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The (mis)representation of customer service

Bolton, S.C. and Houlihan, M. (2005) The (mis)representation of customer service. Work, Employment and Society, 19 (4). pp. 685-703. ISSN 0959-0170

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The growth of service work has introduced the customer as a third party to the employment relationship. Yet dominant images of customer relations portray docile service workers offering de-personalized care to sometimes aggressive but otherwise not much more agential customers. This paper seeks to bring humanity back into an analysis of customer service, and to reinterpret customer service interaction as a human relationship. Using labour process analysis and data from call-centre workers and their customers, we rerepresent customers as many-faceted, complex and sophisticated social actors and introduce a new conceptual framework of the roles customers play: as mythical sovereigns, functional transactants and moral agents, thereby offering a more accurate representation of customer service and the role of the actors involved in it.