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Center for Services Leadership shares lessons with ASU Business and Finance team

Dr. Morgan Olsen and Mary Jo Bitner pose for a picture.
October 19, 2011

Twice a year, leaders within Arizona State University’s Business and Finance area come together for a team-building meeting. At this year’s half-day October session, Mary Jo Bitner presented “Excelling at Service by Closing the Gaps.” Bitner is the PetSmart Chair in Services Leadership, a professor of marketing and the executive director for the Center for Services Leadership (CSL) within the W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU. 

The CSL is a pioneering research center and a globally recognized authority on how organizations can compete strategically through the use of service and services.  It has big-name member firms, including IBM Global Services, Mayo Clinic, PetSmart, and Southwest Airlines.

Bitner’s presentation focused on key points that can help businesses align marketing, operations and people strategies around their customers. Her audience included some 75-80 associate vice presidents, mid-level directors and managers within Business and Finance, including:

  • ASU Police Department
  • Business Services and Sustainability Practices
  • Facilities Development and Management
  • Financial Services
  • Office of Human Resources
  • Planning and Budget
  • Real Estate Development
  • University Audit and Advisory Services
  • University Technology Office

Each business operations area serves the ASU community in its own unique way. However, providing outstanding customer service is essential for nearly every area to flourish. Given the competitive nature of business, Bitner said, overpromising can sometimes happen, so managing expectations can be crucial to devising future, effective, customer-service strategies.

“It is absolutely essential to understand our customers’ expectations and, when necessary, to manage them through providing explanations and building a common understanding of what is possible,” Bitner said. “However, rather than telling customers what they should expect, it is best to try to understand the problems and issues they face, try to provide services that can solve those problems in a quality way and explain the realities of what can and cannot be done in ways they will understand. Communication is the key.”

Going beyond managing customers’ expectations, Bitner encouraged the leaders to communicate with and listen to individuals who contribute to an organization’s bigger picture to foster its future growth. As an example, Bitner spoke about Marriott International.

Bill Marriott, Jr., won the CSL’s first “Global Service Leader Award.” In Marriott’s acceptance speech, Bitner said he did not rely heavily on promoting the company’s facts and fiscal numbers. Instead, Marriott named individual employees, including bell captains and valets at properties around the world, and spoke about their exceptional work ethics and customer service. 

“Bill Marriott truly believes in the fundamental value of his company and [believes that if you] ‘take good care of your people, they will take good care of the customer, and the customer will come back.’ I think this basic value translates well in any organization – large or small,” Bitner said.

Bitner’s Marriott example demonstrates how successful leaders who value their employees not only can achieve accolades, but also can build their businesses. ASU may not provide services in the same way as Marriott International, but Business and Finance leadership team members have an opportunity to discover more about effectively interacting with their employees, as well as with their customers, during presentations like this.

“Dr. Olsen’s biannual leadership meetings provide Business and Finance leadership an opportunity to learn from marketing experts like Dr. Bitner,” says Kevin Salcido, associate vice president of Human Resources at ASU. “Understanding how to build our service competency begins with communication, which extends well past our Business and Finance purview and links us with our academic partners.”

The Center for Services Leadership was formed in 1985 in response to the unique challenges and opportunities organizations face in the service arena. More information about the center can be found at