Transformative service research: thoughts, perspectives, and research directions

Mark 5. Rosenbaum, Karen Edwards, German Contreras Ramirez, and John Grady


The origin of the transformative service research (TSR) movement stems from consumer research, specifically a presidential address given by David Glen Mick at an Association for Consumer Research conference in 2006. At that time, Mick (2006) publicly questioned the efficacy of consumer research and its impact on enhancing consumer welfare, as well as the abilities of academics to engage in research that truly matters. Given these exposed voids in consumer research and the seeming inability of this research to make a difference in the health and well-being of most consumers, Mick encouraged the formation of the transformative consumer research (TCR) movement, which is essentially a paradigm that engages in meaningful and impactful research investigations.

TCR encourages consumer researchers to engage in “investigations that are framed by a fundamental problem or opportunity and that strive to respect, uphold, and improve life in relation to the myriad conditions, demands, potentialities, and effects of consumption” (Mick, 2006, p. 2). In general, TCR promotes research investigation into issues, such as poverty and addiction, that affect consumer welfare and social justice, and considers the vulnerability of at-risk populations in consumption settings. Notably, the TCR movement inspired a group of researchers in the service domain to consider engaging in investigations that promote consumer, communal, or global welfare via services, service delivery, or service processes. This field of study became known as the TSR movement (Anderson et al., 2013; Rosenbaum et al., 201 la).

TSR encourages researchers to investigate matters that may ultimately lead to improving the human condition by “creating uplifting changes and improvements in the well-being of individuals (consumers and employees), families, social networks, communities, cities, nations, collectives, and ecosystems” (Rosenbaum et al., 2011a, p. 3). It is worth noting here that TSR encourages research that impacts the lives of consumers and employees in both commercial and nonprofit service settings (Blocker & Barrios, 2015; Rahman & Bjork, 2016). Consistent with Mick’s (2006) expressed frustrations regarding the lack of impact that years of consumer research had on resultant outcomes, the early TSR pioneers were adamant that researchers’ understanding of services, service providers, and service systems may not only be relevant to managers and to promoting managerially relevant outcomes (such as future behavioral intentions, satisfaction, and loyalty), but also to promoting well-being. Indeed, TSR encourages researchers to analyze extant theories and frameworks in the service discipline from new perspectives; these may include understanding how the theories and frameworks may apply (perhaps with modification) when considering the lives and experiences of previously overlooked consumers in the marketplace (e.g., Anderson et ah, 2013). Such consumers include those with physical, social, and cognitive disabilities, financial vulnerabilities, or aging issues (Rosenbaum, Seger-Guttmann, & Giraldo, 2017a; Sanchez-Barrios, Giraldo, Khalik, & Manjarres, 2015). Given this theoretical research challenge, it is not surprising that transformative service remains a key research priority among service marketing research scholars and practitioners (Ostrom et ah, 2010, 2015).

TSR in the service domain

Service marketing is a relatively new disciplinary field, emerging in the 1980s as a response to the rapidly expanding global service economies (Fisk, 2009). Thus, it is not surprising that service researchers sought to build a foundational theoretical core by examining a “general consumer” and by analyzing consumer subsets based upon common demographic factors, such as gender, race, marital status, age, educational credentials, and so forth. These early investigatory research endeavors resulted in the creation of extant foundational theories and frameworks (e.g., Servuction Model, SERVQUAL, Servicescape, etc.) (Hoffman & Bateson, 2017; Zeithaml, Bitner, & Grentler, 2013). However, many of these early investigations overlooked how services, service providers, and service systems can enhance the lives and experiences of consumers who enter the marketplace with biophysical (e.g., physical disabilities) or psychosocial characteristics (e.g., mental disabilities) that make them vulnerable to receiving diminished value in the marketplace (Emerson & Hatton, 2008; Fisk et al., 2016; Rahman & Bjiirk, 2016).

For example, recent investigations are bringing to light previously under-researched themes, such as exploring the effect of service in high-risk health care settings on afflicted consumers’ physical, emotional, and financial well-being (Zayer, Otnes, & Fischer, 2015); exposing the fact that many consumers lack financial literacy to fully comprehend concepts such as credit terms and credit scores (Mende & Doom, 2015); or discussing challenges that may emerge when service providers’ religious values clash with serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) customers (Minton et ah, 2017).

Along these lines, surprisingly few studies in service research have explored how consumers respond to working with service providers who possess physical disabilities, such as deafness. Indeed, the few empirical studies that do exist regarding the way consumers respond to deaf or hard of hearing sendee providers are primary limited to the hospitality industry or to vocational research (Rosenbaum, Baniya, & Seger-Guttmann, 2017b). Despite research which shows that consumers enjoy patronizing service providers who have visible physical disabilities, only 18.7% of persons with a disability are currently employed, compared to the employment-population ratio of 65.7% for those without a disability (U.S. Department of Labor, 2017).

On the one hand, service researchers have generated a plethora of investigations that focus on improving service delivery and quality, and on mastering managerially relevant outcomes, such as satisfaction, loyalty, and word-of-mouth. On the other hand, despite the years of creating foundational theories and frameworks, the reality is that many services foster exclusion, as some groups of consumers lack access to services and encounter systemic bias and discrimination during service exchanges (Fisk et al., 2018). Indeed, leading service researchers recently coined the term “service inclusion” (Fisk et al., 2018, p. 842) to denote a managerial orientation that strives to provide customers (e.g., consumers, clients, patrons, citizens, patients, and guests) with fair access to service, fair treatment during service, and fair opportunities to exit a service. One of the first steps in fostering service inclusiveness is for service organizations to consider how vulnerable consumers experience their services, including their service providers and service systems.

Defining and understanding vulnerable consumers

Through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ( and the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. government strives to ensure that all consumers are able to receive the same value when they engage in marketplace exchanges. Specifically, consumer protection laws were intended to create marketplaces that respect consumer welfare by leveling a potentially uneven playing field between businesses and consumers (Browne, Clapp, Kuba- sek, & Biksacky, 2015). Similarly, the ADA (see Pub. L. No. 101—336, §2, 104 Stat. 328, 1990) was enacted, in part, to alleviate consumer frustration with lack of access to the marketplace (Baker, Gentry, & Rittenburg, 2005; Baker & Kaufman-Scarborough, 2001). More specifically, Title III (see 42 U.S.C. § 12,181) of the ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in major life activities, including their engagement in the marketplace and other public accommodations, and mandates that service establishments must provide appropriate physical access to individuals with disabilities. Thus, it is worth noting here that the ADA focuses entirely on marketplace value in terms of providing vulnerable consumers with access to physical building structures as well as full access to goods and services, in order for these consumers to have “full enjoyment” of service offerings. All of the aforementioned ADA requirements are architectural design elements as opposed to more general elements that might ensure that all consumers realize value in terms of receiving the same levels of service quality from front line employees.

Despite ADA legislation, conditions at many marketplaces still lead to vulnerability, making some consumers highly susceptible to receiving less than the maximum level of value that is inherent in exchange activities. Thus, it is important to consider what characteristics in service environments will likely result in consumer vulnerability. For example, vulnerable consumers are often at risk for experiencing service failures when they use drive-thru services in fast-food restaurants because of difficulties hearing the employee’s voice through the speaker or reading signage (NPD Group, 2012).

Brenkert (1998) argued that, although all consumers are vulnerable in terms of having the potential of being harmed in some way by malfeasant marketing practices, some groups of consumers might be particularly vulnerable in the marketplace because of specific biophysical or psychosocial characteristics that affect their ability to realize maximum value, or any value at all, during sendee exchanges (Baker et al., 2005; Edwards, Rosenbaum, Brosdahl, & Hughes, 2018; Shultz & Holbrook, 2009). Stigmatizing biophysical traits include blindness/visual impediments, deafness/hearing impainnent, elderliness, physical mobility disabilities, recovery issues, spinal cord injuries, and so forth. Psychosocial characteristics that might be stigmatizing include mental illness/mental health issues, autism/developmental disabilities, recover)' issues, below-average income, or education. Whether physical, mental, or social, such limiting characteristics and society’s response to them are beyond the control of an individual, and can lead to receipt of inferior service quality (Baker et al., 2005; Brenkert, 1998; Dunnett, Hamilton, & Piacentini, 2016).

In contrast to stigmatizing conditions, Baker et al. (2005) defined vulnerable consumers as consumers who enter the marketplace with conditions that put them at a disadvantage in terms of receiving optimal consumption experiences; this refers specifically to a lack of freedom of choice. Jafari, Dunnett, Hamilton, and Downey (2013) built upon the work of Baker et al. (2005) by suggesting that any consumer who feels uncomfortable or powerless in a service setting due to having a physical, mental, or social characteristic (see also Saatcio- glu & Corus, 2016) may be vulnerable to receiving diminished levels of service quality from front line employees. Indeed, Shi, Jing, Yang, and Nguyen (2017) posited that consumer vulnerability stems from any human condition that makes consumers susceptible to marketplace practices which result in receipt of inferior service quality or encourage purchase of harmful products.

Recognizing that external perceptions involve assumptions about the experiences of another person or group and may lead to erroneous conclusions and responses, Baker et al. (2005, p. 129) cautioned that “it is actual vulnerability that should be addressed by public policy makers and marketers.” Actual vulnerability is said to be associated with individual characteristics (e.g., age, physical or cognitive disability), personal state (e.g., grief, transition, severe stress), and/or external conditions, whether ongoing or temporary (Pechmann et al.,

2011). In contrast, perceived vulnerability involves widespread perception that a group of consumers is at risk, even if members of that group do not agree (Baker et al., 2005). It is important to note that some at-risk consumers might not recognize that they have marketplace disadvantages; consequently, when external perceptions of vulnerability do not align with self-perceptions, questions may arise as to whether interventions are necessary or appropriate (Pechmann et al., 2011). For example, consumers who speak with a Spanish accent may rebuke a service provider who assumes that that they want to converse in Spanish.

As previously discussed, service research has traditionally investigated the marketplace experiences of broad consumer groups, but only recently explored how vulnerable consumers experience services (Dunnett et al., 2016). Indeed, it is the contention of this chapter that the marketplace experiences, behaviors, and needs of broad consumer groups cannot be presumed to extend to specific vulnerable consumer segments, including those who enter the marketplace with biophysical characteristics or psychosocial characteristics that make them susceptible to receiving diminished levels of value compared to other consumers in the consumption setting. This chapter suggests that foundational theories and frameworks in service marketing do not accurately represent the consumption experiences of vulnerable consumers.

In the following sections, this chapter turns attention to highlighting key biophysical and psychosocial characteristics that result in service vulnerabilities for a significant number of consumers. These examples are offered to encourage research that expands upon current service theories and frameworks, to deliver optimal consumption experiences to all consumers in an equal manner.

Physical disabilities

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that nearly 40 million Americans (12.5% of non- institutionalized civilians) live with one or more physical disabilities (Bialik, 2017). These disabilities include hearing loss and deafness, vison loss and blindness, and conditions that affect human mobility. In addition, over 133 million consumers suffer from chronic health conditions (e.g., heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, arthritis) that may limit their access to the marketplace (National Health Council, 2014). Both physical disabilities and chronic health conditions negatively affect consumer ability to navigate through, and within, built consumption settings (e.g., Hughes & Baskin, 2014; Kaufman-Scarborough, 1999;

Lahmann, 2010; Smithers, 2014); this brings into question how consumers might assess the quality of built environments or servicescapes (Bitner, 1992).

Baker (2006) posits that inhibiting access to the physical marketplace represses, devalues, and unnecessarily segregates consumers with physical disabilities. This point is valid, and the actions and inactions of service providers often exacerbate the issue. For example, despite advances in technology and alternative ordering methods, 42% of deaf and hearing-impaired people that frequent fast-food restaurants avoid using drive-thru lanes because of communication barriers (Inclusion Solutions, 2004). Similarly, although more than half of all U.S. drivers with disabilities use their vehicles daily, most of these drivers are unable to receive appropriate service at gasoline stations, as most are unable to use the self-service pump and payment processes required to refuel their vehicles (Inclusion Solutions, 2002). These and other access barriers for people with disabilities and chronic health conditions might be alleviated, or even eliminated, through alternative service processes and/or servicescape designs (Edwards et al., 2018).

Beyond the physical challenges of navigating a service environment, consumers with physical impairments often report that employees tend to ignore them or treat them rudely (Berg, 2015). Many visually impaired or blind consumers attest that service employees are often rude and unhelpful, making them reluctant to seek assistance (Kulyukin & Kutiyanawala, 2010). Consumers with hearing loss and deafness report that service providers seem uncomfortable around, and often avoid, interacting with them in the marketplace, contributing to a sense that they are ostracized (Center for Hearing and Communication, 2018). In a particularly egregious case, a deaf customer was scolded by a quick-serve employee for ordering via the drive-thru lane using a paper-and-pencil method of communication (a reasonable accommodation under the circumstances), slowing the lane’s flow of traffic. The same woman attempted to use the drive- thru service at a different quick-serve location, but was refused service and subsequently ignored by employees inside the building. The lawsuit that ensued was settled with prejudice against the restaurant (Cirrincione v. Taco Bell Corp., 2016).

Aging issues

The United Nations recently predicted that life expectancy in North America will increase from 79 years to 83 years or more by 2050 (United Nations, 2017). By that time, people over 60 years of age will make up an unprecedented 28% of North America’s population (United Nations, 2017). Aging issues pose unique challenges to service providers, especially to health care, as chronic conditions are a primary cause of disability for older persons, with arthritis, hypertension, heart disease, and hearing loss accounting for approximately 60% of the occurrences (Cox, 2016). Notably, four out of five Americans 65 years or older have at least one chronic condition, and many experience multiple health disorders (Cox, 2016). Beyond these chronic and health conditions, older-aged adults are also susceptible to experiencing mental issues and challenges (e.g., loneliness and depression), which often ensue as a result of chronic disease, retirement, or empty-nest syndrome. Finally, older-aged adults are at elevated risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (Cox, 2016). Not surprisingly, elderliness is often associated with vulnerability in the marketplace.

Baker, Hunt, and Rittenburg (2007) hold that consumers must be afforded the knowledge, skills, and freedom in the marketplace to obtain their objectives. In the case of older-aged and elderly consumers, marketers are realizing the great extent to which visually impaired older-aged adults appreciate clearly legible signage within servicescapes (Ford, Trott, & Simms, 2016). Marketers also need to understand how arthritis or rheumatism

(the most common chronic disease among older-aged and elderly adults) impacts a consumer’s journey through a consumption setting (Hootman, Helmick, & Brady, 2012). Indeed, the aging process often results in the personal loss of muscle mass and strength by as much as 40% or more (Keller & Engelhardt, 2013). Unfortunately, servicescape designers do not fully comprehend how the loss of strength influences a consumer’s mobility and ability to navigate service environments; additional research is clearly needed to determine how best to incorporate this knowledge into relevant educational programs.

Although researchers may call for service processes that facilitate freedom and autonomy for all consumers in all service settings, in some instances this request may be beyond the reasonable purview of many service providers. For example, more than five million older Americans suffer from chronic memory loss or experience mild cognitive impairments, in addition to other previously discussed issues associated with aging (Alzheimer’s Association, 2017). Among other difficulties, consumers with short-term memory loss may have trouble finding the right words to use when interacting with service employees; they might become disoriented or get lost in unfamiliar settings, become confused when looking for entrances, exits, and restrooms in public spaces, and/or become easily frustrated with impatient service personnel (Wooten et al., 2016). Although purposeful servicescape design and appropriate training for service employees can aid in lessening these negative outcomes, they may not be sufficient to eliminate all barriers that stop consumers from obtaining the full value of a marketplace transaction.

Despite the issues that tend to diminish their marketplace experiences, research suggests that marketing to the growing base of elderly consumers requires an approach that communicates "the triumphs rather than the traumas of maturity” (Swimberghe, Darrat, Beal, & Astakhova, 2018, p. 177). Where brands are framed as promoting vitality and wellness, elderly consumers respond more positively (Swimberghe et al., 2018). Recent findings show that a consumer’s awareness of aging may foster anticipatory self-perceived vulnerability, even where a negative consumption experience has not yet occurred (Ford et al., 2016). Therefore, it stands to reason that enhancing self-efficacy and accessibility in service contexts to the extent possible could lead to healthier self-esteem and emotional well-being among the aging.

Presently, in-depth studies exploring consumer vulnerability among the elderly are limited (Ford et al., 2016). Because people age in complex ways, researchers have begun to view aging as a multidimensional process and to address related vulnerabilities in terms of more than just chronological age (Ford et al., 2016; Griffiths & Harmon, 2011). Experts on aging recognize the importance of providing enabling environments, goods, and services to empower older people to experience maximum health and well-being (Madrid International Plan of Action, 2002). Accordingly, researchers and practitioners have ample opportunities to develop creative and meaningful ways to transform services to accommodate the best interests of this burgeoning population of consumers.

Mental impairments

More than six million people in the United States have an intellectual disability that limits their cognitive functioning and skills, including communication, social skills, and self-care skills (Special Olympics, 2018). With an intelligence quotient (IQ) below 75, these consumers are characterized by “significant limitations both in intellectual functioning (reasoning, learning, problem solving) and in adaptive behavior” associated with everyday social and practical situations (American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities,

2018, p. 1). Accordingly, consumers with intellectual disabilities are widely regarded as vulnerable in the marketplace and other service settings, including health care (Havercamp & Scott, 2015).

Approximately 42.5 million adults in the United States suffer from other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive/compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2018). Such conditions may affect a consumer’s ability' to comfortably navigate unfamiliar settings, interact effectively with service personnel and other consumers, or restrain compulsive purchasing behaviors (Edwards et al., 2018; Rosenbaum & Kuntze, 2005). An even greater number of people (estimated to be between 15% to 20% of Americans, see U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2018) have a learning disability (see also Learning Disabilities Association of America, 2018). Although shopping is deemed the most regular social activity' among consumers with learning disabilities (Emerson & Hatton, 2008), they are particularly vulnerable in the marketplace due to difficulties understanding credit and extended payment options (Learning Disabilities Association of America, 2018), calculating pricing schemes, managing personal finances (Abbott & McConkey, 2006), and comprehending complex verbiage on store signage and other informational materials (Cotterill et al., 2015).

People with intellectual disabilities regularly experience negative reactions from others (e.g., staring and avoidance), which trigger an internal sense that they are unwelcome when they are immersed in marketplace environments like shopping malls, transit systems, and public walkways (Wilton, Schormans, & Marquis, 2018). Consumers with mental impairments often confront negativity from other shoppers and service providers, which results in feelings of frustration and marginalization (Cotterill et al., 2015). Ironically, research shows that, despite an increased propensity' among these consumers to also suffer disabling physical conditions, some health care providers are often unwilling or unable to properly' serve patients with intellectual disabilities (Benassi, 2011; Lennox, Diggens, & Ugoni, 2000).

Service exclusion

Although the previously' discussed biophysical and psychosocial characteristics often result in consumers experiencing decreased value in both physical and virtual marketplaces, it is worth noting that the manner in which services are delivered can cause consumers to experience feelings of exclusion. This may be due to unfairness on the part of service providers or other customers present in a service setting. Furthermore, although service providers or other customers may not be explicit regarding their intentions toward people with disabilities in consumer settings, both employees and customers may employ subtle discriminatory tactics, such as negative glances. In addition, front line employees may use inadvertent missteps to slow the pace of a service delivery (Rosenbaum & Montoya, 2007). All of these actions prevent accommodating all consumers fairly and equitably (Edwards et al., 2018; Kaufman-Scarborough, 1999, 2000). Consider the

groundbreaking study by Ayres (1991), which demonstrated that, despite federal law forbidding it, intentional discriminatory actions in services can cause some consumers to be vulnerable. The author investigated auto dealerships, finding that they consistently provided less preferential pricing and service levels to females and African-American consumers compared to white male consumers. In a more recent auditing study, social scientists found similar results when they' monitored for unlawful discrimination in employment and other contexts (Cherry' & Bendick, 2018).

Not all service quality failures that render some consumers vulnerable to diminished transactional value are intentional or even unlawful. Often, service providers are ill- informed of best practices in serving consumers with varying biophysical or psychosocial characteristics, or their businesses have legitimate barriers to physical access that cannot be mitigated (Edwards et al., 2018). The press frequently exposes service failures involving consumers with disabilities, such as airlines losing or damaging wheelchair equipment, leaving customers stranded, or mishandling the needs of customers with physical limitations in other ways (Burke & Welbes, 2018). This has often led to high-profile and costly litigation against major retailers within the United States (Harrilchak, 2018). Proactive steps taken by service providers can ameliorate marketplace vulnerability: for example, a Chicago-area retailer has installed a commercially available bell-call system that alerts staff in stores when a customer outside needs assistance entering the building (Tan, 2016). The same retailer provides training for all employees, enabling them to better interact with individuals with disabilities.

Exclusion and marginalization may result due to inadequate servicescape design (Staeheli & Mitchell, 2006). Although a service environment may meet the standards of applicable law (including the ADA and its regulations), it still might not serve the needs of some consumers, rendering them vulnerable to receiving less transactional value from the service. Identifying this apparent paradox early in the history of the ADA, Kaufman-Scarborough (1999) deduced that reasonable access for people with disabilities would depend heavily upon service providers interpreting the requirements of the law through the lens of consumer experience. For example, under applicable ADA regulations, many small businesses need only make accessibility improvements that are “readily achievable” (New England ADA Center, 2018); that is, they are easily accomplishable improvements that can be carried out without much difficulty or expense. Consequently, many small businesses may be technically in compliance with the law but practically inaccessible to some consumers with vulnerabilities, such as those with intellectual limitations or obesity.

Service inclusion

According to inclusion advocate Jonathan Steam (2015, p. 66), consumer “vulnerability cannot simply be seen as consumers’ failure to engage with the market when markets are failing to engage with consumers.” Indeed, Saatcioglu and Corns (2016, p. 243) observed that “the marketplace is not a very welcoming environment for many consumers who are already in disadvantaged positions.” The concept of ‘social inclusion,’ as used in the social sciences, is broadly concerned with the activities, relationships, and environments that make up the social lives of disabled and otherwise vulnerable people (Simplican, Leader, Kosciulek, & Leahy, 2015). Social inclusion incorporates the ability to benefit from services such as leisure activities, retail consumption, and cultural events (Simplican et ah,

2015). With respect to service marketing, researchers (e.g., Baker et al., 2005; Commuri & Ekici, 2008) agree that the situational nature of consumer vulnerability necessitates involvement from service providers and policy makers.

As previously discussed, researchers recently coined the tenn “service inclusion” (Fisk et al., 2018; Steam, 2015) to denote services, service providers, and service systems that offer consumers fairness in terms of access, treatment, and opportunities to enter/exit. Saatcioglu and Corus (2016) suggest that all social spaces (not only consumption settings) have the capacity to deliver liberation, empowerment, and social justice to vulnerable groups. This is particularly true when policy makers, businesses, consumers, and communities work collaboratively.

Promoting social justice and consumer well-being through welcoming and accessible servicescapes and front line employees, not only provides life-changing opportunities for consumers with vulnerabilities, but its residual effects also stand to financially benefit service organizations. A case can now be made that providing good service to vulnerable consumers not only makes business sense, but also helps to fulfill corporate social responsibility goals which serve a broader audience (Bridges, 2018). People with disabilities represent more than $200 billion in discretionary' spending, constituting a substantial market (Brault, 2012). With 35% of U.S. households reportedly having at least one member with a disability (Nielsen, 2016), it is the position of this chapter that service-based organizations must hasten to develop and adopt inclusive business practices and design standards. Notably, market research studies show that consumers with disabilities often become repeat customers of businesses with which they can interact comfortably (U.S. Department of Justice, 2011). In fact, research by a travel industry advocacy group found that although American adults with disabilities spent $17.3 billion annually on their own travel (Open Doors, 2015), spending would be higher if accessible facilities and inclusive services were widely available.

Expanding understanding of vulnerable consumers

The negative effects of consumer marginalization and exclusion are well documented (Adkin & Ozanne, 2005; Jafari et al., 2013). When disabled or otherwise vulnerable adults are excluded or marginalized within service settings, their sense of self and social value erodes (Elms & Tinson, 2012). Yet, research also reveals the positive effects of service inclusion for vulnerable consumers (Lombe & Sherraden, 2008). For example, the act of shopping offers opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities to interact with those who are not disabled, providing valuable social interaction and entertainment (Wiesel & Bigby, 2016).

Compared to some other consumer segments (e.g., those identified by gender, race, or income), relatively little is known about how consumers with physical disabilities, mental impairments, and elderliness can realize the full value potential that is inherent within a service exchange. There is little doubt that where access to a physical service environment is limited, consumers with vulnerabilities may not experience the full value of the transaction at hand. Notably, Baker et al. (2007) found that consumers with disabilities deemed a service environment to be welcoming or unwelcoming based primarily on the treatment that they received from service personnel, rather than solely from factors in the physical setting. Even where service organizations provide appropriate access to public accommodations, some consumers with vulnerabilities may remain limited by other factors, such as discrimination and inferior service from front line employees (Rosenbaum & Montoya, 2007). Sinrplican et al. (2015) acknowledged that more research is needed to understand how specific organizations and settings either facilitate or constrain inclusion for people with disabilities.

Service researchers have only begun to consider frameworks and measurements needed to improve the well-being of individuals having characteristics that leave them vulnerable in the marketplace and society in general. Because existing models in sendee research (e.g., satisfaction/ loyalty, service quality, service failure and recovery, servicescapes, relationship marketing; see Zeithanrl et al., 2013) were not developed with inclusiveness as an objective, key foundational questions must be addressed for meaningful advancement of the TSR research paradigm. In particular, transformative sendee researchers are encouraged to address the following questions:

  • • What, if any, current research frameworks from service industries are generalizable to groups of consumers with vulnerabilities, such as those with physical disabilities, mental impairments, aging, and other at-risk people?
  • • How might existing frameworks be adapted for investigation into the needs of these groups?
  • • How can ‘uplifting change’ and ‘improvements in well-being’ be reliably measured and analyzed?
  • • Are self-reported well-being indicators and defined quality of life indicators equally reliable (see Huppert & So, 2013 for mental indicators; Diener et ah, 2010 for social wellbeing scales; Yao, Zheng, & Fan, 2015 for quality of life indicators)?
  • • Are different models needed to measure and analyze positive outcomes for individuals, groups, and society at large?
  • • Would applicable measurements differ based on categories of vulnerabilities?
  • • What differences exist across various service contexts (e.g., health care, retailing, financial services, and government services)?
  • • How might technology and the internet provide vulnerable consumers fuller access to the marketplace and its services?
  • • How can community well-being be enhanced via transformative design efforts (e.g., introduction of greeners' in urban areas, public spaces, governmental buildings, development of urban farms, and so forth)?
  • • How can transformative services impact communities of traditionally vulnerable consumers? For example, to what extent can “dementia villages” enhance their residents’ well-being (Chrysikou, Tziraki, & Buhalis, 2018). What type of housing and retirement services will lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender seniors require (Sullivan, 2014)?

Outside of the marketing discipline, researchers in the sport, entertainment, and leisure management disciplines are also realizing apparent shortcomings in investigations of how their services influence participant (e.g., fan, guest, or member) well-being. For example, a study by Doyle, Filo, Lock, Funk, and McDonald (2016) recently used positive psychological techniques to study the benefits of consumer engagement and social interactions in the context of Australian football. In a similar vein, researchers within the sport management domain are beginning to investigate how their services (i.e., spectatorship at sporting events) influence fan welfare in terms of promoting subjective well-being, life satisfaction, emotional support, and team identification (Inoue, Sato, Filo, Du, & Funk, 2017). These studies show promise as a developing body of literature, identified here as transformative sport service research (TSSR), which demonstrates that consuming sport as either a participant or spectator has both physical and social benefits, especially if the experience is inclusive. This is particularly salient when considering the needs of people with myriad vulnerabilities, including consumers with disabilities and the aging population, and their right to partake in sports, entertainment, and leisure services in a manner that is offered to all consumers (Yantzi, Young, & Mckeever, 2010).

Table 21.1 provides a framework to assist future researchers with understanding the vulnerable groups that are under-researched in the service domain; it shows foundational service theories for frameworks that can be explored, as well as key research questions that promote service inclusion (see Fisk et ah, 2018). Although Table 21.1 may not include all vulnerable consumer groups that researchers could explore, by addressing the needs of any of these groups, service researchers will contribute to the betterment of individual lives and societal well-being.

Table 21.1 Moving forward to service inclusion

Vulnerable consumer group(s)

Service theory or framework to update

Key questions to explore:

Blind/visually impaired Deafness/hard of hearing Developmental disabilities Mental illness/mental health issues Older-aged and the elderly

Physical disabilities Recovery issues Spinal cord/head injuries

Customer journey mapping Relationship marketing Satisfaction/loyalty Service failure and recovery Service perceptions/ expectations Service quality Servuction

Value co-creation/co- destruction

Enable opportunities:

  • • Design to eliminate physical and social barriers
  • • How to train employees Offering choices:
  • • Use of technology in the service process

Relieve suffering:

  • • Identify service design elements that are pain points
  • • -Service blueprinting Foster happiness:
  • • Identify service design elements that are key to helping consumer obtain their consumption goals

Exploring TSR from other perspectives

Social support

In addition to engaging in TSR investigations by exploring previously under-researched consumer groups, sendee researchers may also wish to focus on investigations that consider well-being, or other related health outcomes, as dependent variables. For example, many contemporary TSR studies have drawn upon environmental psychology, psychology (Bloom, 1990; Rosenbaum, 2006), sociology (Oldenburg, 1999; Oldenburg & Brissett, 1982), public health (Frumkin, 2003), consumer research (Debenedetti, Oppewal, & Arsel, 2014), and cultural geography (Relph, 1976; Seamon, 2015) to explore the evocative and transfonnative health role that places (both physical and virtual) can assume in consumers’ lives and personal experiences (Rosenbaum, Kelleher, Friman, Kristensson, & Scherer, 2017c; Sherry, 2000).

On the one hand, some commercial and nonprofit physical and virtual settings exist to help consumers satisfy their utilitarian needs; on the other hand, some exist to help consumers satisfy needs beyond goods consumption, such as needs for human support, often in the form of emotional support, companionship, or instrumental support (e.g., assistance with transportation; Rosenbaum, 2006). Indeed, the Mayo Clinic (2018) suggests that the social support that people obtain from close friends, family, and peers helps them battle the negative symptoms associated with chronic illness, stress, isolation, and/or loneliness. Additionally, service researchers have shown that people suffering from stigmatizing diseases (such as hepatitis B) can also receive life-enhancing social support from a virtual community that helps them obtain a sense of community and belonging (Yao et al., 2015).

It is worth noting here that social support is most effective in helping people confront the potentially pathogenic effects of stressful events when they have a perceived support deficit

(Cohen & Wills, 1985). That is, if a person is integrated into a social supportive network, and does not perceive having any supportive deficits, then he or she may respond negatively to socially supportive overtures from others, such as service providers, who want to form close relationships with clients (Surprenant & Solomon, 1987). Indeed, a person’s psychological stress may even increase if a different type of support is provided than what the recipient wishes to receive (Thoits, 1986). For instance, a newly diagnosed cancer patient who desires emotional support from an oncologist and instead receives a plethora of informational support (e.g., brochures) may leave the doctor’s office confused and stressed. Indeed, according to the matching hypothesis (Cohen & Wills, 1985), social support is most effective to a person when he or she can counterbalance a perceived social support deficit (e.g., companionship) by obtaining the resource from another social entity (see Rosenbaum, 2006).

Given that people may obtain cathartic social support resources (for instrumental, emotional, and companionship purposes) in commercial establishments (e.g., cafes, barbershops; Oldenburg, 1999) and nonprofit service settings (e.g., cancer resource centers; Glover, 2008, 2018), it is not surprising that researchers have recently observed consumer ability to obtain social support from profound person-place bonds, or place attachments (Rosenbaum et al., 2017b). Place attachment is conceptualized as “an emotional bond between an individual (or a community) and a specific location. This bond is based on an accumulation of physical, social, historical and cultural meanings that become associated with the place through time and experience” (Debenedetti et al., 2014, p. 905); it may also be based upon the transformative role that places, physical or virtual, often assume in promoting consumer well-being.

Service researchers are encouraged to look beyond the physical characteristics of a built environment (Bitner, 1992) and its geographical coordinates to fully understand the role that physical or virtual consumption settings often assume in promoting well-being. For example, Relph (1976) encourages researchers to explore how and why people sense deep connections to a place, like feelings of being at home—feelings that Relph (1976, p. 55) conceptualizes as “existential insideness.” Relph (1976, p. 51) considers the opposite of existential insideness as “existential outsideness,” or feelings of strangeness and alienation. Interestingly, although service researchers have explored consumer responses that result in approach or avoidance, understanding concepts such as place insideness and outsideness, as they apply to commercial and nonprofit service settings, may provide researchers with novel insights into person-place relationships. Perhaps it is now understandable why Sherry (2000) observes that a consumer’s ability to cultivate a sense of place has implications for his or her life that are more profound than those associated with the improved design and deliver)' of servicescapes.

Attention restoration theory

The discussion thus far suggests that places (e.g., coffeehouses, taverns, or cancer resource centers) provide opportunities for consumers to maintain commercially based friendships that promote human well-being via the exchange of socially supportive resources (Cowen, 1982; Rosenbaum, 2006). However, research shows that there are other places that promote human well-being that is not necessarily due to the presence of people but, rather, to the presence of natural elements, such as greenery and water displays (Brengman, Willems, & Joye, 2012; Joye, Willems, Brengman, & Wolf, 2010; Rosenbaum, Ramirez, & Matos, 2018b; Tifferet & Vilnai-Yavetz, 2017).

Over a century ago, James (1892; see also Kaplan, 2001) observed that people use two types of attention when they respond to environmental stimuli: involuntary or voluntary.

James speculated that involuntary attention is reflexive, enables people to be in a passive state, and requires little effort or will to remain in an attentive state. In contrast, voluntary attention enables people to focus on unpleasant but nonetheless important stimuli, such as concentrating on work despite being interrupted, or caring for a sick loved one. Voluntary attention requires use of an internal mechanism and corresponding resources that may become depleted over time, resulting in directed attention fatigue (Kaplan, 1995). Although the symptoms associated with directed attention fatigue can be extreme, Attention Restoration Theory (ART) posits that people possess an innate means to recover from it and to regain their ability to focus on unpleasant stimuli in the future—by spending time in natural settings, including green areas, beaches, parks, and so forth. In other words, ART postulates that natural settings are archetypical restorative environments. The reason is, that when people are immersed in restorative environments such as natural areas, they use involuntary attention, thus helping them heal from the fatigue caused by demands requiring voluntary or directed attention (Berman, Jonides, & Kaplan, 2008; Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989).

Voluntary attention is believed to be integral to mental health, enabling a person to engage in self-regulation (i.e., self-control) and to successfully execute functioning tasks, such as the ability to undertake work- and/or school-related activities (Kaplan & Berman, 2010). Interestingly, ART suggests that a person’s ability' to engage in voluntary attention requires the use of an internal mechanism that becomes fatigued over time leading to ‘mental exhaustion,’ or ‘burnout’; symptoms including irritability, depression, stress, inability to concentrate, and even aggression (Kaplan, 2001).

According to ART, environments with certain features have restorative qualities that may help people recover from directed attention fatigue. Environmental psychologists have shown that restorative environments should have four characteristics: fascination, a sense of being away, extent, and compatibility' (FeLsten, 2009; Ivarsson & Hagerhall, 2008; Kaplan, 1995; Pasini, Berto, Brondino, Hall, & Ortner, 2014; Shu & Ma, 2018). Fascination refers to environmental stimuli that have engaging qualities and do not require mental effort to absorb. A sense of being away refers to people’s feelings that they are ‘in another place’ from their everyday locale, whether actual or imaginary. Extent offers people the feeling of being in a place large enough that no boundaries are evident. Last, compatibility refers to how well the content of a specific environment supports the needs and inclinations of the user.

Although environmental psychologists have focused on exploring the restorative potential of natural settings on human well-being, over a quarter-century ago Kaplan (1995) speculated that consumption settings requiring the involuntary attention of their users, such as shopping centers, museums, or zoos, would be idyllic places in which people could remedy symptoms associated with mental fatigue. In a similar vein, service researchers have begun to show the restorative potential of enclosed shopping malls and open-air lifestyle centers that incorporate greenery into their shopping areas (Purani & Kumar, 2018; Rosenbaum, Ota- lora, & Ramirez, 2016; Rosenbaum, Ramirez, & Camino, 2018a). Indeed, research (Rosenbaum et al., 2011b; Rosenbaum & Wong, 2015) suggests that any built environment, or servicescape, that contains these four key characteristics (fascination, being away, extent, and compatibility) is likely to ameliorate symptoms associated with mental fatigue and its consequential symptoms.


The purpose of this chapter was to help readers understand the TSR paradigm with the hope that future researchers will continue to develop it. Although the authors have put forth several avenues of pioneering research for further exploration, any future research in the TSR movement that aims to improve the human condition is encouraged. Services, sendee settings, and service processes each have the potential to profoundly transform the human experience; indeed, for the betterment or to the detriment of individuals, communities, and even the world.


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