guest article by Anders Gustafsson, Christopher Lovelock Award Recipient 2018
We live in interesting times and service research is more relevant than ever. Technology is already having a tremendous impact on the way companies are doing business and how customers are being serviced. Although, there are indications that technology has already started to replace humans there are indicators that would suggest that the human element of doing business cannot really be replaced by technology. Research is differentiating between jobs and tasks and what can be replaced are some of the tasks but not most of the jobs. The implication for this is of course that service research should and will have a greater role to play in society as the human elements are what will make a difference.
At the moment I do most of my research studying retailing; another sector that will be affected by technology. Retailing is, however, another example where humans are difficult to replace. It is important to point out that humans actually like to use their senses when shopping, in other words, we do like to go into stores and experience that environment. As a consequence, even if some of the business will disappear from the brick-and-mortar stores most of the purchases will be carried out in that environment if nothing more dramatic will happen. Service researchers will have a tremendous role to play in order to understand the customer experience.
Research in these environments is also affected by technology; we are now able to do what most service researchers have been debating for decades – we can capture consumption processes in objective and unobtrusive ways in physical environments. Technology is available today to capture what customers are looking at and, at least indicators, how they are affected by looking at various aspects in servicescapes. The tools for the latter are for instance galvanic skin responses and facial expressions; eye-trackers also reveals some indicators such as pupil dilation and how frequent customers blink. It is also possible to use for instance sociometers for the purpose of understanding interactions in servicescapes. I am fully aware that we do not fully understand what the data we receive is telling us, but that is why it is called researchers. I think that service researchers have a role to play here too.
Another dramatic change we will see and am seeing is that some of the founding researchers in service are starting to retire. I sometimes think about the next generation and who they will be and how they will bring the field forward and what will be important when they take over. From my perspective, I see that we have started to go back to some of the roots where it was all started. For instance, there is a rather large service community that has been built up very fast focusing front-line employees; they are doing new fascinating research. Service design research is another interesting area that is generating a lot of interest; I tend to see the roots from both servicescapes and new service development in this research even if it is influenced from other research streams too. In terms of my own research, which loosely could be called customer experience has its roots in service encounters.
I would like to end this brief text by promoting an event in Karlstad; QUIS 16. The focus of this conference will be on the founding researchers and most of the plenary sessions will be built around their research. It is a bit too early to be too specific exactly what these will sessions will contain. I can, however, promise an exciting conference and I think you should mark your calendar.