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The advantage of unvarnished criticism

The advantage of unvarnished criticism

Jos Lemmink inspired by Parsu Parasuraman

After completing a study in Groningen, Lemmink left for a job with the PTT in The Hague. As a “junior water carrier” he watched in awe when he ended up in an advisory group for the organisation’s top management. An interesting job, but after four years he moved further south when the UM set up an Economics faculty.

“I was mainly busy teaching, setting up the marketing programme and I was relatively late in getting my PhD. I was 29 when my first paper was published in a journal. It was about the quality of service. Regional businesses such as Océ wanted to know more about this and called upon us.”

Lemmink was asked to present his paper at a congress in San Diego. This was in 1987, two years after the Indian economist Parsu Parasuraman – with two co-authors – had launched a pioneering article containing a model that could be used to measure quality. Everyone jumped on it, says Lemmink, the business community but also the health care sector. Using this model, service could be measured but more importantly, it could be improved.

“The congress was in the Hilton Harbour Hotel, I remember it well. I had just held my speech and had been rather critical about Parasuraman’s model. At a particular moment, at the end of the congress, I saw him walking out and went after him. I asked him if he would take a look at my paper and pressed it upon him. That was it, a brief meeting. A month passed, then two, I heard nothing.”

Three months later, a package came through the letterbox. “It contained my article as well as a lot more pages filled with comments from him. He had put a lot of time into it. I felt very honoured and at the same time his comments were very serious. That was due to my critical line of approach. He reacted sorely to that, it hurt him, although our discussion remained fair.”

Nonetheless, Parasuraman’s unvarnished criticism had a favourable effect and pushed Lemmink in the right direction. “I was busy with all kinds of things in Maastricht but because of his criticism I dove straight into the research, concentrated on one thing, and I profited a lot from that.”

Lemmink’s gratitude was expressed in the speech that he gave during the ceremony of the Maastricht honorary doctorate that was awarded to Parasuraman in 2011. “He grew up in the US and as a true American was really bewildered by the informal atmosphere in Maastricht, about former Executive President Karl Dittrich who parked his bicycle outside the Vrijthof Theatre. And who introduced himself to the honorary doctorate with one hand while using the other to lock his bike.”

 

This is a series in which researchers talk about the person who inspired them most

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