Impressions from the QUIS symposium on Service Excellence in Management

The 17th International research symposium on service excellence in management (QUIS17) was arranged on 12-15 January in Valencia, Spain.

In 1988 a small group of researchers from Sweden and US decided that they would meet and talk about their challenges in terms of research on service organizations. Service was, back then, a niche topic with only a smaller number of scholars and companies interested. Few of them, I believe, visualized that this international meeting still would be going on, and even defy a worldwide pandemic, for the 17th time in the beginning of 2022. (Read about the history of QUIS here.) The 17th International research symposium on service excellence in management (QUIS17), originally scheduled for 18-21 June 2021 at VinUniversity, Hanoi, Vietnam, was arranged on 12-15 January in Valencia, Spain.

QUIS17 venue

For obvious reasons, QUIS17 was a smaller conference in terms of numbers in comparison to the normal QUIS-conferences that we have had. I estimate that we were around 80-90 persons this time and that approximately 30-40 persons participated online during the two-day conference.

The venue of QUIS17 was the beautiful city of Valencia and more precisely the Universitat Politècnico de València (UPV) with Mariaval Segarra-Oña and Angel Peiro Signes as local hosts. Rohit Verma and myself (Per Kristensson) participated as co-hosts for QUIS as Cornell University and Karlstad University (and Arizona State University) represent the founding universities of QUIS.

The experience of QUIS17

The conference was, as always, a perfect combination of people who wanted to share their research, but also support in terms of ideas and affirmation, to other researchers. The welcoming and open climate has always been a hallmark of QUIS. Another important hallmark, a reoccurring characteristic of QUIS, regards the mix of business and public organizations and researchers. Unlike other conferences, service conferences have always been careful about the situation that research should do the wider society a service, namely by helping various organizations with the challenges they are facing. This year, we therefore took part of how Covid-19 had affected the hotel industry and the airline business in the region, and also how new jeans are produced in an ecological and sustainable way.

In terms of research presentations, my choice many times fell on the many interesting cases of ecosystems and sustainability. These two concepts, that also fit well together, were the more prominent ones that I remember from listening to concurrent sessions. Ecosystems implies a systemic view where value is cocreated within multi-actor exchange systems. The meaning of ecosystems, examples of it in different sectors, and its relevance for a sustainable future was discussed at the presentations I attended. In terms of sustainability, the feeling is that this area, for a number of years to come, will play the same importance for service researchers as concepts as loyalty or encounters previously has played.

“Service is not a niche field anymore”

Summing up I note that service research really has made the move that was called out by Steve Vargo and Bob Lusch in 2004. Service is not a niche field anymore, the number of sectors that was researched, the influence of different academic perspectives, the plethora of scientific methods, all point to the fact that service today is a perspective on how individuals, organizations and societies create value. With these impressions in mind, I left the beautiful city of Valencia with feeling very good.

Per Kristensson
Professor and director of Service Research Center, Karlstad University CERS Senior fellow, Hanken School of Economics

The Covid-19 pandemic – A friend or foe?

In economic terms, we can ask: is Covid-19 a friend or foe, or is it irrelevant in the mid-long term? We can speculate about this question  by investigating how Finland has been doing during the pandemic.

What is normal?

The definition of normal is tricky. What is the reference point? Maybe we can define normal as habit or how we have done things in the past. We have met people live, made investments to infrastructure, travelled, been active in networking, had visions about how Finland could be attractive in tourism, had a vision Finland could the world-leader in high-tech start-up scene and leader in AI, had challenges in public sector debt and slow growth in Finland when comparing to Nordics or OECD peers. Also, in normal business landscape bad companies may prosper, at least in the short run.

What would Joseph Schumpeter have to say about Covid-19?

Does Covid-19 show change in the economic structure, this is the question that the political economist Joseph Schumpeter would have asked. Currently, in 2020, Baldwin asks the same question (Talouspolitiikan strategia koronakriisissä, 2020):  Does Covid-19 bring Hysteresis to the economy. If there are permanent changes in economic activity or structures we can argue Hysteresis takes place.

In Schumpeter’s view, technological innovation is at the cause of both cyclical instability and economic growth. Today we can ask how Covid-19 will influence this technological innovation. Schumpeter identified innovation as the critical dimension of economic change. He argued that the bull’s eye of economic change is innovation, entrepreneurial activities, and market power. He sought to prove that innovation-originated market power can provide better results than the invisible hand (Adam Smith) and price competition.  However, the concept of innovation is multidimensional, according to Schumpeter (1934, p. 66), an innovation can be a new good (e.g., product), a new method of production, the opening up of a new market or a new source of supply, or creating a new type of organization.

Does Covid-19 accelerate or influence the innovation mechanisms?

Schumpeter proposed two major patterns of innovative activities. The first one, is named Schumpeter Mark I. New entrepreneurs come in an industry with new ideas, new products or new processes, launch new enterprises that challenge established firms and thus continuously disrupt the current ways of production, organization and distribution and wipe out the quasi rents associated with previous innovations. (Malerba & Orsenigo, 1995)

The second one is labelled Schumpeter Mark II. This is about the relevance of the “industrial” R&D laboratory for technological innovation and the key role of large firms. According to this view, the pattern of innovative activities is characterized by large established firms and by relevant barriers to entry for new innovators. Large firms have institutionalized the innovation process with the creation of R&D laboratories filled with researchers, technicians and engineers. With their accumulated stock of knowledge in specific technological areas, their advanced competence in large-scale R&D projects, production and distribution and their relevant financial resources, they create barriers to entry to new entrepreneurs and small firms. (Malerba & Orsenigo, 1995)

How have companies coped with the turbulence resulting from Covid-19?

According to Statistics Finland (9/2021) the Covid-19 pandemic resulting in the following changes in the economy:

  • Positive development of industries

In service industries, production has been on the rise, but the level of output is still well below the level before the coronavirus crisis. In manufacturing, production is above pre-pandemic levels, but the peak in 2019 is still a long way off. In construction, the sales volume has grown and thus exceeded the pre-pandemic level. The development of the trade sector, which has done best during the coronavirus epidemic, has also continued to be positive.

  • Increase in investments in the first quarter of 2021

Investments made by firms started to grow in the first quarter of 2021, with growth of 0.9 per cent year-on-year. Prior to this, investments decreased by 1.5 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2020 and by 9.1 per cent in the third quarter of 2020 compared to the values one year ago.
In addition, new opportunities exist, e.g. Green Deal, start-up ecosystems and developments in AI, that Finland need to pioneer in after Covid-19 world.

  • Number of bankruptcies at normal levels

During January–June 2021, 1,298 bankruptcies were filed. In total, 6,583 persons worked in companies filed for bankruptcy. In 2020, a total of 1,355 bankruptcies were filed during January–June, and 7,546 persons worked in these companies.

Compared to previous years, the number of bankruptcies has remained more or more the same in different industries. In relative terms, the number of bankruptcies has decreased most in accommodation and food service activities and in the trade sector. The number of bankruptcies grew only in the transport and storage sector and in agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

  • Employment growth continues

The trend of the employment rate reached the level of 72.7% in July 2021, which prevailed before the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis in February 2020. The employment rate in the second quarter of 2021 was even higher than the corresponding figure for the second quarter of 2019.

  • Consumer confidence continues to be strong

The consumer confidence indicator remained strong between July and August 2021. The CONFIDENCE indicator was 4.4 in July and 4.0 in August. Confidence in the economy has previously been this strong in the first and second quarters of 2018.

  • New orders in manufacturing growing strongly

According to the latest published monthly data, in June 2021, firms received more orders than one year ago in all the main industries examined. The production of paper and paper and paper products grew most, where the value of orders was 44.7 per cent higher than in the year before. In the metal industry, orders grew by 37.8 per cent from the year before and by 29.8 per cent in the chemical industry.

  • Business confidence developed positively

The transfer of confidence indicators published by the Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK) to another service published in April. business confidence has continued to rise. For the first time since the coronavirus crisis began, the confidence of construction companies has also risen above zero. Companies consider the outlook to be largely positive, although sales expectations in service industries are more cautious due to the fluctuating coronavirus situation. As a result, the confidence indicator for the service sector saw a slight dip in August for a long time.

Concluding remarks: Covid-19 as an accelerator

The Covid-19 pandemic is the accelerator in both good and bad. Companies that had challenges to survive in the pre-Covid environment had difficulties and companies that were innovative managed to find new business opportunities. However, it seems, at structural level, Covid-19  is almost irrelevant to economic structure, i.e. the companies are recovering back to normal and structural changes to the Finnish economy have not taken place. A key learning is that we should increase the good developments in economy despite of Covid-19  and take benefit and momentum of the strong global growth to Finnish economy.

Henrik Sievers
PhD, Marketing

Sources
Vihriälä, V., Holmström, B., Korkman, S. & Uusitalo, R. (2020) Talouspolitiikan strategia koronakriisissä
Malerba, F., & Orsenigo, L. (1995). Schumpeterian patterns of innovation. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 19(1), 47-65.
Finland adopts new coronavirus strategy designed to open society (helsinkitimes.fi) (9/2021)
Talouden tilannekuva | Tilastokeskus (stat.fi) (17.9.2021)

The Marketing Archipelago – a reflection on how we understand the concept of marketing

Photo: Pixabay

If somebody would ask you to explain marketing what would you say? Those of you who are marketing students, scholars, or professionals probably have an understanding of what marketing is, grounded in your own experiences and use of marketing. But marketing has some meaning for many others too, including consumers. Here is the problem: marketing means different things to different people. The end result is a diversity of meanings of marketing that we do not easily recognize but hinders communication.

For some, marketing comes in size S (small): it is equal to marketing communication managed by a marketing department in a commercial setting with the intent to acquire and keep customers. Earlier, this meant focusing on advertising campaigns, nowadays it is based on digital and social media. Marketing is in other words what the marketing department does. Some argue according to this view that sales is not marketing, neither are the other well-known Ps, product development, pricing and distribution (place) in Philip Kotler’s Marketing Management book.

In contrast, marketing in L (large) size considers marketing not as a function but more as a business perspective positioned on a strategic level. This is how marketing has been seen at Hanken since I started my studies in marketing about fifty years ago.  Ironically, then it was the Department of Market Economy and we changed the name in the 80’s to Department of Marketing to align with current thinking. Marketing in L size also comes in the shapes of service marketing and management, customer relationship management, business-to-business marketing; all of these still retaining the idea that marketing mainly has to do with commercial goals and interests, starting from business model design and corporate strategy. These perspectives have been the foundation for Hanken’s research institute CERS Centre for Relationship Marketing and Service management.

Marketing is currently expanding its scope to a XL size: a responsibility perspective where systems in many layers are in focus, sustainability and wellbeing are goals beyond company profitability and success and recognizing all the organization’s stakeholders is considered essential. Transformative Service Research has emerged as movement within service research to address the well-being of individuals and communities, often recognizing those that are in a vulnerable situation. Similarly, the American Marketing Association has recently initiated discussion groups about BMBW (Better Marketing for a Better World) resulting in thematic sessions at conferences and special issues (such as the recent issue in Journal of Marketing). In service and business marketing theorizing about ecosystems are increasingly in focus rather than the focal company. Technology developments have inspired to broaden the perspective on marketing.

In fact, it would be fair to put “marketing” within citation marks to indicate that there is almost no shared meaning of what “marketing” is, although the term is commonly used by many. Depending on whether you apply a S, L or XL perspective on marketing you end up in discussing completely different issues.

To be very practical: how do you describe to a new student at Hanken what marketing is and what you can become by studying marketing, how do you explain marketing to those in organizations that do not have a formal marketing training, and how do you describe to those that have a marketing training that the term is the same but the content has completely changed?

In my view, based on my observations in the last decades, there is metaphorically no single Marketing Island where all marketing people live. Instead, it seems more to be a big archipelago consisting of bigger and smaller islands down to skerries that barely rise above the water. The islands represent different understandings of “marketing”, like business-to-business marketing, service management, service design, branding, consumer behaviour, digital marketing, customer relationship management, macromarketing, social marketing; many populated by several scholarly tribes with different language and gurus. As marketing had a specific meaning when the concept was invented decades ago the relevant question today would be: what is the essence of “marketing” as a phenomenon today, and is marketing the most appropriate term anymore?  

Perhaps one way forward is to reconsider the American Marketing Association’s current definition of marketing from 2017, which is essentially a satellite picture of the proposed Marketing Archipelago; it might be inclusive but not very informative on the ground level: “Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

In increasingly dynamic environments where “offerings that have value” is a moving target and organizations continuously struggle to meet emerging challenges, a proactive exploration of new islands might be necessary. In practice this means taking the risk of trying out new perspectives, conceptual frameworks, and concepts to understand emerging changes. Fortunately, CERS is an excellent home base for such expeditions.  

Tore Strandvik
Professor Emeritus, Hanken

The service robot may watch you when you do bad things


More robots are expected in the not too distant future and this includes service robots sharing the same environment with humans. My personal prediction is that they are more likely to appear in workplace environments, such as offices, before they enter our homes; the coming generations of such robots will be expensive and, unfortunately, unable to do many of the things in our homes that we wish that they should do – such as washing clothes, cleaning the kitchen and perhaps cooking food for us.

When they do appear, they are likely to be – at least to some degree – autonomous. This aspect has created much concern among those who think that autonomous entities can make decisions that are harmful to humans. Such decisions have been discussed, for example, when it comes to self-driving cars, weapon systems and credit evaluations. And there are indeed many suggestions about how to restrict the potential of robot transgressions. It is almost a field of research on its own, in which researchers discuss concepts such as artificial morality, machine morality and roboethics. Some say that robots should be programmed so that there are things that they never would do; others, who are more optimistic about what is possible, have suggested that robots should be developed so that they have morality – that is to say, the ability to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong and an ability to choose what is right.

As I see it, however, the main transgressors will still be humans. In our lives, there are so many norms to know, they are sometimes conflicting, subject to debate, and they often serve as barriers in relation to our needs and wants, so that it is simply inevitable that all of us, every now and then, will be transgressors. This, in turns, raises an additional but less well-researched issue about robot morality and transgressions: what happens when we, the humans, are the transgressors and when the robots understand that what we do is wrong? Would this reduce the number of transgressions and thereby make the world a better place? Or would it add to the feeling that we are often monitored? That is to say, robots with artificial morality that watch over us may create a deeply disturbing Orwellian environment. It may be noted that several major corporation do engage in electronic surveillance of employees by other means than robots and that this typically has a strong negative charge for employees.

Anyway, I had a chance to examine this issue experimentally by having an employee in an office conduct norm violations while a service robot was watching. I used my own robot, which has 16 degrees of freedom, meaning that it can do amazing things with its body, and it can be made to appear as highly autonomous by the way it talks – in human language – to humans. In one experiment, the robot discovered that the employee was not doing what he said he was doing with his laptop; he said that he was preparing a presentation of a sales strategy – instead, however, he was watching porn online. And in the other experiment, the employee, who was about to take an apple in the office kitchen, coughed heavily without covering his mouth so that all the fruits in a bowl got a full shower of potentially contagious material (you can see what it looked like here).

Since these were experiments, the robot was manipulated so that it either did not understand that the employee was violating norms or it did understand this, which it indicated by condemning the human for the wrongdoings. Then, the robot-employee interactions were shown to participants whose task it was to answer questions about the robot. In a typical experiment of this type, the participants see only one of the manipulated versions and the researcher’s indication of an effect comes from comparing the responses from those who saw different versions and this is how my robot experiments were made, too. In any event, the result was unambiguous: when the robot indicated that it had understood that the human violated a norm, the robot was more positively evaluated and was perceived as delivering a higher level of service quality.

This is perhaps not so surprising, because to build a robot that understands that a violation of human norms has occurred is quite a remarkable engineering and programming feat. Yet some part of me had expected that such an understanding is eerie, something that can potentially result in the unwelcome omnipresence of electronic besserwissers eager to be judges of what we do, and that this would have attenuated the impressions of the norm-savvy robot. But such sentiments did not materialize in my experiments. Presumably, then, the results reflect a very human aspect: we typically react very negatively to norm violations, also in cases in which we are not personally victimized, and this ability facilitates stable relationships with others as well as all those cooperation activities that made Homo sapiens special.    

Magnus Söderlund

Professor of Marketing and Head of the Center for Consumer Marketing (CCM), Stockholm School of Economics

Senior Fellow Researcher at CERS, Hanken


Why do people not get along with technology? – an unpopular opinion

A while ago, one of my colleagues asked me if I could give her some references about the “threats” of artificial intelligence (AI). It was a pleasure to share thoughts and materials about the so-called dark side of this unprecedented phenomenon. However, as someone who is into AI and smart technologies and usually thinks about their potential and beauty, it made me think more in-depth. In fact, it reminded me of an executive manager in my country who happened to be an academic professional, too:

Two years ago, labor robots appeared in the market that assisted personnel in moving boxes in the warehouse. He refused to buy the robots, as he was not sure how they would impact productivity and was concerned about the potential side effects. A few months ago, I saw him giving a long instructive speech in praise of using intelligent robots and how great they can perform in the workplace.

… it made me think, why is it that, despite the fast growth of technological developments -including AI- and the demonstrated opportunities they bring, people do not “buy” it in the first place? In this blog post, I will share a somewhat unpopular opinion that explains what I see as the problematic point.

That’s not me!

You may have experienced planning to buy a handbag or taking part in a dance class and wondered how the exact relevant ad content pops up in your smartphone. Or sometimes, you may think that an ad is not relevant at all and you are not looking for such a product. Various users across the web have claimed that something fishy is going on with their phones (1). They say that the ads they get are not personalized and do not relate to their interests. On the other hand, ad algorithms and targeted marketing are becoming more intelligent. What is going wrong then?

One assumption is that we are not fully aware of our selves. One famous example is the teenage girl who was surprised by receiving an advertisement about maternity products in the mail. While she was not aware of her pregnancy yet, her consumption pattern analysis predicted it (2). Technologies may be able to predict our biological states, but do they reveal about our personalities?

Gabriella Harari, Assistant Professor at the Stanford Media and Personality Lab, said this:

“… people’s personalities influence their digital media use; the technologies themselves are just a medium through which they engage in various behaviors.”

It is obvious that smartphones have changed our behavior, but our behaviors are still driven by the kinds of activities we like to engage in. For instance, people who tend to engage in more calls and texts also tend to be the people who engage in more face-to-face conversation (3). So, people’s phone use reflects who they are; it’s not just the technology that drives behavior, our psychological dispositions influence the ways in which we use our devices.

Image by Timo Elliot

Another resistance to technology is the idea that people will lose their jobs. Huang and Rust’s “AI job replacement theory” specifies four intelligences required for service tasks—mechanical, analytical, intuitive, and empathetic (4). Machines are taking job roles that require mechanical and analytical skills. Firms should decide between humans and machines to accomplish those tasks.

Technology brings out our inner fear that machines can do the same activities as we do. But should an employee feel bad toward a robot in her workplace if she is capable of doing activities beyond that mechanical/ basic skill? It seems to be promising news, though, that job replacement makes the workforce learn to perform their tasks at a higher intellectual/technical level. Isn’t it a good thing that as more repetitive jobs are assigned to machines, people have more freedom for solving complicated problems, creativity, and innovation?

Technology is the mirror

There are plenty of explanations and ongoing studies about why people –be they consumers or service providers- are opposed to technology and its unprecedented dominance in the business. Technology’s imperfections and failures have brought many types of considerations; ethical issues, environmental effects, and privacy concerns, to name a few, that make the acceptance situation of this phenomenon even more complicated. Although, the message is crystal clear, considering all the mentioned points, technology is rapidly growing, and contemporary history shows us “ignoring” is not the solution.

There is no doubt that technology can grow through people’s engagements and nourish from human knowledge. Therefore, a various range of opportunities for a better, more sustainable world will be released. The purpose of writing this text was to bring up another point of view toward technology and to ask you, the next time that you encounter a new technological advancement, try to look at is as an opportunity and scratch your head on how you can contribute to it as an academic, a developer or a user!

Kimia Aghayi
Doctoral Candidate


References:

  1. https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/your-smartphone-listening-or-coincidence/
  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2012/02/16/how-target-figured-out-a-teen-girl-was-pregnant-before-her-father-did/?sh=701fa4166686
  3. https://maplab.stanford.edu/pubs/2019/sensing-sociability/
  4. Huang and Rust, 2018, Artificial Intelligence in Service, Journal of Service Research, Vol. 21(2) 155-172.

What do you mean, “consume less”?

Image by 3888952 from Pixabay

Our high levels of consumption in Western, affluent countries is contributing to environmental problems, such as climate change and biodiversity loss. Efforts to make consumption “greener” have so far been unable to halt environmental degradation, spurring a growing number of researchers to argue for a need for substantial change in consumption patterns for high-consuming classes, including reducing the amount of consumption. To “consume less” may seem like a straight-forward idea, but it is often used as an abstract concept without specifying what it entails in practice. When arguing for “consuming less”, what does that actually mean?

In my recently published review article, I suggest distinguishing between four different types of consumption changes that consuming less can entail. First, consuming less can of course mean to literally consume less, that is, to reduce the quantity of consumption. For example, not owning a television or not spending the holiday vacationing in a far-away destination that requires a flight reduces the absolute amount of consumption.

However, such reductions in consumption levels are not always possible. In many cases consuming less doesn’t mean not consuming at all. For instance, consuming less of one product may result in shifting to a less environmentally harmful alternative. For example, much research indicates that we should consume less meat and dairy products. This of course does not mean that we eat less; rather, we replace the meat and dairy products in our diets with plant-based alternatives that have a smaller ecological footprint. Similarly, research has argued for the need to reduce private car use.  It is difficult to demand people travel shorter distances; rather, we can shift to alternative modes of transportation, such as public transport or biking.

In addition, sometimes consuming less may mean that we buy less new things and keep using what we already own. For example, it is not realistic to demand that we not wear clothes or own a phone, but if we extend the lifespan of the clothes and the electronics that we already own, we don’t need to buy as many new products.

Finally, sometimes we only have occasional use for a product, such as a drill or a book. In these instances, it may make the most sense to not buy these products for ourselves, but to borrow, rent, or in other ways share them with others. That way, we collectively consume less, as we are sharing products among us instead of everyone owning their own.

Thus, “consuming less” is not as simple an idea as it may first appear. It can actually entail a variety of ways of changing our consumption patterns: absolute reductions in the amount of consumption, changing modes of consumption, extending product lifespans, or sharing products. Understanding the variety of consumption changes that we can make to reduce ecological footprints can help us be more successful in our efforts to address environmental degradation.

Maria Sandberg,
Doctoral student


To read more about different ways of consuming less, see my recently published article, in which I develop a typology to differentiate between types of consumption changes and discuss consumption changes in housing, nutrition, mobility and other categories of consumption:

Sandberg, Maria (2021), “Sufficiency transitions: A review of consumption changes for environmental sustainability”, Journal of Cleaner Production, 293 (15 April 2021), 126097. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2021.126097

Photo: Pixabay


CERS Research Seminar with Magnus Söderlund: Student Perspectives

The human-to-robot service encounter (and robot-to-robot encounters) 

On Tuesday, the 2nd of March 2021, Magnus Söderlund, Senior CERS Fellow, and Professor at Stockholm School of Economics held a seminar on recent empirical findings in human-to-robot and robot-to-robot interaction in the service sector. During this seminar, Söderlund talked about how such research can be conducted, some of the results from recent studies, and his view of the publishing opportunities.

Photo: Unsplash

As Master’s Marketing students, we were incredibly excited to attend this research seminar. This blog will provide a description of the seminar as well as our individual perspectives.

Interaction with robots in the service sector

Robots are already making appearances in different service industries. For instance, a robot helping customers in supermarkets in Sweden and service robots in the Seoul Airport. However, according to Professor Söderlund, these instances appear to be more promotional stunts than integrated service experiences.

Professor Söderlund owns three robots with a range of functions. Currently under COVID-19 restrictions, Professor Söderlund has been getting creative with his experimental methods. Using his own robots and himself as actor, he’s been creating videos for the purpose of measuring viewer impressions on varying dimensions of robot interactions.

His video experiments are guided by theories of anthropomorphism and are designed to gauge viewer participants’ judgements of privacy violations, perceived service effort, and service politeness. Theories of anthropomorphism explore the imbuing of non-humans with human-like characteristics.

Distinct from Söderlund’s previous work on virtual agents, service robots will move within physical environments in which there are humans while collecting, storing, processing, interpreting—and possibly sharing—data about humans. To Söderlund, movement is necessary feature in service robots.

Professor Söderlund gave seminar attendees a preview of the preliminary results of his studies. Each examines different scenarios in which participants watch videos and give their immediate impressions. Here is a recap of the studies and their research implications:

Study 1 (Privacy Violation)

In this video, participants are introduced to a robot who records everything around it. One employee (played by Söderlund) is anxiously awaiting feedback from his manager on a project. The robot, who can access and share information it has recorded, is asked by the employee to reveal the feedback the robot overheard from the manager.

According to viewing participants’ reactions, the robot was evaluated as a human, based on whether he violated the manager’s privacy. Even when the robot revealed positive feedback—it was still considered to violate the manager’s privacy. 

Implications: Anthropomorphism is clearly demonstrated here in ethical judgements on violations of privacy. The scenario indicates that robots in the workplace will be held accountable to the same moral standards as humans.

Study 2 (Privacy Violation)

In a twist on study 1, participants were shown scenarios comparing a human counsellor and a robot counsellor. After an employee had privately confided to the counsellor, a manager asks for the counsellor (human or robot) to reveal confidential information about the employee. As in study 1, the robot’s violation of the employee’s privacy is perceived the same as if a human did it. 

Implications: Again, the robot’s behaviour is held to human schemes of moral judgement. In the case of violating privacy, participants notably placed human-based ethical concerns on the robot.

Study 3 (Perceived Effort)

According to previous research, employees seen doing effortful activities are perceived as providing better service. Söderlund was interested in whether this phenomenon also applied to robots. When viewing a robot struggling to complete a task, the robot was NOT viewed as providing “better service” when it struggled more, unlike humans.

Implications: While high-effort human activity is usually perceived as contributing to better service, the opposite is true for robots. This suggests that for humans to perceive service robots as performing high-quality service, the activity must appear easy. Perhaps this expectation of perfection from robots will limit the adoption of service robots until they are sufficiently capable to make it “look easy”.

Study 4 (Robot-to-Robot interactions)

Söderlund showed participants a video of a little robot instructed to go the kitchen and complete a task. However, when it gets there, it must first interact with the “kitchen robot” who has authority over the whole kitchen. Two scenarios played out: one in which the kitchen robot was polite to its subordinate, and one in which it was rude. Not only did participants agree that between the two videos the robots differed in their level of politeness, but also judged the rude robot as providing poor service.

Implications: Like Söderlund’s research on the perception of the happiness of virtual agents, future service robots will be interpreted based on their behaviour as though they were human. This will carry over into the judgement of their service politeness, even when serving another robot.

Conclusion

According to Professor Söderlund, service robots will be most likely start out as information storing devices or simple communication machines. However, their possibilities include processing and interpreting data as well. While many human jobs are not at risk, robotics and technology threaten jobs in the same way that farming equipment replaced animals. His current studies lead him to conclude, “we evaluate robots similarly to how we evaluate humans in similar situations”.

Concluding the seminar were some final thoughts from participants. Professor Mahr pondered potential “rage against the robot” in discussing frustrated behaviour towards service robots. Professor Ciuchita commented, “let’s make them smart, but not too smart” in reference to claims that Spotify’s shuffle feature appeared not random enough to many users. In conclusion, Professor Söderlund urged interested researchers to contribute to future service robot research. Currently, Söderlund is exploring the publishing landscape and looking for publishing opportunities in service or robotics journals.

Student perspectives

Karolina Jensen (Master’s Students at Hanken, Project Assistant at CERS):

“The opportunity to attend Magnus Söderlund’s seminar was a chance to experience the world of research in action. I found the research itself, and the results of the empirical studies conducted by Professor Söderlund thought provoking and inspiring. How far can we go with robot – human interaction in the service sector? And where will we be in 5- or 10-years’ time? I think being in the midst of an ongoing conversation on current research is incredibly motivating for a student, makes you want to learn more and maybe even find out for yourself.”  

Erkki Paunonen (Master’s Students at Hanken, Project Assistant at CERS):

“This seminar provided a new perspective to research methodology during COVID-19 related distancing. Professor Söderlund introduced his methodological choices for these studies by jokingly referring to the ‘what would you do’ scenarios that researchers often describe to participants. If you can simply show them that scenario rather than describe it, why not? Using his own robots and self as actor, the methodology really struck me as a clever adaptation to remote research. Finally, as a student, it can often feel like academic articles are finished works that descend from the skies. It’s nice to hear about works in progress and realize that a lot of the research process is about doing, not just analysing.”

By Karolina Jensen and Erkki Paunonen

Master’s Student at Hanken, Project Assistants at CERS

Why I squat every day – and why you should too

Upon reading that title, you might think that I will use this post to explain how squatting daily will give you a butt hard as stone. Although that is indeed a nice benefit, it is not the main idea. Because it is good for your health? Nice bonus. Because it is the most badass exercise you can do in a gym? True, but not the main reason. Because it is an effective way to lose weight if done properly? Frankly that just leads in my case to eating more.

No, the real reason why I urge you to get under a heavy bar and squat all the way down is because it will prepare you for life.

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done. Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hit, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you are because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that!” – Sylvester Stallone in his role as Rocky.

Don’t escape the squat, use the squat to escape

Life is tough and there is no escaping from it: no matter how hard you run away from your problems, they will catch up sooner or later. In my opinion, facing your problems should not be a problem. You need to find the strength to tackle whatever issue needs to be resolved but you cannot “just do it”. For many things the first step is the most difficult one and there is a way to prepare for that step.

Every time I bring someone new in for a squat session, they become nervous, unsure if they can do it. “But I’m not strong…” No worries, we all have to take the first step. No one was born being able to squat heavy without training. Slowly and steadily mastering the movement under supervision, we gradually increase the weight. There will be a moment where I will tell you: “Let’s see how strong you really are” and then we prepare for that day.

The point of no return…

What goes through your head when you are about to test your limit? The minutes before you get under that bar? Fear. Anxiety. Doubt. Whatever weight is on that bar it is more than you have ever lifted before. You know that the previous attempt a couple of minutes ago already felt like carrying a car on your back then there is the point of no return. Especially in a competition there is no going back, you stand in line and see your fellow lifters barely making or even failing their lifts. The announcer tells the audience that it’s your turn, your coach hits you on the back while he screams into your ear. Not that you hear anything. You are sucked up in a mental void where you see your own feet moving forward and hear a voice in your head asking you how the hell we got into this situation and why we didn’t choose something easier, like bowling. Directed by autopilot you grab the bar, bring your body underneath and lift the weight out of the rack. There is only one thing going through your mind at that moment: “F*ck, this is heavy…”

It’s too late now, you cannot put it back before you attempt your lift. With wobbling legs, you step backwards and wait for the signal of the referee. “Squat!” A big breath of air, your hands pulling the bar as hard as you can into your back and the butt moving downwards as you go. It is as if time stands still. The sounds of the audience fade away. Your vision becomes blurred. You wonder: “am I deep enough already?” When your body feels like you cannot possibly go down further without tipping over, it pushes your back into the bar again. On a good day you will end up upright with the bar on your shoulders. On a bad day you will lose the battle and bend through your knees – no worries, the spotters are there to help you on your feet.

What squats taught me

If you have made it this far you might wonder something along the lines of “why the hell should I care about all of this” or “so what’s the reason now that I have to squat?” Because this experience, knowing that you gave everything you had, will make you stronger. Not just physically, but mentally. For months, if not years (trust me, I’ve been there), you have worked day in and day out for this goal you had. A squat teaches you something in life that not a lot of things can teach you: you will only be successful if you put in the thought and effort. A strong squat will say something about you as a person. You cannot buy a good squat. You cannot inherit it from your family. You cannot borrow it. You cannot fake it. You can only earn it. It will teach you work ethic. It will teach you resilience. It will teach you to face your problems head on. It will teach you that you cannot climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets. Of course, my squat does not have to be your squat, it is just a metaphor for life. Perhaps your squat is running (ultra)marathons, climbing mountains or stepping into the ring for a boxing match.

Every day you will go out there and take something that is heavy on your back. Something that does nothing but bring you down to your lowest point, and you will rise. Do it every day, and you know that no problem in life is too big for you to handle. Or as I have told my athletes so often that they can dream the words: “Squat every day and one day you will be able to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders.”

By Steven MGP Schoenmaker, Doctoral student at Hanken, Marketing deparment

Are virtual conferences any good?

2020 was the year when everything went online, including academic workshops, colloquiums, and conferences. And opinions about such online events differ. I have heard about academics’ varying experiences of virtual conferences, and have attended a few smaller online seminars myself. But I have yet to experience a full-scale international virtual academic conference. However, my curiosity in such virtual conferences will soon be satisfied as I plan to attend and present at the 30th RESER (The European Association for REsearch on SERvices) International Conference, which due to COVID-19 will take place virtually on January 21st-22nd 2021. Meanwhile, I thought I should have a look at the pros and cons of virtual conferences.

The major advantages of virtual conferences are of course their smaller environmental impact and greater inclusiveness. If we start with the environment, different calculations of the carbon footprint of conference travel exist and I will not recite the numbers here. Let’s just conclude that academic conferences are a big source of CO2 emissions, with some estimates even suggesting a carbon footprint equivalent to that of some small nations. Virtual conferences reduce this environmental impact to almost zero. Taking conferences online also make them available to a much larger group of academics. It is much easier for researchers with small children or disabilities to attend virtual conferences from home, than flying around the world to participate in traditional in-person conferences. Similarly, economically disadvantaged academics, or researchers from specific countries, often find it difficult to attend international conferences, due to the high costs and visa restrictions. With virtual conferences, the playing field is levelled.  

But what are the main downsides of virtual conferences? Well, aside from being stuck behind a computer for hours and missing out on the (often but not always) exciting travel destination, the major disadvantage of such online events is of course the lack of in-person interaction. In academia, networking is vital, especially for PhD students and postdoctoral researchers. But also for senior academics, meeting and discussing things of common interest with fellow scholars is a critical part of a flourishing academic environment. As many who have attended academic conferences know, even a short lunch or drink in the evening with other researchers of similar interests can stimulate the most interesting ideas, and lay the ground for new exciting collaborations. Also, the wonderful randomness of who you will meet and interact with during traditional conferences and the quality of these experiences are, understandably, not on the same level during online events.

My own final opinion about virtual academic conferences has to wait until after the 30th RESER Conference later this month, but it is obvious that both online and offline conferences have their pros and cons. If I was to speculate, I think both these forms of conferences will co-exist post-COVID-19. And academic conferences of the future might very well try to capture the main strengths of the two formats. For example, I would not be surprised if we will see hybrid conferences in which some of the participants attend in-person and others online. Maybe that would be the best of two worlds?

Gustav Medberg
Postdoctoral Researcher

On conceptualizing ‘alignment with customers’

I share with you, the reader, a part of my journey as I am working on one conceptual paper for my PhD related to customers and ecosystems. This article is also on the meaning of words, especially high-mileage words that we frequently take for granted.

Being immersed in the practice of service design, and now in literature anchoring customers as starting points for business, I frequently encounter the commercial imperative of ‘aligning with customers’, or the quasi-theoretic propulsion to understand and align with the customer’s logic – the logic implicating “the interconnectedness of customer activities, customer reasoning and the idiosyncratic patterns of customer behaviour”; “the basis of value-in-use, offerings and, in essence, business success”  (Heinonen & Strandvik, 2015).

In my imagination, ‘aligning with the customer’ sounded quite complex, perhaps as intricate as our human experience can be, and so the concept had to be multi-dimensional and operating at multiple levels. My reasoning was that as individuals, we have our ever-shifting, ‘inner’ mental-emotional and embodied worlds, as well as our ‘outward’ behavioural worlds. We also find ourselves embedded in a dynamic world of people, nature, and things. And so to align with an individual potentially implicates the whole lot, particularly that which is relevant to the individual in a given context.

Complex customer ecosystems

Taking the example of a healthcare service, the customer context may involve a wide array of actors consequential to the health service: professional caregivers, other coordinating actors and the systems supporting the service journey; the patient’s close ones, a rehabilitation facility, a nutritionist, in addition to various collectives that the patient participates in and which may significantly interact with the health service process. We can call this configuration the patient or ‘customer ecosystem’, a term spearheaded by our colleagues at Hanken (Customer-Dominant Logic, Heinonen et al., 2010), and which is very helpful for understanding how a customer actually derives value out of an offering.

But aligning with the customer is not only about taking stock of the actors influencing the customer’s world (i.e. the customer ecosystem), it also means aligning with the all-encompassing ‘customer logic’ which unfolds within that ecosystem of actors. This includes aligning with the institutional backdrop underlying the customer experience (e.g. culture, norms, values, and roles), the customer’s resources and capabilities, her expectations and desires, activities, practices, etc.

As I envisioned the customer logic to be embedded in the customer ecosystem, my first challenge was to find a way to research and organize the various dimensions of this logic, while situating it in the appropriate locus, and from the customer’s point of view. The second challenge was to tie the customer logic into the focal service system; in other words, to connect ‘aligning with the customer’ from the micro (customer) level to the service provider and wider levels (meso and macro).

I hope to further develop my alignment framework and share it soon enough! It should represent the multi-dimensionality of alignment with customers and capture some facilitators of alignment, helping to expand one’s thinking about the complex inter-dependence of actors and services. For now, I continue this article with a fundamental question I have yet to fully resolve. The question pertains to the alignment ‘mechanism’ itself – i.e. what does ‘alignment’ actually mean?

What does alignment mean?

As a starting point, here are some definitions and synonyms for alignment: to bring into cooperation or agreement with (politics); arrangement in a straight line or the proper positioning or state of adjustment of parts in relation to each other; congruence, coextension, adjustment, alliance.

Alignment has been used in diverse literature. One example is organizational strategic alignment which looks at the fit between external market conditions, and an organization’s internal resources and functional units (Goepp & Avila, 2015). Another example is Carl Rogers’s self-congruency theory in psychology which describes the alignment between a person’s ideal self and their actual experience. The latter is also adapted to marketing as self-congruity theory (Sirgy, 2018) describing the comparison between a consumer’s brand perceptions with their social ideals and self-concept; this has been found to be a useful predictor of consumer attitudes and purchase intention (e.g. Aaker, 1999).

As it appears, even though the concept is quite general, alignment has been useful in describing a wide range of strategic, perceptive, and cognitive ‘matching or fitting’. This may exist between a customer and a brand, between a company and its market, between a company’s internal or external parts (e.g. inter-functional units; networks), or even alignment within one’s own experience (ideal vs. actual self).

Attunement, a complementary concept

To add further nuance, the phenomologist’s concept of ‘attunement’ was suggested to me during a presentation of my topic, and indeed I have found it quite insightful. German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) referred to phenomenological attunement (Befindlichkeit) as a fundamental way of being-in-the-world that filters any experience by ‘moods’ – all human experience, thinking included, is attuned by moods (from DeLancey’s (2014) analysis). In other words, “certain moods or emotions shape what matters to a human being, and as a result shape the very way that the world is revealed.” (DeLancey, 2014). Counter to a homo-rationalis view, this suggests that human experience is always affective, never simply representational – what is experienced somehow always matters to us, thanks to moods.

Phenomenological attunement was applied by Ashworth et al. (1992) to the context of healthcare participation. They expanded on dynamics for the attunement of health professionals and patients to one other, favourable for patient participation. Specifically, they argue for: both parties sharing in a mutual stock of knowledge – a sort of information symmetry and sense-making mechanism; both attuning emotionally and motivationally to the other’s concern which “entails awareness of, and empathy for, the other’s personal investments” in the situation (p. 1434); attaining a state where each party takes for granted that one’s contribution will be received as worthy of consideration by the other, regardless of agreement or disagreement; and that one does not feel that their identity is under threat, because of fitting poorly into some role expectations. Talk about an ideal state for inter-relating!

Fisk et al. (2019) nicely capture the essence of this with their call for ‘transformational collaboration’ which “occurs when all participants are able to make contributions at their full human potential… It is the highest form of co-creation” (p. 198). Under such an inclusive or holistic imperative, aligning with customers, or humans really, carries forth an inspirational overtone echoing a call for higher awareness to transform our services for more inclusion, well-being and societal welfare (Fisk et al., 2018).

What I learned from this is that aspiring theoretically and planning strategically to engage a stakeholder and garner participation is not enough. It is vital to be open to considering their psychological processes which, often times, are rooted in their socio-economic and educational background. Proper attunement instils feelings of safety and trust which may produce “taken for granted” feelings that one is a worthy human being. From a phenomenological sense, alignment may thus contribute to an evolving collective paradigm of connectedness and mutualism (Fisk et al., 2019).

Of course, there are other dimensions for alignment such as alignment of values and morals, alignment with respect to worldviews and desired outcomes, alignment of processes, personal preferences and idiosyncrasies, etc.  But to wrap up here, hesitantly, I now have my customer, going about her daily life, forming some value out of a service, through an array of mental-emotional and socially-situated embodied experiences. And to be aligned with my customer, the panopticon of my service has to open up to truly consider her multi-dimensionality; to have it integrated throughout my business so that my mental models, my business logic, my processes and resources are attuned accordingly to what can be described as the customer logic. This attunement should, in theory, and in practice, be conducive to a satisfactory win-together state of affairs.

Thank you for accompanying me thus far and allowing me to share on this journey!

Fares Khalil
Doctoral student

References

  • Aaker, D.A. (1999). The malleable self: the role of self‐expression in persuasion. Journal of Marketing Research, 36(2), 45‐57.
  • Ashworth, P. D., Longmate, M. A., & Morrison, P. (1992). Patient participation: its meaning and significance in the context of caring. Journal of advanced nursing, 17(12), 1430–1439.
  • DeLancey, C. (2014). Commitment and attunement. Phenom Cogn Sci, 13, 579–594.
  • Fisk, R., Fuessel, A., Laszlo, C., Struebi, P., Valera, A. and Weiss, C. (2019). Systemic social innovation: Co-creating a future where humans and all life thrive. Humanistic Management Journal, 4(2), 191-214.
  • Fisk, R.P., Dean, A.M., Alkire (née Nasr), L., Joubert, A., Previte, J., Robertson, N. and Rosenbaum, M.S. (2018). Design for service inclusion: creating inclusive service systems by 2050. Journal of Service Management, 29(5), 834-858.
  • Goepp, V. & Avila, O. (2015). An Extended-Strategic Alignment Model for technical information system alignment. International Journal of Computer Integrated Manufacturing, 28(12), 1275-1290.
  • Heinonen, K., Strandvik, T., Mickelsson, K., Edvardsson, B., Sundstrom, E., & Andersson, P. (2010). A customer-dominant logic of service. Journal of Service Management, 21(4), 531-548. 
  • Heinonen, K., & Strandvik, T. (2015). Customer-dominant logic: foundations and implications. Journal of Services Marketing, 29(6/7), 472-484.
  • Sirgy, M. J. (2018). Self-congruity theory in consumer behavior: A little history. Journal of Global Scholars of Marketing Science, 28(2), 197-207.

Photos: Unshplash