Transformative Services Research
This track would be based on the premise that services are so pervasive that they to a great degree structure and create the social world within which consumers live (Anderson, Ostrom and Bitner 2010). Witness the financial crisis, the Haitian disaster recovery, the health care debate and the differences that educational services make in consumers' lives. TSR advocates concern for the well-being of consumers – both collective and individual – that is affected by services. As such, instead of profits, market share and consumer satisfaction, with TSR, outcomes such as access, mitigating vulnerability, wellness, happiness, quality of life, equity, and decreasing disparity are of significant interest.
Given this macro focus, our track would be especially inclusive of research and discussion focused on the collective consumer in addition to the individual consumer. These consumer collectives might be communities, populations, nations, etc. where there is much less study. This theoretical conceptualization gives rise to certain tensions. For example, if services do act as social structures, then agency, which is at the other end of the continuum, becomes a key consideration. This is especially true given the tension that exists between structures and agency. Additionally, including a focus on the collective raises questions about possible tensions between collective well-being and individual well-being.
Although a TSR track may have aspects that overlap with other tracks (as almost all tracks do), we think that there are certain aspects of services that necessitate that TCR be investigated from a service perspective. Most noteworthy are the following:
- Services are consumer-centric, experiential and co-created. The co-creation aspect creates unique transformative implications due to the dialogical interplay between service structure and consumer.
- Service consumers are often vulnerable (Baker, Gentry and Rittenburg 2005) in that they often lack a degree of control and agency. Service consumers are often disadvantaged, most especially with regard to expertise and decreased knowledge in comparison to the service provider.
- The transformational effects experienced by consumers may be intended, unintended, or even unknown by the service organizations that contribute to their creation.
From this macro view of looking at services as social structures, it is apparent that services have the ability to uplift and transform individual consumers and communities. Conversely, "they also, often unwittingly, have the ability to marginalize, judge, and stigmatize citizens and communities and to compromise sustainability" (Anderson, Ostrom and Bitner 2010). If services create socio-cultural structures, they can be considered envirogenic (Jamner and Stokol 2000) and can act as stressors, as enablers of well-being or ill-being, as providers of resources and/or as sources of safety or danger. Furthermore, even though we are focused on the collective consumer, well-being is influenced not only by the environment, but also by personal attributes. There is a dynamic interplay between structure and person. The level of congruence between the individual and the environment (structure) is connected to well-being.