Professor Line Lervik-Olsen began working extra in hotels when she was 18. Today, she is an expert in the fields of service marketing and service innovation.
"Right now there is a number of very strong trends. One is that we are always online. Another is that we want a return on all the time we invest. We are also increasingly mobile, we move around more and take more vacations."
You're one of those rare people that were actually born in Oslo.
– I was. But I've lived all over the place. We started moving around when I was four-and-a-half: We lived in Fetsund for a year, and then went on to Skei in Jølster, which made me an Oslo girl but with nynorsk as my writing language. My father was a teacher, and became a principal there at the age of 29. My mother was a nurse. After another four years we moved to Oppland. When I turned 18 I went back to Oslo. I wanted to go home.
And you went to work straight away?
– Yes, at Hotel Gabelshus in Oslo. I'd been working weekends since I was 15, and decided to have a year away from school to figure out what I wanted to do. As it happened, after three months I signed on for a parttime education to become a waiter.
Waiting seems like stressful work.
– Yes, but extremely fun when you're young enough to do it. I had the time of my life. After a while though, I realized that I wanted to become a restaurant manager. I signed up for school, and then the principal moved me to hotel management. I had little say in the matter [laughs]. After three years at Norsk hotellhøgskole in Stavanger I started a master program, which led to a year in Miami at the Florida International University
– I did a course in fast food management with one of the founders of Burger King, among other things – before I went back to Stavanger and finished my Master of Science degree in hospitality management. I then spent two years in Alta, at Finnmark College [now University of Tromsø], teaching along with my housemate from Miami.
That's quite a leap in temperature.
– Yes, but the fascinating thing was what Miami and Alta seemingly had in common, which was a laidback attitude and sense of time.
Did you always feel the lure of academia?
– Yes. After two years I applied for a research fellowship here at BI, at the Norwegian Customer Satisfaction Barometer. I got it, and had to find an apartment in Oslo in less than a month. My mother sent in the winning bid while I was at a U2 concert. That was twenty years ago, and I've been at BI ever since. Well, except for a very fun year as a visiting Ph.D. student in Ann Arbor, at the University of Michigan Business School. Oh, and in 2010 I spent three months at Stanford, as part of the Scancor (Scandinavian Consortium of Organizational Research) program. So I've spent time on both the U.S. coasts, and in the mid-west too.
Your academic career largely coincided with the rise of the Internet. What has the Internet, and later social media, meant for the field of marketing?
– Well, first I'd like to say that as a student it provided me with great opportunities, access to databases and the like. It's an incredible tool. When it comes to it's impact on the field of marketing and consumers as such, that's one of my areas of research. The paradigm shift is immense, so immense that it's easy to be overwhelmed.
Is it also in a state of constant metamorphosis?
– Right now there's a number of very strong trends. One is we're always online. What are the consequences? Another is that people want a return on the time they invest. Third: We're increasingly mobile – people move around more, take more vacations. A fourth is the increased awareness about sustainability.
Is it a seismic shift?
– There's no doubt that new technology has had a major impact. But I suspect that when the dust settles, we'll be left with more or less the same principles. It's more of a 24/7 world. But the basic principles of communication and marketing will remain the same. The way the Internet has become a part of the toolbox feels pretty natural to me.
Has the Internet made it easier for people to voice their complaints?
– Sure. When I worked in the hotel business in the 80s, our relationship with the meaning of service was somewhat theoretical. It was, like, free coffee. We weren't really equipped to deal with complaints. You could hear service personnel say "write a letter to the newspaper then, and don't come back!". We've come along way since then. Customer satisfaction in Norway today is around 72 on a scale from 0 to 100. That's pretty good. But there's still a great deal more to learn, and, generally, Norwegian companies have great potential of improving when it comes to handling complaints.
"»There is no doubt that new technology has had a major impact. But I suspect that when the dust settles we will be left with more or less the same marketing principles.« Professor Line Lervik- Olsen."
The airline industry seems to get a lot of criticism.
– Yes, airlines and cable TV and broadband providers are companies are generally to be found on the lowest rungs of national customer satisfaction barometers. Seemingly Airline companies do best in times of crises, funnily enough. They don’t do as well on a day-to-day basis. Hower, lately they have been climbing on the barometers. Their satisfaction scores are increasing.
You hold a part-time position at the Centre for Service Innovation at the Norwegian School of Economics in Bergen.
– Our work there is interdisciplinary and utilizes ideas and perspectives from a variety of fields. My field, service marketing and service innovation, is getting broader all the time. Even in banks the focus is increasingly on service, or customer-centricity, rather than what has traditionally been called products.
You’re working on an innovation index. What is that?
– Yes. The goal is to measure what customers feel about innovation in Norwegian businesses. Previous innovation indexes have concerned themselves mostly with the innovation level of countries. According to these indexes we are not very innovative in Norway. But we’re thinking that maybe the measurements are wrong, and want to go straight to the source: The customer. We don’t want to talk to experts or CEOs. We’ve established four areas of innovation for businesses: One is the core product – the coffee at Starbucks, say. Number two is service delivery. Three is customer communication – how do you establish and keep your relationship with your customer? Four is what we call the service environment, physical or online. We want to measure relative attractiveness as opposed to absolute satisfaction. You might be happy with two different service providers in the same field – but which one do you prefer in the end, and why? We’re hoping it will be a useful complementary index to the Customer Satisfaction Barometer.
Tell me about the term service- dominant logic (S-D).
– The fundamental idea is that service, rather than goods per se, is the fundamental basis for exchange, and that service exchange will be the most important part of the economy. Most products come with a service component. Right now there’s a lot of innovation happening in health care, for instance. How can we make health care more cost-efficient and improve people’s experiences of it at the same time?
One of the principles of service- dominant logic, as I understand it, is the co-creation of value?
– Yes. The idea is that the customer is just as important in creating the value of an object, or an exchange. A car is of no use in itself. It only acquires real value when someone drives it. These ideas have been around for quite a while, but areconstantly being applied to new perspectives.
What, from a service standpoint, is new in the banking business?
It’s been a long time since I’ve physically been in a bank. – Vipps, for instance, the app from one of the Norwegian banks, that lets you transfer funds in an instant, has become a big hit. Customer satisfaction was increasing at first – until the news broke that the bank was also planning to close down several branches and let 600 people go. The tendency is to think that young people embrace new technology and that old people are more reluctant. But research shows that it’s more complicated than that. Young people who are in the process of establishing their adult lives – buying a house and the like – don’t want to do it online. These are big decisions, and need names and faces they can attach to them. This is what we call a credence service, and those are hard to automate.
But the app itself has been a success from an innovation standpoint? The other Norwegian banks, which were in the process of developing their own apps, have fallen in line. Will Vipps become the standard for this kind of transactions.
– That’s true according to our research. Ease of use is essential. Technological innovations need to have a high degree of connectivity.
Are Norwegian businesses inherently conservative?
– It’s true that they are traditional. Our thesis is that quality leads to contentment, but that innovation can lead to something greater: excitement.
You’re involved in big research projects – how do you find the time to teach as well?
– Well, I run a 24/7 operation, and sometimes struggle with deadlines, and couldn’t have done it without an accepting family. I did my doctorate while pregnant. And I qualified as a professor while holding down a fulltime position. I’m very fortunate to have an understanding and supportive husband. I couldn’t have done it without him.
How old are your kids?
– Two girls, twelve and fourteen.
When you do have some time off, what do you do with it?
– I love music. My kids and husband do too, fortunately. I was lucky enough to see Miles Davis play in Oslo when I was 19. That was the greatest thing ever, for me.
Do you play an instrument yourself?
– I used to play the cornet in a marching band, and I’m thinking of picking up where I left off. My father plays the trumpet. We’ll see. There’s a piano at home as well. One of my daughters plays the violin. The other is an athlete, but plays music all day long. I’m surrounded by music.
Has your interest in music provided you with any insights in your academic life?
– Actually, yes. One of my first passions was heavy metal music. When it comes to marketing and customer loyalty in particular, which is one of the things I’ve been interested in academically, nobody beats heavy metal bands. They’re really professional. Look at Iron Maiden! Or the Kiss Army! The fitness centers could learn a lot. Like many others I have been a loyal customer of a fitness center for years; 18 to be exact.
That’s customer loyalty!
– And you know what? They don’t value that at all! Their best deals and perks are all aimed at getting new customers. To me, that’s a classic mistake.
What are the others?
– As I said earlier, we’re lacking in our ability to deal with complaints. Customer guarantees may look good on paper, but if we fail to deliver on them … The thing is, it doesn’t necessarily take that much effort. It’s not just about paying up to get the customer off your back. It’s about acknowledging the problem and providing information. There’s a term called service recovery paradox. That is what happens when a customer thinks more highly of a company after the company corrects a problem. We don’t see a lot of that in Norway, unfortunately.
What do millennials want that businesses need to be aware of?
– They’re very interested in sustainability and the environment. They don’t want to work for just anyone; the work they do needs to make sense to them. They’re idealistic. They’re hard workers. And they are, like every other demographic, increasingly aware of the value of time. They live in the here and now. This might have to do with the fact that we live in uncertain times. The millennials I meet here at BI work hard, they’re sociable and they get excellent results. I’m very optimistic about them.
“Airline companies do best in times of crises, funnily enough. They do not do as well on a day-to-day basis.”
MORE A BOUT LINE LERVIK-OLSEN
- AGE: 49
- LIVES: Oslo
- WORKS AS: Professor in marketing
- TWITTER: @LervikL
- TEACHES IN: Service marketing and strategic marketing at various levels
- ACADEMIC DEGREES:
- 2002 PhD at BI Norwegian BusinessSchool and University of MichiganBusiness School
- 1995 Master of Science at University of Stavanger and Florida International University
- RESEARCH FIELD: Service marketing and strategic marketingwith a special focus on service innovation,consumer trends, customer satisfactionand complaint behavior
- Service og Innovasjon, Fagboksforlaget 2015
- PUBLISHED: Journal of Service Research, the Journal of Economic Psychology, Managing Service Quality, the Journal of Service Theory and Practice and Plos One and Journal of Business Research
WORK EXPERIENCE: Lervik-Olsen has been the researchleader of the Norwegian Customer
Satisfaction Barometer (2001-2002) and is currently affiliated with the Center for Service Innovation at the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) where she holds a part-time position
- 1995-1997 Finnmark University College, Lecturer
- 1999-2000 University of Michigan Business School, guest researcher
- 1997-2002 BI Norwegian Business School, PhD. candidate
- 2009-2010 Karlstad Business School, guest researcher
- 2010-2010 Stanford University, guest researcher
- 2003-2016 BI Norwegian Business School, associate professor
- 2015- Present Norwegian School of Economics, Center for Service Innovation, Professor
- 2016-Present BI Norwegian Business School, Professor in marketing
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