Ryan W. Buell

Assistant Professor of Business Administration

Ryan W. Buell is an assistant professor of business administration in the Technology and Operations Management Unit. He teaches the Technology and Operations Management course in the MBA required curriculum.

In his research, Professor Buell investigates the interactions between service businesses and their customers, and how operational choices affect customer behaviors and firm performance. His work has been published in Management Science, Production and Operations Management, Quarterly Jounal of Economics, and Harvard Business Review. It has been covered by such media as the Financial Post, BNET.com, Wired, The Guardian, and Forbes.com.

Ryan W. Buell is an assistant professor of business administration in the Technology and Operations Management Unit. He teaches the Technology and Operations Management course in the MBA required curriculum.

In his research, Professor Buell investigates the interactions between service businesses and their customers, and how operational choices affect customer behaviors and firm performance. His work has been published in Management Science, Production and Operations Management, Quarterly Journal of Economics, and Harvard Business Review. It has been covered by such media as the Financial Post, BNET.com, WiredThe Guardian, and Forbes.com.

Professor Buell earned a DBA in Technology and Operations Management at Harvard Business School, where he received the Dean's Award and the Wyss Doctoral Research Award. He also received an MBA with high distinction in 2007 from Harvard Business School, where he was a George F. Baker Scholar, and a BBA with high distinction from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.

Prior to his graduate studies, Professor Buell co-founded and managed the Tour Now Network, an online virtual real estate tour service. He has also worked at McKinsey & Company and General Motors.

  1. Overview

    Professor Buell is advancing the understanding of customers by studying their relationship with service operations. He examines how operational choices intended to optimize firm profits may backfire if they diminish the quality of customer experiences or alter customer behavior in unintended ways. In his work, he uses large-scale econometric analysis and laboratory and online experimental methodologies.

    Keywords: service operations; customer satisfaction; customer retention; customer behavior; Customers; Decision Making; Design; Management; Operations; Quality; Relationships; Social Psychology; Technology; Value; Banking Industry; Service Industry; Travel Industry; Web Services Industry; Retail Industry; Food and Beverage Industry;

  2. Service Quality

    Firm decisions about the level of service quality to offer relative to competitors in a market may have unexpected effects on customer retention. In collaboration with HBS Professors Dennis Campbell and Frances Frei, Professor Buell has shown that firms offering high-quality service in a market may be especially vulnerable in the face of increased service competition: their most valuable, service-sensitive customers are likely to defect to higher-quality service, while their most price-sensitive customers migrate to lower-cost, lower-quality alternatives.

  3. Operational Transparency

    Conventional wisdom and operations theory suggest that the longer people wait during a service interaction, the less satisfied they become with the provider. In collaboration with HBS Professor Michael Norton, Professor Buell has shown that when service businesses show the work they are conducting on a customer’s behalf, the customer minds waiting less and values the service more. 

  4. Service Automation

    Why do firms retain self-service customers at a higher rate than their full-service counterparts? Professor Buell, with Professors Campbell and Frei, has disentangled the two competing explanations for this phenomenon: greater customer satisfaction and higher costs of switching companies. An empirical analysis of banking customers suggests that higher switching costs, not satisfaction, drives customer retention. 

  5. Customer Heterogeneity

    In the first empirical investigation of the relationship between customer heterogeneity and the quality of outcomes that a service operating system can deliver, Professor Buell, together with Professors Campbell and Frei, has found evidence suggesting that differences among customers can account for more than 90 percent of the explainable variance in transaction satisfaction with a given operating system. Subsequent analyses reveal that the degree of compatibility between the customer and a firm’s operating system explains part of this difference. Further, a cross-firm analysis demonstrates that heterogeneity among customers drives down service satisfaction ratings.