Five questions for Ying Fan

When customers demand satisfaction, how effective is social media?

Ying Fan
Ying Fan

In her third year of the Ph.D. program at the Ivey School of Business, Western University in Ontario, Canada, Ying Fan’s adviser invited her to a party to honor another adviser’s 20-year career in academics.  Fan’s adviser, Carol Prahinski, had previously been a Ph.D. student of the honoree, W.C. Benton. Prahinski, along with other former Ph.D. students from all over the country and the world celebrated by presenting their current research projects. Also in attendance was D. Clay Whybark, who had been Benton’s adviser.

Someone snapped a photo of Fan and the others – a four-generation lineup of advisers and students – and at that moment, she says, she felt as if she had become part of an academic family.

Now the native of China is part of the University of Colorado Colorado Springs family, which she joined in 2009, and is an associate professor of operations management in the College of Business. Some of her research focuses on how the use of social media affects service operations.

“What clicked with me most is the collegiate environment and the warmth of people, a rare find,” she said. “This is what drew me to CU and is what I happily experience every day at work. On top of it, the beautiful scenery of Pikes Peak and stunning view of Garden of the Gods just had me at hello!”

Her favorite “me time” activities are hot yoga and kickboxing. “The two activities are very different and very similar: Both empower the mind, body and spirit.” She also spends time with her young children visiting museums and Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, and watching movies like “Inside Out,” “Zootopia” and “Coco.”

1. One of your research interests is service quality. Is brand or store loyalty a reality anymore?

Today’s service companies face fierce competition thanks to the popularity of the internet and social media. They need to compete for customers with the competitors around the corner and online. Online shopping and social media platforms have given consumers the power to get quality service with lower costs.

Service companies cannot just rely on customer loyalty. Just look at the major retailers that filed bankruptcy in the past few years: Sears, Forever 21, Payless ShoeSource, Toys R Us, David’s Bridal and Sports Authority, to name a few. Pier 1 Imports is next.

Research has shown that a majority of customers make purchasing decisions based on online reviews. Positive online reviews can influence hotel and restaurant pricing and sales performance. One of my current projects is to investigate how service companies manage online reviews to improve service operations. A nationwide survey has been conducted through several regional Convention and Visitor Bureau member companies. We found that there are a few things service managers can do to effectively manage online reviews. For instance, for a hotel, it means having policies and procedures for managing online reviews and ensuring that personnel in charge of managing online reviews have the knowledge and expertise to interact with customers on social media. It also means personalizing responses to both positive and negative online reviews, and relying on a formal quality control system, like a customer satisfaction survey.

2. You also have studied social media and airline service recovery strategies. What has your research found?

As the popularity of social media continues to rise, many organizations use platforms such as Twitter to communicate with their customers in real time. Social media platforms have also become a way for customers to express their positive and negative experiences with organizations in a very public way.

To explore how social media is used to deal with service failures within the airline industry, my co-author Run Niu and I conducted the research, “To tweet or not to tweet, exploring the effectiveness of service recovery strategies using social media,” featured in the International Journal of Operations and Production Management and the 5th World Conference on Production and Operations Management (P&OM, 2016). We examined how five major international airlines – Delta, United Airlines, JetBlue, American Airlines and Air Canada – have managed service failures using Twitter. It explores the effect a Twitter agent’s response can have on customers’ emotions and levels of satisfaction.

3. As a customer, what should I expect from a company when I make a service complaint? What is the best way for a customer to complain in order to get results, including compensation?

A lot of customer complaints in the airline industry require imminent response. Imagine you missed your connection due to a delay of the first leg of your flight. You would expect a solution as soon as possible. That is why most major airlines have set up their Twitter customer service account for service recovery. For other types of services, recovery strategy may differ depending on the nature of the service.

Based on our research, if you complain about airline services, do not expect much compensation. As shown in our study, compensation was only offered in 2% of the 347 cases we included in our research. We found that customers care more about problem solving. A majority of the customers (78%) felt better after the Twitter agents took actions to solve their problems. When Twitter agents only provide further directions and customers need to act further to resolve their issues, customers’ frustration remained unchanged, or got worse in 74% of the cases.

4. Another aspect of your research deals with emergency response. What are your studies in that area looking at?

My colleagues Monique French, Rebecca Duray and I, in collaboration with Gary Stading at Texas A&M University, have been working on how to improve the operational capabilities of emergency response services in the public sector. Public institutions such as emergency response services do not have a profit motive, they operate in a political system as opposed to a market system, and they face unique operational challenges.

To help the public sector take up the challenge, we have been conducting analysis based on the data collected through the National Fire Incident Reporting System, where over 23,000 fire agencies nationwide report their incident response activities. The system includes seven years of data with approximately 22 million incidents per year. One of our papers that appeared in the public sector special issue of Service Industries Journal found that under an integrated or centralized governance structure, where neighboring agencies merge to operate under one joint authority or operate under a mutual aid agreement, controlling for environmental uncertainty and effectively making strategic choices become more important for improving operational performance of an emergence response service. We are further examining the impact of other factors such as organizational structure, task complexity and integration choices on the performance of emergency response.

5. What do you miss most about your home country? What do you like most and least about the United States?

What I miss most is my family and friends. Social media makes things easier.

What I love about the U.S. is the abundant opportunity to learn and grow. I did not go to school in the U.S. until college, so I have been learning about the curriculum and what kids are doing in school beginning with kindergarten. It is fascinating!

What I like least about the U.S. is the parental leave policies and the skyrocketing cost of daycare. When I had my first baby in Canada, my husband, who worked in a bank, got six weeks of fully paid parental leave. Canada’s Employment Insurance Plan covers one or two parents with partially paid leave for up to one year. The U.S. has a long way to go in this respect. I am happy to see that CU is taking actions to make improvements to the parental leave policy.