Business Journal Personal the Industrialization of Service: A Personal Journey

By Roman, Michael | Ivey Business Journal Online, September/October 2004 | Go to article overview

Business Journal Personal the Industrialization of Service: A Personal Journey


Roman, Michael, Ivey Business Journal Online


We have reason to lament the rise of mechanization and the diminished role of human beings in the delivery of the helping or so-called "soft" services. As this author writes, those who purchase these services for others would do well to reflect and ask if they themselves would be happy with the quality of service delivered.

In the fall of 1984 I sat in a darkened ballroom of the Hilton Hotel in midtown Manhattan, watching on a twenty-foot screen a short video of my father, Murray Roman, talking about the early days of the company he founded in the late 1960s. When the screen went dark, the hundreds of attending members of the Direct Marketing Association honoured him with a minute of silence. On his passing away the previous spring, the Committee of Corporate Telecommunication Users had placed in The New York Times a notice of his death, mourning him as "The Inventor of Telemarketing." Indeed, as far as I know there were no other contenders for the title.

Two years before, living in New Jersey, I had left a first-level management job (my first in the private sector) at AT&T, then the largest company in the world, with one million employees, to cross the Hudson River and become Vice-President, Operations, in my father's - and the world's first telemarketing company, Campaign Communications Inc., or CCI, on West 57th Street in New York City, employing 500. Sitting in the dark in that ballroom, I had already returned to AT&T, which was just breaking-up, while CCI itself, like my father's flickering image on the screen, would soon vanish. In the midst of rapid economic and social change, he had been more successful at building a foundation for an entire industry than a lasting platform for his own company.

Today, while I'm glad I crossed that river (wider than I had ever imagined, between corporate and family business, between old and new economy), I am both very proud of what my father accomplished-proud of his vision, his tremendous drive, intelligence, and salesmanship-and deeply concerned about some of the effects of the larger trend, of which he and his company were among the early pioneers. That trend was given its name in 1976 in an article in the Harvard Business Review, by Theodore Levitt, entitled "The Industrialization of Service." In a long list of other examples, Levitt cited my father as "the world's foremost specialist in offering telephone marketing services." (Theodore Levitt, "The Industrialization of Service", Harvard Business Review, September/October, 1976 p. 72.)

The occasion for my writing this article is my having come to realize that "industrialization" has spread too far, reaching beyond business services to services to individuals, helping or so-called "soft" services, where its characteristic efficiencies do harm by doing insufficient good. In the first part, I discuss "industrialization" as it has shaped telemarketing; in the second part I discuss the form it has taken in the very different business in which I've been employed for the last dozen years, career management consulting.

The sales call as widget

Now that it is so pervasive, we may hardly notice fresh instances of "industrialization," by which I mean the systematization of a human activity either by a machine, or by a process modeled on the machine, ostensibly to make that activity more efficient (faster and therefore cheaper) and effective (predictable). From voice-mail menus to ATMs to do-it-yourself checkout at the supermarket, there is very little that we do day-today that isn't touched by mechanisms directed to what the subtitle of a book published a few years ago called , The Acceleration of Just About Everything an acceleration often accomplished by the replacement of service personnel with machines. (James Gleick, Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything, New York: Vintage Books, 2000)

Much of this is helpful and even feels necessaryhow, we hear ourselves asking, did we ever get along without this or that? …

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