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Internal service – barriers, flows and assessment

Robert Johnston (Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK)

International Journal of Service Industry Management

ISSN: 0956-4233

Article publication date: 25 April 2008




This exploratory paper investigates internal service from a service management perspective. The objectives were to identify the main internal barriers that are preventing improvements to external service within business‐to‐business (B2B) organisations, to explore the bi‐directionality of internal services provided between internal functions, to assess the quality of internal services provided between functions and develop a means of testing staff and managers for their level of internal versus external focus.


A qualitative study was conducted involving structured interviews in two European countries with 20 staffs and managers from a large international express package delivery firm.


Five findings emerged. First, six main internal barriers to improving external quality were identified. Second, the study found that the barriers in B2B organisations were the same as those in business‐to‐consumer (B2C) organisations. Third, it suggested that internal service, unlike external B2C service, is bi‐directional. Fourth, it demonstrated a perception gap in internal service provision suggesting some degree of arrogance or delusion. Fifth, it demonstrated that the managers and staff viewed their service from an organisational, inside‐out, perspective, despite articulating a desire to provide excellent service to their business customers.

Research limitations/implications

The key limitations were that only one organisation was studied and 20 interviews conducted. The paper provides support for the total quality management approach and suggests that a dual approach combining a service, customer, perspective with an operations, efficiency, perspective might be useful in generating deeper insights to better understand and bring about improvements to the quality of services delivered.

Practical implications

From a practitioner perspective, the findings suggest that managers and supervisors need to develop a better understanding of the performance of internal services.


The paper contributes to the knowledge of internal service, particularly in B2B services.



Johnston, R. (2008), "Internal service – barriers, flows and assessment", International Journal of Service Industry Management, Vol. 19 No. 2, pp. 210-231.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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