“I’m always looking for a way to make a difference.”
Executive Education, Healthcare, Marketing, Professional Sales Forum - Faculty
Alex Zablah, Gerber/Taylor Professor of Marketing, began his academic career with an interest in food science. He grew up in Honduras, where he hoped to return after completing his education to work in the family’s food manufacturing business.
He moved to the U.S. in 1995, after receiving a scholarship from Louisiana State University (LSU). While completing his MBA at LSU, his eyes were opened to a new way to contribute to many communities. He began to see the impact of business and marketing not only in the food sector, but also across many different industries.
“I’m always looking for a way to make a difference,” said Zablah. As a researcher, his work has appeared in several leading journals, including Journal of Marketing, Journal of Applied Psychology, Information Systems Research, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, and the International Journal of Research in Marketing.
After teaching at Oklahoma State University and George Mason University, Zablah brought his talents to the University of Tennessee Haslam College of Business, where he discovered an area of research in which he felt he could make a difference.
“Healthcare touches our lives in many ways,” said Zablah. “And you are now seeing a significant growth in the marketing dollars being spent in healthcare.”
In addition to teaching undergraduate and Ph.D. marketing courses, Zablah also began teaching in the Haslam Healthcare Leadership Executive MBA program. While working with the medical professionals in these classes, he continued to pursue his research interests on the service aspects of healthcare delivery.
“The healthcare industry has evolved to understand patients as consumers,” said Zablah. “We’ve seen a dramatic change in consumer expectations, but the industry isn’t set up for that. Being customer-centric is critical to marketing. In most businesses, if a firm is customer-centric, they will provide good service, but in healthcare the story isn’t as simple as that.”
Zablah’s most recent research seeks to discover the risks and rewards, to both patients and providers, of a customer focus in healthcare. While carrying out research in Brazil with colleagues, Zablah and his co-authors found early warning signs of a problematic cycle.
“When providers are customer-centric, they become advocates for patients and are likely to speak up on their behalf, but, unfortunately, they are also more likely to break the rules,” said Zablah. “This is critical because the majority of the rules are in place to protect patient safety and minimize errors.”
Zablah says this exposes a potential “dark side” of customer-centricity in healthcare.
In addition, Zablah’s research explores “how to deliver what customers want while taking care of healthcare providers.” “There is a cycle of influence that can be negative for both sides. What we have learned, albeit in a different context, is a little counter intuitive. The collective impact that customers have on frontline workers is three times as large as the impact that employees have on customers.”
Zablah says he feels very fortunate for the financial support received from donors that provide him with the critical resources needed to complete his research.
“It’s a very noble act to give and multiply the blessings by helping others make an impact,” said Zablah. “It is important to me that we uphold our end of the deal by doing the research that matters.”
As he continues to pursue ground-breaking research, Zablah is stepping into a new role in Haslam as the head of the Marketing Department. He plans to move the relatively young department forward, continuing to build upon its success as a top-25-ranked undergraduate program.
“We have a great Professional Sales Forum in place and fantastic corporate partners,” said Zablah. “We’re ready to take it to the next level, providing more cutting-edge training for our students and revamping our programs to meet the needs of future employers.”