The service sector is a large and growing part of our economy. But a lot of service businesses are managed according to old ideas imported from more traditional industries, says Ryan Buell, UPS Foundation Associate Professor of Service Management at Harvard Business School (HBS).

In today’s rapidly changing service sector, a new set of frameworks is required to build a robust and competitive service business, says Buell.

“Service jobs have a reputation for not being great jobs—and in many cases, I think it’s a well-earned reputation. But it shouldn’t be that way,” says Buell. “Service is the business of people helping people, and when employees lack the capability, motivation, and license to perform, there’s no hope they’ll deliver excellent service to customers.”

Buell is faculty chair of the HBS Executive Education course Transforming Customer Experiences, which explores how service leaders can create distinctive and sustainable service organizations that “turn customers into raving fans and employees into dedicated stewards of the mission.”

The program is distinctive in developing a holistic curriculum that speaks to the challenges faced by modern service organizations, Buell says. Participants in the program learn the fundamentals of transforming customer experiences through cases from and interactive lectures by HBS faculty members.

For instance, one case, developed by Buell, focuses on the way IDEO uses human-centered design thinking as a systematic methodology to help create new products and services. The case explores this process through the example of Cineplanet, a leading movie cinema chain in Peru. The company hired IDEO to help them determine how to better align their operating model with the needs of their customers. “This case study may change the way you think about thinking,” says Buell.

The HBS program also includes workshops and one-on-one coaching sessions with faculty who are experts in their fields to help participants discover gaps in the design and execution of the service businesses they lead so they leave with road maps for how to transform and revitalize those businesses.

“Our goal each day is for participants to walk away with practical ideas that can be put to work in their own organizations to make an immediate impact on performance—for employees, customers, and owners alike,” says Buell.

Peer-to-peer learning is also a key part of the program, which assembles a learning community of exceptional service leaders from all around the world.

“My colleagues and I will certainly bring ideas to the table, but just as importantly, we’ll work to set the conditions for participants to leverage and benefit from each other’s experiences,” says Buell.

“At any given point, there will be someone in the room who has faced a challenge similar to another person’s. Getting those people to have a conversation about how they solved the challenge is incredibly valuable, and it doesn’t necessarily happen by itself. We’re very intentional about fostering those interactions.”

The program features workshops on service design and service execution, and those workshops are particularly valuable for companies that send cross-functional teams to the program—that is, when they send multiple people who understand the organization from different angles, says Buell. In this context and setting, teams have an opportunity to deeply understand and diagnose challenges that their organization faces, but they also leverage their cross-functional expertise to identify opportunities to improve their business. Also, having a shared experience allows teams to go back to their organization with a common language and a common set of tools and frameworks for addressing business challenges.

To learn more about Transforming Customer Experiences at Harvard Business School Executive Education, taught by Ryan Buell and other renowned faculty, visit the program website.

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