Theorising practices to deliberately or accidentally control customers
European Journal of Marketing
Reason for embargo
This paper aims to empirically explore and theorise the application of technology control over customers during call-centre interactions. The author seeks to ascertain distinct types of technology-mediated control, with potentially distinct ingredients and consequences for repatronage and service relations. Design/methodology/approach: During three stages of empirical research across Western and non-Western, developed and developing country settings and across call-centre types, customers who have experienced control during call-centre exchanges, as well as providers (operatives, supervisors and managers) are interviewed as part of ethnographic research also reliant upon observation and company documentation. Findings: Findings suggest that, first, the rapid adoption of technology has facilitated the application of control during provider-customer interactions, second, such control may be more widespread than suggested in the literature and, third, there are various types, processes and ingredients of technology-mediated control. The discussion contrasts deliberate from accidental control. Research limitations/implications: Studies on call-centre interactions often assume that relationships between providers and customers follow customer-centric expectations in service marketing theory. Only a minority of theorists in service marketing contest these assumptions, arguing instead that service providers may be using techniques to control customers by dominating and regulating processes and outcomes of interactions with customers. This study advances extant literature by theorising control types, their ingredients and impact on service provision. Practical implications: Businesses may benefit fr om knowing when, how and how much customers are willing to revoke control. Customers are shown to accept being controlled, with customers’ tolerance for control being larger than anticipated. Originality/value: This is a rare attempt to analyse control over customers seen through the eyes of providers across levels of decision-making within organisational hierarchies. Whereas research tends to study control in generic terms, the author demonstrates the multifarious and complex nature of control. The author challenges conventional thinking in the discipline by providing empirical evidence of, and theorising, how and why customers permit themselves to be controlled in service relations.
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from the publisher via the DOI in this record.
Vol. 50, pp. 1493 - 1520