The University of Newcastle, Australia

Making the intangible, tangible: service in a socially connected and technology-driven world

Recognising ongoing success in the service sectors as fundamental to securing Australia’s prosperity and standard of living, Dr Jamie Carlson is working with firms to aid the design and delivery of compelling consumption experiences that creates value for customers and firms.

As our country’s economy becomes increasingly service-oriented, so too does the research agenda of Dr Jamie Carlson. The multiple award winner is aligning his studies with the Federal Government’s ‘Growth Through Innovation’ priorities, seeking – and succeeding – to help maximise value creation for Australian service firms and their customers in what has become an incredibly globally competitive environment.

“With the growing trend towards globalisation, offshoring of manufacturing capability and dramatic advancements in technology, new management approaches and new ways of thinking are required to facilitate better engagement between firms and their consumers,” he affirms.

“My work and the work of my colleagues are vital in ensuring firms produce compelling customer experiences that are supported by people and processes that are physical and virtual rather than by products in factories.”

“This is especially important given that the service sector now accounts for over 70 per cent of the nation’s GDP and is responsible for employing many Australians around the country.”

Online and on-track

Jamie decided to undertake a PhD at the University of Newcastle (UON) whilst employed in a marketing management role at Melbourne’s IBM in the early 2000s, kick-starting his research career with a four-year probe of consumer behaviour in the online realm.

“I wanted to understand exactly what customers think about the electronic service quality of e-commerce websites and how these perceptions influence their interactions with the firm,” he recalls.

“Interestingly, this was at a time when social media was just an idea by entrepreneurs.”

“The focus of CEOs was on a single digital channel.”

Looking to “theoretically model” these complexities throughout his candidature, Jamie crafted and gathered data from a web-based survey which was given to a large group of consumers across a variety of industries. The findings, he concedes, were fascinating.

“The multitude of technological processes and capabilities now embedded in e-commerce websites means that customers don’t tend to make overall simplistic judgements on e-service quality anymore,” he explains.

“Instead, they respond to individual website attributes, like usability, aesthetics, customers service and efficiency of transaction processes.”

“I also discovered that favourable evaluations have an overwhelmingly positive impact on customer satisfaction and brand loyalty.”

“This research, therefore, serves to provide relevant insight for practitioners on what specific processes and activities need to be managed and maximised on their website interfaces in order to improve consumer behaviour.”

Problems and solutions

Jamie stayed with IBM after receiving his award in 2006, flourishing in its business consulting services division before joining UON’s Business School in 2008. He’s since continued exploring customer experience issues in service sectors, most recently expanding beyond the e-commerce channel to include multi-channel and new media perspectives.

“Consumers now interact with firms across physical channels as well as digital / social media platforms, wearable devices and the internet of things,” he elaborates.

“By combining theories and research methods from a variety of disciplines, such as marketing, psychology, information systems and computer science, I’m able to help firms to better engage with their customers and, in so doing, maximise service productivity and profitability.”

All about the consumer

Jamie’s current research involves multinational and multidisciplinary collaborations. The pioneering scholar is applying consumer behaviour and service marketing theoretical frameworks to examine three key streams – consumer interactions with brands in physical and virtual channels, consumer behaviour in service industries, and consumer adoption and promotion of health services.

“My work across these fields provides insight for firms and other stakeholders, enabling them to better manage the consumption experience and better engage customers to drive satisfaction, loyalty and profitability,” he affirms.

“We’re just starting to understand how consumers now play a far more active role in the consumption experience where they seek individual and communal experiences with brands.”

“When managed correctly, the consumer provides value to the brand where they not only continue to engage in purchase behaviours but also influence other consumers such as via social media and product improvement suggestions which are critical sources for innovation.”

Expanding beyond profit-driven contexts, Jamie is simultaneously examining non-profit contexts in health. A valued member of the Health Services Research and Innovation Group, he aims to improve both the design and management of health services and takes an interdisciplinary approach to addressing critical challenges.

“I’m teaming up with researchers from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, Maastricht University in the Netherlands and the University of Virginia in the United States to figure out ways of improving the effectiveness of social media marketing in non-profit institutions,” he reveals.

“Other ongoing research activities focusing on understanding consumer behaviour involve several health intervention programs and ways in which we can enhance public awareness and adoption of health programs.”