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Defaulting to Open: How Open Data Can Build Trust in Government

Biography

Harvard Business School
UPS Foundation Associate Professor of Service Management

Ryan W. Buell is the UPS Foundation Associate Professor of Service Management in the Technology and Operations Management Unit at Harvard Business School. He teaches Managing Service Operations in the MBA elective curriculum and in Executive Education programs at the School. He is the faculty chair of the Achieving Breakthrough Service Executive Education program, and has also taught the Technology and Operations Management course in the MBA required curriculum. Professor Buell was the recipient of the Charles M. Williams Award for outstanding teaching in 2016.

Professor Buell’s research investigates the interactions between service businesses and their customers, and how operational choices affect customer behaviors and firm performance. He is affiliated with the Behavioral Insights Group at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership. His work has been published in Management Science, Manufacturing & Service Operations ManagementProduction and Operations ManagementQuarterly Journal of Economics, and Harvard Business Review. It has also received media attention from outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, The Boston Globe The Huffington Post, The Financial PostBNET.comWired,The 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 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 real estate virtual tour service. He has also worked at McKinsey & Company and General Motors.

Featured Work

Operational Transparency

Make Your Processes Visible To Customers, and Your Customers Visible To Employees

Conventional wisdom holds that the more contact an operation has with its customers, the less efficiently it will run. But when customers are partitioned away from the operation, they are less likely to fully understand and appreciate the work going on behind the scenes, causing them to place a lower value on the product or service being offered. To address this problem, managers should experiment with operational transparency--the deliberate design of windows into and out of the organization's operations to help customers understand and appreciate the value being added. Witnessing the hidden work performed on their behalf makes customers more satisfied, more willing to pay, and more loyal. It can also make employees more satisfied by demonstrating to them that they are serving their customers well. However, managers should be aware of certain conditions in which transparency can backfire.

How Operational Transparency Can Build Trust in Government

As Americans' trust in government nears historic lows, frustration with government performance approaches record highs. One explanation for this trend is that citizens may be unaware of both the services provided by government and the impact of those services on their lives. This short talk describes research that suggests that operational transparency, revealing the work that government does, can improve resident perceptions of the government and improve support for government programs. For more details, click here to download the research paper, Surfacing the Submerged State with Operational Transparency in Government Services.

Cooks Make Tastier Food When They Can See Their Customers

While existing theory suggests that increased contact between customers and employees diminishes efficiency, recent research demonstrates that when employees can see their customers, the beneficiaries of their efforts, the quality and efficiency of the service they deliver can actually improve. Studies in food service show how revealing customers to employees can lead employees to feel more appreciated, enhancing their job satisfaction and willingness to exert effort. For details, click here to download the research paper, Creating Reciprocal Value Through Operational Transparency.

The Labor Illusion: How Operational Transparency Increases Perceived Value

A ubiquitous feature of even the fastest self-service technology transactions is the wait. Conventional wisdom and operations theory suggests that the longer people wait, the less satisfied they become; we demonstrate that due to what we term the labor illusion, when websites engage in operational transparency by signaling that they are exerting effort, people can actually prefer websites with longer waits to those that return instantaneous results—even when those results are identical.

Think Customers Hate Waiting? Not So Fast...

Managers typically look for ways to reduce wait time to increase customer satisfaction. New research suggests there's a better approach: showing customers a representation of the effort, whether literal or not, being expended on their behalf while they wait. (The prototypical example is the travel website Kayak, which shows customers each airline it searches.) Studies show that customers prefer waiting when the work being done is transparent-even when the waits are longer or the results are no better than those obtained with shorter waits.

Are Self-Service Customers Satisfied or Stuck?

Numerous studies in the services literature have demonstrated that self-service customers are retained with greater frequency than their full-service counterparts. There are two competing explanations for this phenomenon. Either self-service channel usage promotes customer satisfaction and in turn, loyalty, or it imposes switching costs on customers that make it more difficult for them to defect. Our empirical analysis of multi-channel banking customers suggests the latter – that self-service customers may be retained through switching costs, not satisfaction effects. In fact, the results of our analysis suggest that self-service customers aren’t just stuck, they’re actually less satisfied.

Publications

Journal Articles

  • Brooks, Alison Wood, Karen Huang, Nicole Abi-Esber, Ryan W. Buell, Laura Huang, and Brian Hall. "Mitigating Malicious Envy: Why Successful Individuals Should Reveal Their Failures." Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (in press).
  • Field, Joy M., Liana Victorino, Ryan W. Buell, Michael J. Dixon, Susan M. Goldstein, Larry J. Menor, Madeleine E. Pullman, Aleda Roth, Enrico Secchi, and Jie J. Zhang. "Service Operations: What's Next?" Journal of Service Management 29, no. 1 (2018): 55–97.
  • Victorino, Liana, Joy M. Field, Ryan W. Buell, Michael J. Dixon, Susan M. Goldstein, Larry J. Menor, Madeleine E. Pullman, Aleda V. Roth, Enrico Secchi, and Jie J. Zhang. "Service Operations: What Have We Learned?" Journal of Service Management 29, no. 1 (2018): 39–54.
  • Buell, Ryan W., Tami Kim, and Chia-Jung Tsay. "Creating Reciprocal Value Through Operational Transparency." Management Science 63, no. 6 (June 2017): 1673–1695.
  • Schmidt, William, and Ryan W. Buell. "Experimental Evidence of Pooling Outcomes Under Information Asymmetry." Management Science 63, no. 5 (May 2017): 1586–1605.
  • Buell, Ryan W., Dennis Campbell, and Frances X. Frei. "How Do Customers Respond to Increased Service Quality Competition?" Manufacturing & Service Operations Management 18, no. 4 (Fall 2016): 585–607.
  • Kuziemko, Ilyana, Ryan W. Buell, Taly Reich, and Michael Norton. "'Last-place Aversion': Evidence and Redistributive Implications." Quarterly Journal of Economics 129, no. 1 (February 2014): 105–149.
  • Buell, Ryan W., and Michael I. Norton. "The Labor Illusion: How Operational Transparency Increases Perceived Value ." Management Science 57, no. 9 (September 2011): 1564–1579.
  • Buell, Ryan W., Dennis Campbell, and Frances X. Frei. "Are Self-service Customers Satisfied or Stuck?" Production and Operations Management 19, no. 6 (November–December 2010). (Awarded the Decision Sciences Institute Stan Hardy Award for Outstanding Paper Published during 2010 in the Field of Operations Management.)
  • Practitioner Articles
  • Buell, Ryan W. "Operational Transparency: Make Your Processes Visible to Customers and Your Customers Visible to Employees." R1902H. Harvard Business Review 97, no. 4 (March–April 2019): 102–113.
  • Bernstein, Ethan, and Ryan W. Buell. "Can You Cut 'Turn Times' Without Adding Staff?" R1604K. Harvard Business Review 94, no. 4 (April 2016): 113–117.
  • Buell, Ryan W., Tami Kim, and Chia-Jung Tsay. "Cooks Make Tastier Food When They Can See Their Customers." Harvard Business Review 92, no. 11 (November 2014): 34–35.
  • Buell, Ryan W., and Michael I. Norton. "Think Customers Hate Waiting? Not So Fast..." Harvard Business Review 89, no. 5 (May 2011).
  • Working Papers
  • Buell, Ryan W., Wei Cai, and Tatiana Sandino. "Learning or Playing? The Effect of Gamified Training on Performance." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 19-101, March 2019.
  • Shell, Michelle A., and Ryan W. Buell. "Mitigating the Negative Effects of Customer Anxiety Through Access to Human Contact." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 19-089, February 2019.
  • Buell, Ryan W., Shwetha Mariadassou, and Yanchong Zheng. "Relative Performance Transparency: Effects on Sustainable Choices." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 19-079, January 2019.
  • Buell, Ryan W. "Last Place Aversion in Queues." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 18-053, December 2017. (Revised March 2019.)
  • Buell, Ryan W., Ethan Porter, and Michael I. Norton. "Surfacing the Submerged State: Operational Transparency Increases Trust in and Engagement with Government." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 14-034, November 2013. (Revised August 2018.)
  • Buell, Ryan W., Dennis Campbell, and Frances X. Frei. "The Customer May Not Always Be Right: Customer Compatibility and Service Performance." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 16-091, February 2016. (Revised March 2018.)
  • Mohan, Bhavya, Ryan W. Buell, and Leslie K. John. "Lifting the Veil: The Benefits of Cost Transparency." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 15-017, September 2014. (Revised March 2019.)

Cases and Teaching Materials

  • Buell, Ryan W., and Leslie K. John. "Commonwealth Bank of Australia: Unbanklike Experimentation." Harvard Business School Case 619-018, October 2018. (Revised February 2019.)
  • Buell, Ryan W., Joshua D. Margolis, and Margot Eiran. "Babcom: Opening Doors." Harvard Business School Case 418-026, June 2018. (Revised February 2019.)
  • Buell, Ryan W. "Breakfast at the Paramount." Harvard Business School PowerPoint Supplement 618-065, April 2018.
  • Buell, Ryan W., Robert S. Huckman, and Sam Travers. "Improving Access at VA." Harvard Business School Case 617-012, November 2016. (Revised December 2016.)
  • Buell, Ryan W., and Robert S. Huckman. "Improving Access at VA." Harvard Business School Multimedia/Video Supplement 618-709, March 2018.
  • Buell, Ryan W., and Robert S. Huckman. "Improving Access at VA." Harvard Business School Teaching Note 618-052, March 2018.
  • Buell, Ryan W., and Andrew Otazo. "IDEO: Human-Centered Service Design." Harvard Business School Multimedia/Video Case 615-703, December 2015.
  • Buell, Ryan W. "Breakfast at the Paramount." Harvard Business School Case 617-011, August 2016. (Revised June 2017.)
  • Buell, Ryan W. "Breakfast at the Paramount." Harvard Business School Teaching Note 617-065, May 2017. (Revised April 2018.)
  • Buell, Ryan W. "Breakfast at the Paramount." Harvard Business School Multimedia/Video Case 617-702, March 2017.
  • Buell, Ryan W., Willy Shih, and Mike Toffel. "United Airlines: More Out-and-Back Flying?" Harvard Business School Case 617-010, September 2016. (Revised July 2018.)
  • Buell, Ryan W. "Customer Compatibility Exercise." Harvard Business School Exercise 616-043, December 2015. (Revised October 2018.)
  • Buell, Ryan W. "Compass Group: The Ascension Health Decision." Harvard Business School Case 615-026, December 2014. (Revised January 2016.)
  • Buell, Ryan W. "Compass Group: The Ascension Health Decision." Harvard Business School Teaching Note 616-046, March 2016.
  • Buell, Ryan W. "Compass Group: The Ascension Health Decision." Harvard Business School Multimedia/Video Supplement 616-705, March 2016.
  • Buell, Ryan W., and Andrew Otazo. "IDEO: Human-Centered Service Design." Harvard Business School Case 615-022, October 2014. (Revised January 2016.)
  • Buell, Ryan W. "IDEO: Human-Centered Service Design." Harvard Business School Teaching Note 616-038, November 2015. (Revised February 2016.)
  • Bernstein, Ethan, and Ryan W. Buell. "Trouble at Tessei." Harvard Business School Case 615-044, January 2015. (Revised October 2015.)
  • Bernstein, Ethan, and Ryan Buell. "Trouble at Tessei." Harvard Business School Teaching Note 616-031, October 2015. (Revised December 2015.)
  • Bernstein, Ethan, and Ryan W. Buell. "Trouble at Tessei." Harvard Business School Multimedia/Video Supplement 616-706, March 2016.
  • Buell, Ryan W., Ananth Raman, and Vidhya Muthuram. "Oberoi Hotels: Train Whistle in the Tiger Reserve." Harvard Business School Case 615-043, January 2015. (Revised March 2015.)
  • Buell, Ryan W., and Ananth Raman. "Oberoi Hotels: Train Whistle in the Tiger Reserve." Harvard Business School Teaching Note 616-044, February 2016.
  • Raman, Ananth, and Ryan W. Buell. "Oberoi Hotels: Train Whistle in the Tiger Reserve." Harvard Business School Multimedia/Video Supplement 616-704, February 2016.
  • Drake, David F., Ryan W. Buell, Melissa Barton, Taylor Jones, Katrina Keverian, and Jeffrey Stock. "Whole Foods: The Path to 1,000 Stores." Harvard Business School Case 615-019, September 2014. (Revised June 2016.)

Research Summary

Overview by Ryan W. Buell

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.

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