The speed with which customers are embracing new Internet-enabled technologies is quickly changing the professional services landscape. Customers are better equipped with the tools to gather real-time information, ask probing questions of their service provider and, ultimately, make fully informed purchase decisions. More fundamentally, customers are increasingly seeing value in being able to participate in the design and delivery of professional services (Eisingerich & Bell, 2006). Increased customer involvement, however, implies increased variability and uncertainty within the service encounter (Chan, Yim, & Lam, 2010).Traditional management practice, in the event of variability, has been to more closely manage the service process. Variability has been seen as something to be controlled or ‘managed out’ of the process in order to increase consistency and predictability for both employees and customers. Accordingly, the literature has been occupied with prescriptions for managing variability through either customer or employee training. More recently, as a result of the service-dominant ‘turn’ within the literature and the emergence of co-creation as an approach to doing business, we have seen firms begin to embrace variability as a potential source of customization, innovation, and value. The evidence for the effectiveness of co-creation is emerging as scholars are increasingly embracing this topic of research (Bendapudi & Leone, 2003; Prahalad & Ramaswamy, 2004).Remaining somewhat neglected, however, has been the role of the employee as firms embrace the variability that is endemic to co-creation business models. This we see as an oversight. As such, we argue that variability can be dealt with in one of two ways; 1) by controlling the service process thus minimising the variability as has been the more traditional approach, or 2) by embracing, and working with, the variability. We propose a typology that reflects these two approaches in the context of supply (i.e., the management of service employees) and demand (i.e., the management of the customer interface) strategies. For instance, by educating customers on how to conduct themselves within the service, behavioural variability can be reduced. Similarly, through service process blueprinting or scripting, employees’ actions are able to be tightly controlled and monitored as appropriate for each service offering. Alternatively, firms can choose to embrace customer behavioural variability by embracing co-creation business models. The LEGO corporation, well known for its employment of a co-creation mindset, allows customers to submit new product ideas, to interact in online platforms with LEGO employees and other LEGO users, and actively participate in internal innovation processes (Hatch & Schultz, 2010).Perhaps less frequently explored by firms are supply-focused approaches for embracing service process variability. The idea of improvisation, where employees react in the moment to the customer as they see fit, is one potential management strategy. Improvisation can be defined as the convergence of planning and action. A main tenet of improvisation is ‘yes-anding’ which involves accepting the offers of others and building on them. It enables individuals to focus on the in-the-moment process of creation rather than on forcing a desired result (Crossan, 1998; Vera & Crossan, 2004). This typology of controlling versus embracing customer variability was explored through qualitative research comprising semi-structured interviews with practitioners and employees in a health services context. The format of the interviews followed a broad discussion guide; however there was significant latitude to explore constructs further as needed. Interviews were structured to gain insight into the changing roles of employees and patients within the realm of professional health services and explore employee’s current use of and opinions regarding improvisation as a tool to manage variable patient interactions.Overall, the findings of this study indicate that the service process in the healthcare industry is changing and requiring a revision of the roles and responsibilities of all parties involved. Several key themes emerged from the semi-structured interviews. Evidence of service procedure deviance, increasing customer involvement and differing expectations of the service encounter emerged as anticipated. Firstly, despite the generally tightly controlled technical processes in a healthcare practice, interviews uncovered that quite often things will happen that cause a procedure to deviate from the norm. Secondly, and further complicating this potential deviance, are changes in the patient-provider relationship and how this is manifested depending on different patient characteristics. Interviews on the whole indicated that there is a shift in the healthcare profession towards having patients more involved in interactions and treatment decisions. And thirdly, patients also vary in their opinions of what it means to be treated well in a service encounter and their expectations of the service encounter (Frei, 2006). The resultant concern then is how to train employees to adapt and respond appropriately to this new customer role. In this paper, improvisation is proposed as a useful strategy to work with customers and the inherent variability as opposed to attempting to reduce it. It is argued that employees could be trained to incorporate customers’ contributions and together construct the service process. Due to the high involvement nature of health services, strategies to control or reduce variability such as employee blueprints or scripting are not ideal. In these more high involvement situations, the interaction between the service employees and customers needs to create value for the customer by making them feel understood and cared for, and essentially embracing the variability that they bring to the table. Interviews also revealed evidence of improvisation being used in this way.Our intention in this paper was to explore the validity of the control versus embrace typology of managing customer variability with the goal of setting the groundwork to now empirically investigate customer behavioural variability, with a focus on the potential utility of improvisation training to manage this variability.
Weitere Kapitel dieses Buchs durch Wischen aufrufen
Bitte loggen Sie sich ein, um Zugang zu diesem Inhalt zu erhalten
Sie möchten Zugang zu diesem Inhalt erhalten? Dann informieren Sie sich jetzt über unsere Produkte:
- Dealing with Variability in Professional Services- The Role of Scripting Versus Improvisation