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Latest Trends in Customer Service Revealed as School Hosts World’s Leading Annual Conference on Service Research

June 30, 2014
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    Bill Franks, chief analytics officer of Teradata, explored the exciting opportunities to use big data in customer service, in the opening session of the 2014 Frontiers in Service Conference.


“The biggest challenge in big data isn’t the bigness of it. It’s the differentness.” That was among the observations by the chief analytics officer of Teradata, the analytic data platforms, marketing applications, and services company, speaking in the opening session of the 2014 Frontiers in Service Conference, hosted by the UM School of Business in June.

The amount of information available to businesses today, unimaginable just a few years ago, raises privacy issues while offering companies new and exciting opportunities to improve their customer’s experience, said Bill Franks in his talk on “How Big Data Changes Service.”

He pointed to the fact that Disney used to study crowds as “blobs” but that analysts can now use smart “Magic Band” wristbands to track the behavior of individuals within the crowds and offer new experiences by, for example, making it possible for parents to note that a child is celebrating a birthday. Then, when Cinderella approaches the child and wishes him or her a happy birthday, the child’s experience at the park rises to a new level.

More than 200 academics and business leaders from 30 different countries were on hand to discuss the latest trends and research in customer service and the service sector at the world’s leading annual conference on service research.

Pictured (left to right): Gene Anderson, dean, University of Miami School of Business Administraiton; Marlene Santos, vice president of customer service, Florida Power & Light; Roland Rust, Distinguished University Professor and David Bruce Smith Chair in marketing, University of Maryland; A. Parasuraman, holder of the James W. McLamore Chair in Marketing, professor and department chair of marketing, University of Miami School of Business Administraiton; and Bill Franks, chief analytics officer, Teradata.

The conference drew marketing, service science, operations, human resources, service information technology and customer relationship management scholars as well as business leaders from companies as diverse as Lowe’s, IBM and UPS. Participants came from around the United States and as far away as Sweden, Australia, Portugal and Taiwan. 

“What’s special about this conference is it cuts across disciplines within the academy and it cuts across practitioner and researcher and it cuts across boundaries,” said Gene Anderson, dean of the School of Business. “Most academic areas are very siloed. This is an area that is very relevant and attuned to what businesses are facing right now.”

The conference was founded 22 years ago by Roland Rust, Distinguished University Professor and David Bruce Smith Chair in Marketing at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. “The one thing that happens again and again over the course of the three days is certain topics bubble up,” said Rust, co-chair of this year’s conference and also the executive director of the Smith School’s Center for Excellence in Service. “Suddenly you realize that how you think about the field has shifted. Suddenly you get this sense that the field has developed this new thought. It happens every year at this conference.”

There were more than 120 conference sessions on topics ranging from how customization affects consumer experiences to “understanding the definition, drives and outcomes of customer delight,” based on a paper authored by the University of Miami’s A. “Parsu” Parasuraman, professor of marketing and holder of the James W. McLamore Chair in Marketing. “What about those people, who actually make up the vast majority of the population, but for whom services are often not designed?” said Parasuraman, who co-chaired the conference with Rust. “What can we as academics do to research how to better serve those people at the bottom of the pyramid? We’re hoping we can break some new ground, which is very exciting. That could lead to betterment of the quality of life for this segment that is so little understood.” While many of the topics were big, Parasuraman said the ideas presented can be applied even in small “mom and pop” businesses. 

“Many of the insights are higher level, but they can be adapted to small businesses,” he said after a session on the ways customers interact with each other can affect their experience at a business. “You take a restaurant. How you design it can create a bad experience for some customers because of the behavior of other customers? That’s very cutting edge.” 

The conference was sponsored by INFORMS, the American Marketing Association and the Center for Excellence in Service at the University of Maryland. It is hosted by a different university every year and was last held at the University of Miami 10 years ago. 


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