In a first for the Broad College, a team of hospitality business faculty and students has been awarded a research grant from the Society for Hospitality and Foodservice Management Foundation. The one-year, $10,500 grant will allow MiRan Kim, associate professor in the School of Hospitality Business, Bonnie Knutson, professor in the School of Hospitality Business, and undergraduate students Vinh Le and Christina Heydenburg to study the intersection between customer delight and sustainability.

“In an era of rapidly changing technologies, escalating costs, growing government/industry regulations and more educated customers, incorporating sustainability in any business’s strategy is not an option. It is a necessity,” Knutson explained. “In the food service sector (in this particular study), this can range from food waste to packaging to whether paper towels or air dryers are installed in the restrooms. Doing well by doing good is the new business mantra.”

Knutson and Kim have worked on the concept of customer delight — going beyond customer satisfaction and expectations — since Kim was a doctoral student at the Broad College. Kim has become an expert in customer delight and will further her work by looking at its cross-section with sustainability.

“What makes this research stream unique for both industries is the extension of the delight concept to the internal (or employee) market,” Knutson said. “After all, delighted employees make delighted customers!”

Kim will serve as the lead primary investigator for the project, responsible for leading the development of surveys, data collection, data analysis, research manuscripts and professional presentations. Knutson will serve as a co-PI and will closely work with industry partners for data collection, write articles for industry magazines and collaborate in preparing journal articles and presentations.

In addition, the students will assist with the literature search and data analysis and learn more about the research process. Le and Heydenburg were selected based on Kim’s experience teaching them in class.

“While they were in my classes, both of them were very inquisitive students and proactive participants in the class discussions,” Kim said. “They demonstrated excellent research and presentation skills through class projects, as well. In particular, both understand the concept of delight well as they have always tried to work above and beyond the assigned tasks with pleasant and well-motivated attitudes.”

Heydenburg said, “Through this research, I’m looking forward to not only learning how to do professional research but also learning more about the topic of customer delight and how I can implement it in my future career working in events.”

Part of the research grant will fund the team’s attendance at the SHFM National Conferences in 2020 and 2021. The team will be able to use this year’s conference as a research opportunity, conducting focus groups and interviews with industry professionals. At next year’s conference, the team will present their research outcomes to conference attendees.

“I look forward to having this research project presented at the SHFM National Conference 2021 in Florida,” Le said. “Hopefully, this new finding will be recognized and applied widely internationally in many different hotels and restaurants.”

Knutson echoed Le’s feelings and shared what she is most looking forward to with the project: “For me, there are probably three elements that particularly excite me,” she said. “First is the excitement that comes with the breakthrough of knowledge that can and will help the businesses in our industry ‘do well by doing good.’ Second is working with great research partners — both our research team and our industry partners. Third is watching the light go on in the eyes of Christina and Vinh as they learn, grow and share the excitement of discovery.”