SERVSIG: For the Community, By the Community

Ray Fisk
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Linda Price & Ray Fisk at Summer AMA in Atlanta
Key Takeaways
​Ray Fisk was honored as the first recipient of the SIG Leadership Award at the 2016 Summer AMA in Atlanta.

​Based on Ray Fisk’s Inaugural SIG Leadership Award Presentation on August 5, 2016 and originally published on August 20, 2016 at

In the summer of 1993, I received the AMA’s Marketing Educator Newsletter and read an announcement that Special Interest Groups were now being created in the AMA to better serve the needs of academic members. A few special interest group topics were listed as being started but not services marketing. I called two service scholar friends who were also former AMA Presidents – Len Berry​​​​​ and Steve Brown. I was sure they were so well connected in the AMA and in service that they would know if anyone in the service research field was already creating a SIG for services marketing. I told them each that I was going to start a SIG unless they knew someone who was already ahead of me. They didn’t know of anyone, so I began immediately. Mary Jo Bitner, Steve Brown, and I had just published an extensive history of the services marketing field in the Journal of Retailing. In collecting the literature for that history, I had also collected addresses, phone numbers and even e-mail addresses (which were just starting to catch-on in 1993) for a large number of the service scholars we had cited.

Two key decisions I made then have stood the test of time. I decided to shorten the new AMA Services Marketing Special Interest Group name to just SERVSIG. I was trying to coin a short and memorable brand name. We recently shortened the long form of our name to the AMA Services Special Interest Group, but we are still SERVSIG. Also, I wrote three goals then that I hoped would help SERVSIG succeed – open, flexible, and fun:

1) We strive to be open to new people, new ideas, global contributions, interdisciplinary contributions, practitioner contributions, and to new ways of doing things;

2) We strive for the maximum of organizational flexibility (and a minimum of red tape); and

3) We strive to be a fun organization by being both lighthearted and intellectually nourishing. These goals are still at the heart of SERVSIG’s thinking and decision making.

Because each AMA SIG exists to serve the needs of scholars interested in their topic, the AMA’s SIGs have been major sources for innovation within the AMA as each SIG experimented with member focused initiatives. Based on our experiences in SERVSIG, there are four best practices that I want to share with you, and then I will offer a fifth emerging SERVSIG practice:

1. Listening and Empowering – Lauren Wright was the first person who set us on this path. At the very first meeting of people interested in joining SERVSIG, she suggested creating a doctoral consortium to mentor scholars new to service. The idea was well received by others in the audience. So, I asked Lauren if she would be willing to create such a consortium, and she did.

SERVSIG benefitted tremendously from starting just as the Internet emerged as a powerful communications tool. We now have several technology platforms for disseminating service knowledge and for stimulating member generated content. These include our Facebook page – , Twitter handle – @amaservsig, LinkedIn page, web page –, our mobile SERVSIG app (iOS or Android) and our electronic newsletter.

2. Mentoring – As a result of Lauren Wright’s suggestion, our first SERVSIG Doctoral Consortium was in 1994. The consortium has been a huge success for building our brand. Many new scholars first encounter and experience SERVSIG because of our consortium. At our 23rd Consortium, we had 30 PhD students attending and 20 faculty gave them advice and personal feedback via interactive workshops with the students. It is also notable that these students represented 13 countries. Our second major mentoring effort is Let’s Talk About Service (LTAS), which is a 2-day workshop for PhD students and young scholars. The 5th LTAS will be held at Fordham University in December 2016.

3. Generosity – We started giving recognition awards in our first year. This was a suggestion from Roland Rust. There were just two awards at first. We created a Career Contributions to the Service Field Award and a Best Article Award. In later years, we added the Liam Glynn Research Scholarship Award, an Emerging Service Scholar Award, and a Best Service Dissertation Award. When Christopher Lovelock passed away in 2008, we changed our Career Contributions Award to the Christopher Lovelock Career Contributions Award. In SERVSIG, our named awards are only honoring deceased service scholars. We have found that our awards from the service research community have special meaning to service researchers.

4. Collaborative Community – My favorite part of SERVSIG is the collaborative service research community that we have built together. Our service research field is widely seen as a friendly and collegial field. Our members are remarkably helpful to each other. Across the 23 years, there have been many wonderful collaborations that are very global. These collaborations include conferences, especially international conferences. Our first conference home is the Frontiers in Service Conference where we have held our Doctoral Consortium each year and given our awards. The 25th Frontiers in Service Conference was held this past June in Bergen, Norway.

We helped the AMA launch its first International Conference in 1997 when we were one of three AMA SIGs meeting together in Dublin, Ireland. In 1999, Liam Glynn and I started our SERVSIG International Research Conference. The brand promise with this conference is that we will never repeat a city, which gives us a way to build the community at every new location. At the end of our most recent SERVSIG Conference in Maastricht, Netherlands, our conference co-chair Martin Wetzel used a phrase that I really like. He said that the SERVSIG Conference was “for the community, by the community.” That describes SERVSIG well, too.

Our Tenth SERVSIG Conference will be held in Paris in 2018 where SERVSIG will celebrate our 25th birthday.

5. Moonshots – Moonshots is an apt metaphor for efforts to solve problems that are thought to be impossible to solve. Transformative Service Research that seeks to improve human well-being has become a major topic in our service field. Our globally collaborative SERVSIG community has begun discussing the many global problems in the world where human service systems have failed to provide even basic well-being. In response to these global problems, we are beginning to develop projects that are our moonshots at broken service systems. The first project we are discussing is a SERVSIG Base of the Pyramid (BoP) Collaboration. Across our planet, poverty is often multi-generational. We hope to eventually be able to design service system solutions for reducing this problem. A second project we are beginning to discuss is the global refugee crisis. It has been widely reported that there are more refugees from war, famine, floods, and poverty in 2016 than at any previous time in human history. We think fleeing refugees deserve safe passage, and service systems should be designed to accomplish that task.

Finally, here is a Call to Action for all AMA SIGs and their Leaders. What are your moonshots in your marketing areas? Can your SIG find a way to organize an effort to work on such global problems? If numerous SIGs begin working on their moonshots, perhaps we can help the entire AMA grow into our new NASA-style AMA logo.

Author Bio:

Ray Fisk
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