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Center for Leadership and Organizations

Jeremy Fishman, Ph.D.: Analyzing customer service interactions in high places

Dr. Jeremy Fishman enjoys being part of a company that delivers a variety of fun experiences for its customers at their parks, whether it’s ziplining in the treetops or mastering obstacles on a one-of-a-kind Putt-Putt golf course. As he was considering reaching new heights professionally, he found the Ph.D. in Leadership program at Anderson University a great fit for his unique aspirations

Tell me about yourself 

Professionally, I am a CFO for a company called TreeRunner Adventure Parks. We’re an aerial adventure park owner-operator. We have four aerial adventure parks—three in Michigan and one in North Carolina. We also have within our parks, in addition to the Swiss Family Robinson meets Ninja Warrior style courses, miniature golf, which we call the Putt-Putt Forest, which is its own brand. And then we also have gem mining. All around, just a lot of different fun experiences for folks. We’re headquartered in Detroit, so I’m based in Michigan. 

How did you learn about the Ph.D. in Leadership program at Anderson? 

Like a lot of other students in the program, I was doing research on different programs online and looking at different search tools. I looked at probably a dozen to two dozen programs and what struck me about Anderson was a variety of things. 

Number one was “A lot of the programs I was finding in the leadership discipline, or a related discipline were EED or DBA programs. I was really set on a Ph.D. program… and then a lot of the programs fitting that description were larger institutions. One of the things I found in my undergraduate and master’s degrees was that I really align myself well with smaller institutions… Instead of being one of many, you are one of a few, and I really valued that in the program I was looking for.  

What has been your favorite part of the Ph.D. program? 

The people in the program are so supportive of one another. You might find programs or cohorts where everybody is out for their own research and their own degree that the idea of community and camaraderie gets lost sometimes. One of the things I thought was powerful was that all of the different students in the program were really supportive of one another and what everybody was working on. It was impressive that you would go through classes, and you would have students who remember the research of their peers and bring it up on their own volition. It was cool to see that other students were so vested in each other’s work and success. I thought that was really unique.  

Then, what was surprising—I wasn’t the only Jewish student at Anderson. One of the things that surprised me about the program was… While I wouldn’t call myself extremely religious, the religious aspect of the program and being able to explore that as part of my leadership skill and research was so insightful for me. I remember a paper that I wrote in one of our early courses about the Jewish Theology of Power. It was so impactful for me. It was so insightful for me to go down that road. I was so appreciative of that experience.  

That was surprising, but in a very good way. 

Going in, I never really was concerned about being of a different faith and having that be something I felt was uncomfortable by, but I felt so incredibly welcomed by everybody, even when the conversations about religion would come up.  

Let’s talk about your Ph.D. research. 

My research was on mitigating burnout as a result of customer service interactions within front line service workers, and whether emotional intelligence would be able to mitigate burnout resulting from that interaction variable that was called surface acting, which is part of emotional labor as a concept. More concisely, how emotional acting may mitigate the burnout of surface acting on frontline customer service employees. 

The customer service expectation is so important. It has come so far beyond where it was even a few years ago—having service with a smile—bringing your smile is as important as bringing your lunch. It’s imperative that organizations have these display rules of how an employee can interact with the consumer so that they meet their criteria for repeat purchases, etc. The one thing we see more frequently in the news, I think, than we ever did was the consumer that may have less regard for the customer service employee generally and higher expectations at the same time. Those things coalesce to create this imperative for the employer and company to have the consumer at the forefront at all times, and that includes every interaction they have with them. 

I can imagine in your company, with your employees who are on the frontline of customer service, there are a lot of touches. Was that on your mind as you were doing your research? 

When I conducted the research, we used three U.S.-based adventure park operators that were over seven or eight states, so we got a really nice, broad topography of the country and good general distribution. It was completely in the forefront of my mind because I saw it so frequently, and during a shift one of the team members who participated in the study would have hundreds if not thousands of touch points with the consumer in any given day because it is at the end of the day a service industry. Depending on where they were stationed within the park, just like at Disney, they would have people coming by pretty much consecutively, incessantly and they would have to interact with them in every means possible—physical, verbal, etc. 

There’s the transactional aspect, but also, you’ve got folks who have issues with heights and you’re having to calm some nerves, maybe? 

Oh yes. In our industry, before a climber goes off on their own, they go through, as you might imagine, a safety briefing. And that’s an opportunity for the staff members to really connect with them. That’s a one-to-many touchpoint, meaning one staff member to anywhere from 10-20 climbers. There are those touch points. There are touch points after the safety briefing and at the practice lines, which is exactly what it sounds like—giving the consumer an opportunity to practice what they’re doing before they do it on their own.  

And at the main platform, which is where all the courses start—the staff members have touch points with the consumer again, every time they start a new course. There’s really a huge element of the experiences that relationship-building where there’s staff there for the needs of the consumer at all times with a lot of interaction with them and really their job is to—more than anything else—help to improve that experience. It’s similar almost to a lifeguard. They are there if they need them but not there if they don’t. But the difference is that the lifeguard is almost a bystander, where this role, as we call them park monitors, are an extremely integrated and active participant in the entire day and experience. 

And you’ve expanded beyond Michigan, too. 

Ultimately, we want to expand and be in a lot of great communities. Raleigh is where our park is in North Carolina. It’s such a great area for families and is growing by leaps and bounds. It’s a great place for us to be. Hopefully it’s the beginning of other states and expansion. 

Why do you think someone consider a Ph.D. in Leadership program such as the one Anderson University offers? 

Why I would say Anderson is a good place is that it’s extremely multidisciplined. It’s not a cookie-cutter degree where everybody who comes in is going to read the same books and do the same assignments the same way. It’s very much going to allow you to explore your research interests and explore your interests of leadership and create an opportunity for self-growth and development, through research-based literature and real-life practice. 

This research-based practical insight is so powerful beyond what you can get in most programs that do not end in a terminal degree. Then, being able to explore introspectively, religiously, and not, is so powerful. The other part of it—this is kind of a kudos to the program design—it has such a focus on 21st-Century leading.  

The first book we read in the program is the most ironic book of all. It’s called The End of Leadership by Barbara Kellerman. It was an such an interesting dichotomy to almost be a humbling agent for the new students to come and understand this is what the program is about—it’s not about leading from the front; it’s about leading with others—and that’s something that I think is pretty neat and wouldn’t necessarily be found everywhere else. 

Jeremy Fishman
Jeremy Fishman, Ph.D.
Graduated from Anderson University: 2024
Degree: Ph.D. in Leadership
Title: CFO at TreeRunner Adventure Parks, Detroit, Michigan