David E. Bowen, Thunderbird at Arizona State University

The changing role of employees in service theory and practice over the last few decades is overviewed from the perspectives of the management and marketing disciplines.  The criticality of employees, particularly front-line employees, in driving customer service outcomes was emphasized in both fields in the 80s and 90s. The rise of services marketing highlighted the role of employees in dyadic service encounters with customers. In management, the implications of the customer interface for employee and organization were developed. In the 2000s, the status of the employee’s role appeared to diminish as service marketing theory shifted from a provider to a consumer perspective on customer value creation, and as technology substituting for employees grew in practice.  In management, new theory and research directions on service employees essentially plateaued. Going forward in evolving service contexts, employees will fill roles as “Innovators”;  “Differentiators”; “Enablers” and “Coordinators”. Suggestions are offered for what management can learn from services marketing in the pursuit of interdisciplinary research.


Forthcoming in Human Resource Management Review