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Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
The 1st Annual Emerald/EFMD Outstanding Doctoral Research Awards 2005
Human resource managementSponsored by Personnel Review
Dr Leanne CutcherUniversity of Sydney, Australia
"Banking on the customer: customer relations, employment relations and worker identity in the Australian retail banking industry"
This thesis explores how structural change and shifting discourses of the “customer” have influenced customer relations, employment relations, and worker identity in three areas of the Australian retail banking industry: traditional retail banks, the credit union movement, and community banks. Drawing on detailed qualitative case study evidence, the thesis highlights the range of customers, both “real” and “constructed”, that were found in the case study organisations. The thesis also shows that competing concepts of the “customer” and “customer service” influence not only the customer-service provider relationship, but also the way in which workers interact with one another and with management.
In Australia, most retail banking organisations are encouraging their employees, through the use of sales targets and other related human resource practices, to adopt a more instrumental approach to the majority of their customers. However, the evidence generated by this research indicates that many front-line customer service officers prefer a more empathic or relational approach in dealing with customers. These workers want to be able to relate to customers in ways that extend beyond the exchange of a business transaction and demonstrate their capacity to “care for” the customer. The thesis shows how being able to get to know and care for their customers gives their work added meaning and helps to reinforce a preferred sense of self that has been built up over many years working as customer service officers.
A key contribution of the research is the way in which it builds on existing research by highlighting the role of workers in shaping meanings of “the customer”. The thesis also highlights the moral dimension of service work by examining the way in which management can overlay customer service work with an ethical component that increases employee commitment by appealing to workers’ ethic of service.
The findings from the research will be of interest both to the academic research community and to managers of service organisations who want to better understand the inter-connections between customer and worker identity and how these connections can be used to improve customer service standards and the experience of work in service industries.