Monthly Archives: September 2015

Bridges for Transforming People and Cities

How extraordinary service communities cultivate human flourishing

By Christopher P. Blocker and Andrés Barrios

Service experiences are so common we often forget when we are “experiencing” them. As a society, we spend quite a bit of time, money, and energy in service settings like healthcare, education, entertainment, food, government, and transportation, to name a few.

For better or worse, the vast majority of these experiences fade into the normal routine of our lives. Some make us quite mad, others happy for the moment, and many are apparently worthy of our social media posts.

Still, in the grand scheme of life, most services experiences are quite, well…ordinary. They satisfy our needs for the time being, and we move on.

However, sometimes a service experience can be truly extraordinary – meaning it changes us somehow for the better. We are different, even transformed, for having participated in them.

Extraordinary services are bridges

Beyond amazing customer service stories like ones at Zappos or USAA, extraordinary service experiences have the potential to improve our well-being. They act as a bridge from an undesirable “today” to a desirable “tomorrow.” And, increasingly, great companies and thought leaders are curious about what these experiences look like and how they work – especially for people who experience vulnerability from things like poverty, discrimination, or poor health.1

Some of the big questions being asked are …

  • What distinguishes everyday, routine service experiences from profoundly meaningful ones that are undeniably transformative?
  • How do service providers create “transformative” experiences that improve the well-being of people involved as well as broader society, like neighborhoods, or even cities?
Looking for transformation in all kinds of places

Marketing researchers have mined many kinds of service experiences (see examples in image) tolearn how they create value via entertainment, personal growth, achievement, community, and spectacular environments. These studies shed light on the trend of cultivating vibrant “brand communities.”Service_Experience

In our new study in the Journal of Service Research, we explore the idea of creating “transformative value” in service experiences. Here, the focus is on unpacking what social transformation can look like in a service context and how it fuels uplifting changes for people.

To answer some of the big questions mentioned above, we went looking in non-traditional places. We found one service experience that not only impacts the well-being of individuals involved but also has a transformative effect on a city.


Meet the Church Under the Bridge (CUB). For over twenty years, the CUB has met under an interstate highway (rain or shine) and directed its energies toward reducing the struggles of homelessness, poverty, and addiction while promoting social integration and human flourishing through physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual benefits.  Importantly, the CUB has maintained a multi-cultural mission among people from all backgrounds and socio-economic strata. Other than its identity as a Christian church, the CUB strives for diversity and avoids distinctions created by ethnicity, income, age, or anything else that can divide people. Over the years, the CUB has served hundreds of homeless and non-homeless individuals from the region and has received overwhelming support from a broad array of businesses, non-profits, universities, news outlets, as well as federal, state, and city representatives and offices that span the spectrum of partisan values. Given the impressive evidence of micro and macro-level social transformation as well as the fact that attending a religious service is a common weekly activity, we chose the CUB as a case study.2

Unpacking the transformative value of a service experience

Using ethnographic analysis, we analyzed the CUB experience to uncover aspects of Quote“transformative value” in its service design and practices. Throughout our extended engagement and observation, participants living in a homeless situation shared stories of breaking free from destructive views of themselves, regaining dignity, absorbing new perspectives and skills, and being “encouraged and uplifted mentally, physically, and spiritually.” People from higher socio-economic backgrounds told us how their cold assumptions had unraveled over time and were replaced with “deep concern,” “joy,” and “seeing themselves and others in a whole new way.” Beyond social transformation for individuals involved Quote2at the CUB, our extended analysis with non-participating community members (e.g., local business, police force, mayor office) and archival review of public newspaper articles revealed ways that services can also create transformative value at a city level. In particular, public consensus analysis revealed that the CUB, over twenty years, has truly raised the “town’s social conscience,” transformed the “face” of a “homeless person” and stimulated widespread and sustained social action.

The contours of transformative service design and practice

As we continued our analysis, several aspects of service design and practice at the CUB came into view. First, “holistic” value propositions engage the whole person, that is, mind, body, spirit, and relationships. Furthermore, the physical environment (the “servicescape”) creates an atmosphere where people from all backgrounds can break free from their normal social positions and see themselves in new and creative ways. Additionally, service practices facilitate “boundary-crossing” and the co-creation of a community that freely shares resources and perspectives.Service_Experience_as_Bridges_for_Social_Transformation

Finally, we identified four dimensions that differentiate routine from transformative service experiences.

First, transformative service experiences prompt critical reflection (where am I in life? what is my story?) and inspire people into projective modes of thought and action (where do I want to go? how do I get there?). Second, this process of reflection and imagination fuels “global meanings” (this has changed me) that transcend the day-to-day situational meanings arising in routine service experiences. Third, these experiences influence real, observable change that promotes well-being. People make new choices, invest in new things, and build new capabilities. Finally, there is a clear “virtuous trajectory” evident in people (and cities). Although seldom linear, positive changes are layered on top of each other, and as in the butterfly metaphor, transformations occur and it is hard to imagine going backwards.

In sum, we find that extraordinary service communities design and co-create transformative value that can act as a bridge for helping individuals and even cities flourish.

The article The Transformative Value of a Service Experience, featured in the post, was co-authored by Christopher P. Blocker (Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA) and Andrés Barrios (Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia). It is one of the 3 finalists for the 2015 Transformative Service Research Best Paper Award, sponsored by the Center for Services Leadership. The article is available on the Journal of Service Research website.


Dr. Christopher P. Blocker is an Assistant Professor at Colorado State University. His research focuses on understanding value creationwithin marketplace relationships. In addition to business and consumer relationships, Chris’ research explores value creation in contexts of global and domestic poverty, subsistence marketplaces, and social enterprise. Articles he has written have appeared in Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of the Academy of  Marketing Science, Journal of Service Research, Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, among others, and he serves on the advisory board for Transformative Consumer Research.

Dr. Andrés Barrios
is Assistant Professor of linkedinResearchGateMarketing at Universidad de Los Andes – Bogotá, Colombia. His research focuses on marketing and consumer behavior in contexts of poverty. He has developed studies about poverty from different research perspectives such Transformative Consumer Research, Consumer Culture Theory, and Subsistence Marketplaces. Andrés’ work has been published in the Journal of Business Research, Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, Research in Consumer Behavior, Advances in Consumer Research, and the Transformative Consumer Research 2012 Book.


  1.  Understanding how services improve well-being through “transformative service” was recently identified as a top priority by 19 different service center networks around the world. Also, the idea of companies creating value that leads to greater well-being for employees, customers, and society continues to be a pressing topic (
  2. There are over 300,000 religious service organizations in North America alone, and increasingly these organizations integrate aspects related to health, recreation, leisure, and personal interest, which influences weekly engagement (Lindner 2012). At the same time, there is often dialogue around understanding one’s past, present, and future which interfaces with identity and existential beliefs. Thus, this kind of service offers an opportunity to study both habitual and transformative experience.

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

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

In 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


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.

When Designing Multiple Channels, Mirror Attributes Matter

Offering a seamless multichannel service is a priority for many companies. This research offers a model that can help marketers focus their effort in achieving customer satisfaction across different channels. The research team introduces the 5C model of customer satisfaction that can be used to benchmark performance across various channels. Getting these “mirror attributes” right within each channel as well as across various channels will set you up for a more consistent service and higher customer satisfaction in multichannel environments:

  • choice (assortment breadth and depth),
  • charge (availability of fair prices),
  • convenience (efficiency of the purchase process),
  • confidence (security of transactions), and
  • care (assurance of promised quality).

The article “Channels in the Mirror: An Alignable Model for Assessing Customer Satisfaction in Concurrent Channel Systems” is currently available free of charge in the OnlineFirst section of Journal of Service Research

Business and Management INK

[We’re pleased to welcome Maik Hammerschmidt of the University of Göttingen in Germany. Dr. Hammerschmidt recently published an article in the OnlineFirst section of Journal of Service Research with Tomas Falk of Aalto University School of Business in Finland and Bert Weijters of Ghent University in Belgium entitled “Channels in the Mirror: An Alignable Model for Assessing Customer Satisfaction in Concurrent Channel Systems.”

Contrary to popular belief, customers who are shopping do not seem to change 02JSR13_Covers.inddmindsets when switching between offline and online channels. This finding—implying that the attributes consumers use for evaluating offline and online channels mirror each other—represents the punch line in our a recent study published in the OnlineFirst section of Journal of Service Research.

In our paper, we introduce the 5C model of customer satisfaction, which shows that five “mirror” features are mainly responsible for customer satisfaction in multichannel environments. Those channel features that have corresponding attributes in…

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