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Book Review: Service is Front Stage
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Book Review: Service Is Front Stage by James Teboul

Service Is Front Stage: Positioning Services for Value Advantage

Written by: James Teboul. Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. 161+xi pages.
Reviewed by: Steven MacGregor

Service is Front Stage

Services account for 82% of the gross domestic product (GDP) in the United States and 72% in the United Kingdom. Perhaps even more surprising given the high level of focus on tangible products in the last 20 years, services overtook products as the primary source of wealth creation in the United States in 1987. For many regular readers and contributors to this journal, services are often considered when we talk of the development of new products, yet such a belief is not reflected in research, policy, and industrial practice in general. Services are fundamentally different from products, and each of these areas need to take this into account.

The need for a specific approach to service development is the bedrock of two recent books devoted to services. In Service Is Front Stage, James Teboul has a conceptual look at the role of services in the modern economy whereas the editors of Involving Customers in New Service Development present a series of research- and practice-based chapters that uncover the role of the user in developing new services. These two texts are fundamentally different, yet each offers valuable insights into the nature of services and service development, so both are therefore useful for those requiring an introduction to the world of services as well as simple, powerful tools to use in the development process.

A professor of operations and service management at INSEAD in France, Teboul offers us a concise examination of the nature of services, presenting a different classification than the classical primary, secondary, and tertiary view. Using instead front stage (mostly services) and back stage (mostly product), he argues that all offerings now contain some degree of front- and back-stage activities and that we are all involved in services now to some extent. A clarifying example is found on page 19: “Any activity should be considered as a composite of front-stage and back-stage elements—the dining room of a restaurant and the kitchen. The customer experiences the service in the front stage. The back stage is the ‘product zone,’ where a physical transformation takes place.” Teboul does not claim this classification itself to be new; rather the presented tools that show this classification in action. He states his audience as those seeking an “overview of the very wide world of services, an orientation map with which to explore the terrain and their own experience” (p. 2) and not specialized knowledge in one domain. The key is that most if not all market offerings in the modern economy have a mix of both front- and back-stage and that to be successful one has to know how they integrate best. Teboul tries to uncover how this may be done.

Teboul challenges established theory, based on the industrial economy, presenting his analysis with examples of how product- based (i.e., back- stage) frameworks change for the front stage (services), including the 4 Ps (product, place, price, promotion) of the marketing mix, supply and demand, and quality. Here is where much of the book's value lies regardless of the reader's existing knowledge level. However, the challenge is being able to assimilate the myriad messages from a style that, although concisely written and well structured with short and effective chapter conclusions, contains more than 100 figures in its 140 main pages. For those in the field of operations management and probably all engineers, the figures (many combining black-box diagrams with other quality tools, such as fishbone) may indeed be better than words, though other figures may lead to overload and confusion after a few chapters.

The chapter structure actually follows a strategy process for a company wanting to add value through services and exploit their unique nature to achieve differentiation and sustainable competitive advantage. Teboul uses a variety of simple tools, including the service triangle (Chapter 3) and intensity matrix (Chapter 4) illuminated through short and easily understood examples. The start and end of the book are strong although the text does lose its way slightly in the middle section where there is an overemphasis on standard operations theory and where the background of the author becomes evident. This middle section is still useful though it addresses a different audience than the opening and closing sections of the book.

In sum, Service Is Front Stage is a refreshing presentation of new ideas for the knowledge economy. It is not for all in the new product development (NPD) community (who may be better served by the second title reviewed here), and it is not the best source for an introduction to services; although page 24 offers a good introduction, the reader is advised to consider instead Pine and Gilmore (1998). Those middle chapters apart, it offers a quick read for the senior manager looking for insight to add value in the service- based economy.

Involving Customers in New Service Development is a compendium of 15 chapters dedicated to the why and how of customer co-creation in new service development. It brings together 19 contributors with a wide array of experience in the services community, including many recognized leaders in the service area.

The why of service development and the need to involve customers in co-creation quickly moves on to the how with different stages and tools for new service development covered in detail. Although some industrial examples are used (notably Chapter 9 on three Volvo cars case studies, including the direct involvement of California-based female professionals in the development of the XC90), most of the chapters are research based. Interesting themes appear in several chapters, including customer-to-customer interaction (Chapter 5), the general concept of co-innovation (Chapter 4), real-time video capture (Chapter 12), and the thorny issue of intellectual property (Chapter 14). As with the first title, the text starts strongly with Chapter 2 by Ian Alam offering good practical advice and tools for integrating customers in the service development process. The next chapter then maps the area of research with the remainder of the book varying between practice yet mostly research-oriented perspectives. In Chapter 2, the importance of working with the customer is emphasized early. Alam cites work that shows IBM researchers now spending 25% of their time with customers compared with 3% to 4% as recently as eight years ago (p. 16). The book in general offers many invaluable details that can be used by the service development manager to help address such trends.

This is a comprehensive text that addresses competently the general lack of knowledge regarding new service development and the different tools and approaches required. Although it showcases the means of achieving successful new service development with customers and discusses examples and cases from companies including Nokia, Ikea, and Volvo, it is still heavily weighted toward the academic researcher. As with the first title, the text loses its way somewhat in the middle section. This is where the book starts to read like a research report for the Service Research Centre at Karlstad University Sweden, which, in addition to offering us the introductory chapter from the editors, accounts for seven other chapters. Maintaining a higher level of diversity and therefore a balance between research andpractice through, perhaps, 10 chapters (thereby less from the Service Research Centre) and knitted closer together would have resulted in a far more powerful text. That said, it is still a high value resource for most in the NPD field interested in either new service development or even co-creation with customers applied to either products or services.

In conclusion, there are signs that the field of services is starting to garner more attention. When this happens many new titles often emerge that are weak, but here we have two (though far from perfect ones) that offer a valuable introduction to the concept of services and how they may be best exploited in the modern enterprise.

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