Service Marketing

In 2009, Robert J Kwortnik Jr. and Gary M. Thompson, both of Cornell University, wrote an article entitled “Unifying Service Marketing and Operations With Service Experience Management,” which was published in the Journal of Service Research.  This article became one of the top downloaded articles of the year.  Today, Dr. Kwortnik shares the story behind the article:

The catalyst for this article was a call for help I received from a manager of quality assurance at the cruise line that is the focus of the research. I didn’t know this person before her call; she had read on the Web about other studies I’ve done in the cruise industry context and reached out to me. She astutely believed that a problem facing the cruise line—guest dissatisfaction with dining processes onboard the company’s ships—masked more fundamental operational and/or human resources issues. However, she wanted an objective look at the problem, one that would rise above potential organizational politics. Because the obvious problem involved service processes and systems, I teamed up with one of my colleagues at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration, Dr. Gary Thompson, a professor of service operations management and an expert in simulation modeling of service processes. Gary and I weren’t quite sure what we were facing in terms of a research problem, so we opted for a grounded, inductive approach. That involved experiencing the product (yes, a warm-weather cruise in the middle of the winter—a tough research assignment), as well as sending a team of my graduate students to do the same. Data collection began with participant observation, mystery shopping, and interviews with management onboard the ships. Over time and after collecting different data, we began to see the research (and service) problem as involving more than just a failing process, but instead a misaligned service system, one where marketing was making promises to customers that operations found it nearly impossible to keep. There were many “a ha” moments we had during the data collection and analysis phases as we began to develop mental models of the service system.

Interestingly, too, we weren’t sure what we were going to do with this project in terms of publication. That is, we committed to providing management a report of our findings in exchange for the professional development opportunity—to see the service systems of a cruise line from the inside. But then we saw a call for papers from a journal on the topic of Service Science. We began to translate our research for that journal, though the nature of the project didn’t readily conform to the traditional empirical paper. Rather than start with a theory, our research started with a practical problem in a case-type structure. Indeed, our paper was less about theory and more about building a conceptual framework to help guide problem solving. We were advocating a new way of thinking about service in terms of experience management and how that would require a new organizational structure that broke down silos and fostered better communication between marketing and operations. Because the style of the paper differed considerably from that found in most academic business journals, we needed a journal, editor, and reviewers who were open minded. The editor of the first journal to which we submitted the paper desk rejected it. However, the Journal of Service Research proved to be the perfect home for the paper. We were especially encouraged when one of the reviewers stated after a revision of the paper that it might become, in time, a classic study of service marketing/operations discontinuity.

As the author of the most read article in 2009, why do you think this research is important? Why are people reading it and who else should be exposed to it?

 We’d like to think that the article is receiving attention because it breaks new ground. Scholars and practitioners often talk about the need to better align marketing and operations in service firms, but our paper is one of the few that documents the problems that occur when marketing and ops are misaligned, and that also offers innovative solutions for bridging the gap with a way to think about services as systems. Plus, the research looks at the cruise industry, which is inherently interesting, and the study is presented in a story-like structure, which is unusual for academic journals.

 We find it interesting that the article has been widely read, but has yet to be cited.  We hope this means that others are using it in classes, as we do.  It begs the question, though, of using only citation counts as a metric of an article’s value.

 Give us a specific review of the impact of this article. What additional research has this article led to (either your own or other’s)?

 I’ve presented versions of this article at several conferences, and it’s always well-received across disciplines. The core ideas presented in the article have informed work I’m currently doing on service branding, as well as work on measuring and managing the customer experience in service contexts. It’s also an article I recommend to marketing and operations managers whom I teach in our executive education programs—it resonates with them.

 What has the article done for you? (i.e. Have you won any awards or recognition?)

 This article helped me to get tenure at Cornell!

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