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Trading places redux: employees as customers, customers as employees

Michael R. Bowers (Crummer Graduate School of Business, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida, USA)
Charles L. Martin (W. Frank Barton School of Business, Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas, USA)

Journal of Services Marketing

ISSN: 0887-6045

Article publication date: 1 May 2007




The purpose of this conceptual paper is to show how a company can improve the interface by treating employees as customers and customers as employees.


This article presents a conceptual model (reinforced with a review of extant literature and numerous examples) demonstrating the desirable consequences associated with the phenomenon we refer to as “trading places,” which occurs when organizations mix the treatment and roles of employees and customers.


Traditionally organizations have treated employees and customers as separate constituencies. Operations and human resource managers have developed their own approach to deal with employees (e.g. as “resources” to be utilized), while marketing managers have related to customers through somewhat different lenses (e.g. viewing customers as “prizes” to be won). Yet, in service organizations, we find that as employees assume more customer‐like roles and customers increasingly resemble employees, successful organizations are drawing from both approaches – treating employees more like customers, while treating customers more like employees.

Practical implications

As a conceptual piece, this article presents an alternative way of thinking about organizations' relationships with their employees and customers. Particularly relevant to service environments, it shows how organizations, employees, and customers all benefit when the “trading places” phenomenon is recognized.


The article updates the “trading places” perspective by reviewing relevant literature, providing a conceptual model, and illustrating the application of the approach with numerous examples.



Bowers, M.R. and Martin, C.L. (2007), "Trading places redux: employees as customers, customers as employees", Journal of Services Marketing, Vol. 21 No. 2, pp. 88-98.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2007, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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