Managing Service Operations - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Managing Service Operations

Course Number 2120

Assistant Professor Ryan Buell
Spring; Q3Q4; 3 credits
28 Sessions


Managing Service Operations (MSO) focuses on how firms can deliver excellent service while achieving business success. Current practice reveals a lack of widespread understanding of effective service management. Consider for example that in virtually every industry, customer service costs tend to increase even as customer satisfaction declines. This course takes the position that there is enormous potential to improve services and is designed to equip students with the concepts and tools to do so.

Students in MSO will learn how to design distinctive and sustainable service strategies, how to manage customers and employees, how to leverage big data to enhance performance, and how to reshape their organizations to suit evolving consumer needs and changing competitive landscapes.

Career Focus

Service businesses are complex and diverse. They make up more than 63% of the global economy, 80% of the U.S. GDP, and 86% of the jobs taken by last year's graduating class of Harvard Business School MBAs. Consequently, MSO is pertinent for many. The course is especially appropriate for students planni¬ng to work in service businesses and for those working in companies that analyze or provide support to service businesses, such as consulting or venture capital firms.

Who Should Take MSO?

This course is likely a great fit if you are…

  • Excited about creating new customer experiences. Most consumer companies are service businesses and increasingly, even product businesses have a large service component.
  • Eager to explore the human facet of operations. At its root, service is the business of people helping people, and MSO blends the sciences of operations management and human behavior.
  • Entrepreneurial and considering starting a consumer business, now or in the future. The course provides ideas and exercises designed to help build and grow a sustainable service business.

Who Should Not Take MSO?

This course is likely a weaker fit if you are…

  • Primarily interested in business services. MSO has a strong emphasis on consumer services, with only modest attention paid to business services.
  • Seeking a light workload. Managing Service Operations is co-produced, and as a consequence, it is a lot of (fun and rewarding) work. Its 28 sessions include 3 exercises, a 3-day service analytics lab, and a final group project.

Course Content and Organization

MSO draws upon cutting edge research and field examples from a broad array of industries, including business services, financial services, food services, government, healthcare, hospitality, retail, and transportation. It is structured into three modules, which focus on the 1) design, 2) management, and 3) improvement of service operations.

Designing Service Systems: This module addresses the challenge of designing sustainable service models: services that simultaneously produce value for customers, employees, and investors. Principles of effective service design are developed through a series of successful and unsuccessful case examples. Students learn an integrated framework for designing new services, analyzing and improving existing services, and assessing whether new offerings "fit" with the existing service system.

Managing Service Systems: World-class service organizations marshal real-time data to purposefully manage the experiences and performance of their customers and employees. This three-part module explores each of these interconnected dimensions:

  • Managing Customers: In many service operations, customers participate materially in the value-creation process. Hence, understanding and learning how to influence customer-operating behavior is essential for long-term success.
  • Leveraging Analytics: Leading service businesses are increasingly leveraging big data and analytics to enhance firm performance. Students learn and develop fluency in the statistical techniques most commonly used to manage service excellence.
  • Managing Employees: Service businesses are heavily dependent on employees for service delivery. Setting the conditions for frontline success requires an integrated perspective, encompassing selection, training, job design and performance management.

Improving Service Systems: Many organizations that have not traditionally competed on service are facing increasing pressure to do so as service competitors enter their industries and markets. This module focuses on the integration and application of the lessons from the course to the problem of transforming such organizations to compete effectively on service.

Learning Model

MSO draws upon a variety of individual and team-based pedagogies, including traditional and multimedia case discussions, hands-on in-class and in-field experiences, data analysis, projects, and simulations. Grades will be based on class participation plus individual and group exercises.