general, but I think we’ve seen an increase interest in the last five or six years. Some of it, likely due to discussions about what should research priorities be in the service field. And as part of some research priority setting efforts, this idea of studying service and well-being really came to the forefront. We’ve seen really a community of service researchers form, who really want to better understand this connection between service and well-being. And as that community has grown, we’ve seen more and more special sessions at conferences, research projects at a significant nature getting started, and it’s really been very exciting to see.

Darima Fotheringham: The TSR special issue includes ten very diverse articles. They’re from around the world and cover different industries, discuss different cultures. In the editorial you identified three big themes. Can you talk a bit about those themes and share a couple of examples that would illustrate some of the new interesting concepts that the readers can take away?

Laurel Anderson: We were just really excited to see the diversity of the papers that came in. That’s part of what we wanted to accomplish also, to indicate how broad this field is both in method, and cultures, and content, and theories conceptually. So the three themes that we found arising from the data were ones that we thought were innovative, and provocative, and had a lot of heft to them. For example one is the de-struction of value. We always talk about the co-creation of it, creation of value, but haven’t really given time to look as much at some of the destruction of value. That is a really interesting topic. And as the papers in this area point out, sometimes it is unintentional, sometimes it’s unknowingly destructive, and sometimes it’s intended.

So for example, the article, the lead paper, which was the award winning article by Per Skålén, Kotaiba Abdul Aal, and Bo Edvardsson, looks at what they call strategic action fields. It looks at the incumbents in that field and it looks at challengers in this service area. This is amazing data because it looks at Syria and how the regime, as incumbents, took away services to many of the population. Then how that population reacted and created new services under the constraints that they had. So the destruction was an important part. That one is a very vivid, kind of unusual example. But sometimes it is also more everyday kinds of things, like chronic illness, where people really don’t want to be in a service. They’d rather not be participating in the service. There are a lot of negative aspects to the chronic part. We want to make sure that we’re looking at some of the negative aspects of services so that we can deal with those, which I think is really important.

Amy Ostrom:  One of the other themes that we highlighted involved co-production or co-creation, which are really looking at the roles and activities that consumers play as part of service. And while questions around co-production and co-creation have been the focus of a lot of research, not much of that work has really looked at well-being. We definitely had some articles where that was the focus, trying to understand how the activities and roles that consumers took as part of the service, how that ultimately impacted their well-being.

So for example, one of the papers authored by Jillian C. Sweeney, Tracey S. Danaher, and Janet R. McColl-Kennedy looked at what they call ‘effort in value co-creation activities.’ So really looking at how much effort consumers, in this case patients who are dealing with chronic illness, what kind of activities are they taking on? The whole idea behind their work was this notion that some of these activities or the roles are actually more effortful than others, and that patients or these individuals dealing with chronic illness will take on the easy activities first and then progress to the more effortful activities. So they were able to really look at the nature of these activities, things that they’re doing for themselves, things that they’re doing related to other people. What’s really fascinating is that they were able to look at the effort that these individuals were expending in terms of these various activities and relate that to things like quality of life. It really highlights, spotlights, how consumers and roles they’re taking on, the activities they are engaging in part of a service, really can impact their well-being.

Laurel Anderson:  We’ve looked at providers before to some extent, and the production, the co-creation, but not emphasized consumers and their well-being as much.

Amy Ostrom: It’s kind of exciting that we’re actually starting to see some research where we’re looking at more innovative measures. Oftentimes some of the research involves more perceptual measures. We are seeing that researchers are starting to use actual behavior measures or maybe more objective measures to really understand the nature of well-being, changes that are happening. So for example Martin Mende and Jenny van Doorn look at co-production in the context of consumers participating in debt management programs, and they look at, over time, the impact of consumers who are in those programs—their co-production and its impact on an objective measure, a change in credit scores, as well as things like increased stress perceptions. So we’re really seeing some interesting relationships between, again, how people are co-producing or their role within the organization and their level of well-being.

Darima Fotheringham: In your editorial you also identified specific areas within TSR that required further research. Can you talk about these areas and share examples of research questions that you personally find especially important or intriguing?

Amy Ostrom: One of the areas that we continue to talk about, and I know that others are really devoted to studying it as well, is what’s called Base of the Pyramid, or studying individuals, really billions of people in the world who are living under a few dollars a day. And a lot of the research that’s done in service work and just academic work in general in any area doesn’t tend to pay attention to individuals living in those particular types of circumstances. So there’s much to learn about consumers living in those situations, and a lot to learn from them, and the creativity that’s demonstrated in individuals that are living in what we refer to as the Base of the Pyramid.

Laurel Anderson: Another area, that we believe is very important, has to do with stress, being really cognizant of stress and the impact of stress on consumers. One of the other methods or approaches that we also feel is very important is an interdisciplinary approach where we’re bringing in knowledge from maybe the biological sciences, neurology, some of the other fields like nursing, or medicine, or law. One of the areas where there’s just fascinating research on stress has to do with the impact of stress on the body of a person. We’ve known for quite a while that stress impacts the well-being of a person, but there’s some very interesting research now that looks at the impact of stress on the body and then on how it’s passed on to the next generation—I think it just emphasizes the importance of well-being for the consumers that are participating in services and incorporating some of the interdisciplinary research that’s out there on the impacts of stress. So it’s a very fruitful and important area to pursue.

Amy Ostrom: The other area that we talk quite a bit about that’s not too surprising is the impact that technology is having in services that are based on technology and the relationship with well-being. And in this day where so much of our behavior can be tracked and monitored, issues around what that means for privacy and service settings and potential harm that can come from that. The fact that service providers now can know information about us and be continually tracking our behavior, the potential that raises for all sorts of potentially harmful well-being aspects, but at the same time a lot of benefits, when you think about monitoring and health related aspects, that can be really empowering for consumers to be able to live their lives knowing that the service provider, a doctor, is able to know at any time if there are any issue. But it does change the nature of the dynamic.

Laurel Anderson: It does, and it raises something we found throughout, which is trade-offs. There are trade-offs in some benefits to well-being and the negative aspects of, for example, technology and monitoring. Those are really important aspects to talk about and to research too. In addition, as far as trade-offs are concerned, sometimes there are trade-offs between the well-being of one group and the well-being of another group. And who decides then which is going to be prioritized in their well-being? So there are some really complex questions around well-being and trade-offs that we saw coming out of some of the research.

Amy Ostrom: I think it highlights the need to look broader than just the dyad, the trade-offs at community levels and service system levels. It is the key to why we have to look at the broader picture than often times we tend to do. It’s hard research to do, and very difficult, but very important given the nature of these kinds of interaction trade-offs that are effecting so many of us on a daily level.

Darima Fotheringham: You conclude the editorial by recommending specific actions that can help TSR make a real impact on society. The call to action is mostly directed to the research community, but as you mentioned we can all benefit from data in the field. Is there anything as consumers, as customers, or as individuals can do to support this research?

Laurel Anderson: I think that one of the areas that is challenging with regards to consumers themselves and well-being is a trend that we’re seeing that’s called responsibilization. What that means is that services, and governments, and policy are putting more responsibility for wellbeing onto the consumers. And it demands a high level of literacy on the part of the consumer, and so for example health—consumers have to know so much more now about the health, and their bodies, and the medical field because the responsibility is being put more on them than in the past. So as far as consumers are concerned that’s one of the issues as far as trade-offs. Yes, more of the choices on the consumers parts, but also more of the responsibility and decision making, maybe without some of the expertise to be able to do that. So things like literacy, having the time to do that, the resources and capacity I think are real challenges for consumers to manage. And if you have to do that in all the different areas of service, from health to legal to financial, it’s a lot to expect of consumers.

Darima Fotheringham: It’s very taxing.

Laurel Anderson: Right.

Amy Ostrom: When I think about what consumers can do, from the research perspective, what I hope is that the consumer would be willing to participate in some of the research that we and academic research, really globally, are interested in doing. The type of work that we do and the questions that we’re trying to answer really require partnerships with consumers to understand how the services they’re using day and day out are in fact impacting their well-being. Whether it’s healthcare, financial services, it requires that kind of participation. So I hope going forward that people will be willing to participate in research and share their thoughts, as I hope that organizations, individuals who work with consumers in different service settings are willing to collaborate with researchers. A lot of the research questions really require partnering with organizations, and one of the real goals of Transformative Service Research is to have impact—to actually improve the lives of consumers, and the only way that happens is really through organizations, companies who are basically effecting consumers day and day out—Learning what can positively impact well-being and doing more of those things, and learning what reduces well-being and stopping doing those things. And it’s those kind of partnerships that are actually going to lead to the impact that we’d want to see in the community and individuals.

Laurel Anderson: And I think it’s so important to listen to the customers in whatever service they’re in—the voice of the consumer. And it’s interesting because when we don’t, now consumers are creating their own research. There are communities of consumers that are doing research on topics that they think are important and that aren’t being followed up on by researchers. For example, a site called Patients Like Me where they’re monitoring themselves, and doing research, and finding significant results because the questions weren’t being addressed. So I think it’s really important to not just look at things from our research point of view, but to be listening to the consumer and to be incorporating those aspects that are frontline to them into our research too.

Darima Fotheringham: Great, thank you so much. We were talking to the editors of a JSR special issue on Transformative Service Research, a Multidisciplinary Perspective on Service and Well-being. You can find the entire issue, including the editorial we talked about on the website. Professor Anderson, Professor Ostrom, thank you for talking to me today.

Laurel Anderson, Amy Ostrom: Thank you, Darima


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Laurel Anderson is Associate Professor of Marketing at Arizona State University. She has degrees in both marketing and community health. She is deeply involved with development of Transformative Service Research (TSR).  In particular, she focuses on creativity and innovation, going between cultural worlds, health well-being, challenges and strengths related to poverty, culture and immigration and services as social structures. Previously, she was Director of the Institute for International Management at Arizona State University. Prior to academics, she developed community health programs focused on children and families, including a crisis intervention center for children.

Ostrom-Amy (Small) 2015

Amy L. Ostrom is the PetSmart Chair in Service Leadership Professor in Services Leadership, Chair and Professor of Marketing at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. She received her Ph.D. from Northwestern University. Her research focuses on issues related to services marketing including customers’ evaluation and adoption of services, customers’ roles in creating service outcomes, and transformative service. Ostrom, who was selected as the 2004 Arizona Professor of the Year and the 2007 ASU Parents Association Professor of the Year, has supervised numerous undergraduate Honors theses. She has shared the service blueprinting technique with small start-ups to Fortune 500 companies to help improve their service processes and develop new service offerings.

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