University of Southern California

Ramandeep Randhawa
Title
Helping Service Firms do the Right Thing
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rrandhaw@marshall.usc.edu

My fascination with the service industry began with my first Netflix subscription. I was intrigued that there were no deadlines to return DVDs. Beyond the consumer appeal of such a paradigm, I wondered if there was an operational virtue to such a proposition. Indeed, using a mathematical framework, my co-authors and I were able to establish that even from an operational perspective, Netflix was spot-on in its decision not to impose deadlines for DVD returns. It turns out that in the subscription-based format, the firm’s capacity is better utilized when customers are given more freedom in returning DVDs.

Since then, I find myself enchanted with various aspects of the service industry that accounts for more than three-fourths of the economic activity in the country. There are three particular aspects that are currently on my mind. The first, like most people I hate waiting in line, especially when firms can in fact reduce waiting times by better capacity planning, at no additional cost and loss of quality! My goal is to develop simple rules of thumb for capacity planning that are easy to implement and at the same time near optimal from an economic perspective. Second, pricing decisions by the retail industry intrigue me, in particular, when to discount and how much to discount, especially in the presence of bargain-hunting customers who try to anticipate the firm’s moves. And finally, I am very interested in how reputational concerns affect a firm’s decisions. In particular, I am interested to see if and when such concerns suffice to ensure that the firm does "the right thing," without the need for other disciplinary mechanisms. For instance, in ongoing research, I am looking at the role reputational concerns play in a firm’s decision to recall products.

Marshall has been a great place for me to grow as an academician. The Information and Operations Management department is among the best in the country. The faculty have quite diverse interests and at the same time a common core so no matter what research idea one has, for sure, one would find another faculty member who would be interested in it and would have something quite astute to comment on it. Further, I was able to make full use of the flexibility in teaching courses at Marshall to offer a new graduate elective in Spring 2011 on the very topic that excites me, Service Management. While teaching this course, I was really impressed with the quality of Marshall’s graduates. Not only did they share my excitement for confronting the many issues that the service industry faces, they were equally passionate. In fact, one of the team projects investigated the DMV office right next to campus and came up with such perceptive, yet simple, suggestions that some of these were even implemented before the semester ended!

The icing on the cake at USC is the connection to so many major businesses. USC is indeed a great place to be to get first hand insights into the problems faced by the industry, and at the same time have fun doing so. For instance, on a recent tour of Disneyland, I had the opportunity to ponder over the many issues they are confronted with while riding a roller coaster!