25 Years of the Compete Through Service Symposium – an interview with Dr. Mary Jo Bitner


Pictures from CTS 2013

This November in Scottsdale Arizona, business executives, academic faculty and students from a wide variety of industries and backgrounds will come together to be part of the 25th Annual Compete Through Service Symposium, hosted by the Center for Services Leadership (CSL). 25 years ago, it started with humble beginnings – the CSL had crafted a presentation at the request of its board of advisors to present the latest knowledge in what was then a new field: the study of services as a source of competitive advantage in the marketplace. The CTS Symposium is now widely considered to be one of the foremost business conferences in the services field in the world. We speak now with Dr. Mary Jo Bitner, Professor and Executive Director for the Center for Services Leadership, on this year’s program, the enduring as well as the newest topics in services, and on the Compete Through Service Symposium experience.

Q:  This year’s Symposium is structured around three main topic areas in the services arena – Service Innovation, Customer Experience and Engagement, and Service Revenue and Growth. Could you tell us a bit more about these themes and how they were chosen?

We are very excited about the themes for this year’s CTS. From listening closely to our CSL Board Member companies and in our current efforts around documenting priorities for the science of service, we are confident that these themes resonate with businesses across a wide variety of industries.

  • Service Innovation is absolutely critical for organizations who expect to flourish and lead into the future.
  • Customer Experience and Engagement is how organizations connect with and build positive relationships with their customers for the long term.
  • Service Revenue and Growth are essential for survival and increased profitability in highly competitive markets from retail to high tech to manufacturing.

The program this year is very exciting in that it brings a mix of speakers (B2B, B2C, and Thought Leadership) around each of these themes along with plenty of opportunity to learn and interact with speakers and attendees.

Compete Through Service Symposium - 25 years

Pictures from Compete Through Service Symposium archives

Q: In your experience with the Symposium, how have the topics of conversation in services evolved over the past 25 years?

Having been involved with this program since its inception 25 years ago, it is interesting to note the evolution of topics and conversations. While some of the standby topics – service culture, understanding customers, employee engagement, hiring, and motivation, and service design – remain central for everyone, there has been an evolution in how the topics are discussed and what people want and need to know. In the early years, there was more of a cheer-leading and inspirational dimension to the presentations at the Symposium. People were just learning about the importance of service(s), customer focus, and their relevance to the bottom line. All of this was new. They wanted motivating stories and in many ways people just had to “believe” that service was important and the right thing to do.

Now, these same topics and others are presented very strategically with a more detailed focus on outcomes, metrics, and best practices for true organizational transformation and sustained success. Our speakers this year clearly demonstrate this deep strategic orientation. For example, Amazon’s story is one of commitment to customers and service from the very beginnings of the company, and this commitment is systematically tied to an innovative culture and long-term financial metrics. Other companies we will feature, such as Siemens and DuPont, are on a “service infusion” journey aimed at evolving their very successful, product oriented companies into profitable service and solution providers. Emphasis on metrics, data, capabilities, and information in is critical to success on this journey. This focus on growth and metrics will also be emphasized by Salesforce and Great Clips. Customer experience – which has been rallying cry across industries – is a strategy that has evolved remarkably in the last several years. The Diamondbacks organization and Vocera will convey the art, science, and outcomes that are behind successful customer experience strategies. It is no longer enough to talk in abstract terms about the importance of service and customers – we are definitely into the science of service today!

Q: The topic of leveraging services for competitive advantage in the marketplace is a highly popular one – what makes the Compete Through Service Symposium unique?

The Compete Through Service Symposium is unique in a number of ways. First, we are university-based and thus understand these topics and issues from a deep knowledge and thought leadership perspective. Our faculty are global thought leaders in this space. Over the years, institutions and businesses around the world have come to rely on us to develop priorities for the science of service that will have beneficial outcomes for businesses, people, and communities. This blend of academic rigor and practical business applications is visible and tangible at the Symposium. Another uniqueness is that this is not a typical industry conference, nor is it focused on a specific business function such as marketing, information systems, or supply chain. All industries and all functions bring something to the table, and it is in the bringing together of these viewpoints, along with the academic science that underlies them, that the Symposium comes to life and provides its unique value.

Q:  What is your advice for those attending to get the very most out of their experience?

The Symposium provides the opportunity to learn from a host of outstanding speakers and attendees from across industries who share the passion for service science. To get the most out of the opportunity, I think people need to come ready to learn and share, with an open mind to finding innovative ideas from industries outside their own. Each participant should look for those key nuggets of knowledge that they can apply tomorrow to make a difference. One of the greatest benefits of the Symposium is the chance to interact with and learn from others who are attending. We encourage everyone to engage with the diversity of attendees and also to relish in the common interests and focus. There will be plenty of opportunities for Q&A, small group interactions, and sharing via social media. Our attendees can expect to experience memorable moments of inspiration, collaboration, projects, friendships, and truly big and bold ideas that are born every year at the program. We hope that everyone will take advantage of the 2 ½ days they have at this unique event to truly learn, apply, and engage.


The 25th Annual Compete Through Service Symposium will take place November 5-7, 2014 at the Hilton Resort and Villas in Scottsdale, Arizona. For more information and to register, visit  wpcarey.asu.edu/cts.


2 thoughts on “25 Years of the Compete Through Service Symposium – an interview with Dr. Mary Jo Bitner

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