Death Spirals and Virtuous Cycles Chapter uri icon


  • While the productivityproductivityand quality of manufactured products steadily improve, service sectorservice sectorproductivity lags and quality has fallen. Many service organizations fall into death spirals in which pressure to boost throughput and control costs leads to worker burnout and corner cutting, lowering service qualityservice quality, raising costs while revenue falls, forcing still greater cuts in capacity and even lower quality. We present a formal model to explore the dynamics of service deliveryservice deliveryand quality, focusing on the service quality death spiral and how it can be overcome. We use the system dynamicssystem dynamicsmodeling method as it is well suited to dynamic environments in which human behavior interacts with the physics of an operation, and in which there are multiple feedbacks connecting servers, managers, customers, and other actors. Through simulations we demonstrate that major recurring problems in the service industryerosion of service quality, high turnover, and low profitabilitycan be explained by the organizations internal responses to work pressurework pressure. Although the reinforcing feedbacks can operate as virtuous as well as vicious cycles, the system is biased toward quality erosion by basic asymmetries and nonlinearities. We show how, with the right mix of policies, these same feedbacks can become virtuous cycles that lead to higher employee, customer satisfactioncustomer satisfactionand additional resources to invest in still greater service quality improvement.

author list (cited authors)

  • Oliva, R., & Sterman, J. D.

citation count

  • 17

complete list of authors

  • Oliva, R||Sterman, JD

editor list (cited editors)

  • Maglio, P. P., Kieliszewski, C. A., & Spohrer, J. C.

Book Title

  • Handbook of Service Science

publication date

  • March 2010