Variety in business-to-business services and buyer-supplier interaction

Wendy van der Valk (School of Industrial Engineering and Innovation Sciences, Eindhoven University of Technology, Eindhoven, The Netherlands)
Finn Wynstra (Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, Rotterdam, The Netherlands)

International Journal of Operations & Production Management

ISSN: 0144-3577

Publication date: 28 January 2014



The paper aims to empirically validate a recently developed typology to demonstrate that services that are similar in terms of technical content, but different with regard to how they are used by the buying company, require different buyer-supplier interaction processes.


The paper conducts an embedded case study based on dyadic data collection to investigate the purchase of cleaning services by Netherlands Railways (NS) from two suppliers. These services differ with regard to how they are used by NS: as part of the value-proposition to customers (train and station cleaning) or as part of the support processes for NS (office cleaning).


The paper finds that for a technically homogenous service, fundamental differences in required interaction arise as a result of different usage situations. These differences are reflected in the sourcing decision and the design of the service delivery management process.

Research limitations/implications

Besides the general limits of single case studies regarding external validity, a specific limitation of the study is the limited number of supplier interviews conducted.

Practical implications

In order to develop appropriate sourcing and service delivery management strategies, practitioners need to consider the use of the service purchased and how it relates to their value proposition. This research shows that pooling volume for services that are used differently may enable immediate price reduction but could reduce supplier performance and ultimately customer satisfaction.


The case study and the validated typology complement the limited literature on the procurement of services transferred to the next level of customers in the supply chain.



van der Valk, W. and Wynstra, F. (2014), "Variety in business-to-business services and buyer-supplier interaction", International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Vol. 34 No. 2, pp. 195-220.

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