Toward a Theory of IT-Enabled Customer Service Systems

Toward a Theory of IT-Enabled Customer Service Systems

Tsz-Wai Lui (Cornell University, USA) and Gabriele Piccoli (Universita di Sassari, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-659-4.ch021
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Abstract

As the use of customer service as a tool to create customer value and differentiation continues to increase, the set of customer services that surround the product rather than the product alone will increasingly become a source of competitive advantage and one of the most critical core business processes. However, there is a lack of a strong conceptual foundation for a service economy and a lack of theoretical guidance for optimal customer service systems design. In this chapter, the authors review past research around information systems facilitating customer services and identify the technical and social attributes of IT-enabled customer service systems, as well as the functionalities of customer service systems enabled by these attributes. Moreover, given the key role of customers as co-producers of the customer service experience, the authors address the role of customers’ characteristics in IT-enabled customer service systems. Finally, they identify existing research gaps and call for future research in these areas.
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Background And Definitions

Customer Services

We adopt a broad definition of customer service. Service is “a change in the condition of a person, or a good belonging to some economic entity, brought about as a result of the activity of some other economic entity with the approval of the first person or economic entity” (Hill 1977, p.318). This process changes the condition of the customers with the objective of enhancing customer value. An important distinction is between core services and supplementary services. Sometimes, customer services represent the core benefits delivered to the consumer, such as consulting or teaching. Sometimes, the service is supplementary to the core value proposition and it enables it, such as providing product information on a car manufacturer’s website (Lovelock 1994). In this chapter, we focus on supplementary services, because they apply to any industry, not just the service industry, and because they are increasingly IT-enabled.

IT-Enabled Customer Service Systems

The deployment of information technologies in supporting customer service has a long tradition of research in information systems (Ives and Learmonth, 1984; Piccoli et al, 2001; Sawy and Bowles 1997; Ray et al 2005; Orman 2007). The customer service life cycle (Ives and Learmonth, 1984) maps customer needs as they emerge at different stages of the interaction between an organization and its customers.

Drawing from the socio-technical tradition (Bostrom and Heinen 1977), we define a customer service system to encompass both technical and social subsystems. We therefore define IT-enabled customer service systems as the collection of information systems that provide supplementary customer services to fulfill customer needs (Piccoli et al. 2004). This general definition that encompasses any customer service system, from simple ones like a website providing the menu of the local mom and pop restaurant, to complex global systems such as Hilton OnQ (Applegate, Piccoli and Dev 2008), enabling reservations, check-in, check-out, customer relationship management, etc. at over 3,000 hotels in the global Hilton Hotels chain.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Customer Service: A change in the condition of a person, or a good belonging to some economic entity, brought about as a result of the activity of some other economic entity with the approval of the first person or economic entity.

Cognitive-Experiential Self-Theory: A theory proposing that people have two parallel interacting modes of information processing: a rational system and an emotionally driven experiential system. Interpersonal interaction relates to the experiential system, whereas reasoning and problem solving mobilize the rational system.

Organizational Validity: A fit or match between an information system and its organizational context

Customer Service Life Cycle: A framework that maps customer needs as they emerge at different stages of the interaction between an organization and its customers

Service Convenience: Customer’s perception in time and effort conservation

Customer Value: Customer’s perceived performance for and evaluation of product attributes, attribute performances, and consequences arising from use that facilitates (or block) achieving the customer’s goal and purposes in use situations

IT-Enabled Customer Service Systems: A collection of information systems that are to provide supplementary customer services so as to fulfill customer needs

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