Service Work in Consumer Capitalism: Customers, Control and Contradictions
There is an important literature suggesting that the consumer has become a key focus of identity and figure of authority in contemporary society. Within this literature, however, there is little consideration of the role that the identification with the customer could play in management control within production, nor of the ensuing potential contradictions. This paper examines these issues in front line call centre work. Control in this setting is theorised as being informed by dual logics of customer-orientation and bureaucratisation. The paper shows the important use of norms of customer identification in control. It also highlights two levels of contradictions in the use of these norms. First there is the contradiction between continuing bureaucratic control and the attempts to develop normative control. Second, there are contradictions within the development of customer-related normative control. Specifically, the definition of the customer as the focus for normative commitment is a contested terrain, with systematic and significant differences existing here between call centre workers and management.
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