Sub-theme 64: Customer-facing Service Work as a 'Moment of Truth'?

Marek Korczynski
University of Nottingham, UK
Jean-Baptiste Suquet
NEOMA Business School, France
Caroline Ruiner
Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany

Call for Papers

The proportion of people working in jobs where dealing with a client/customer is essential has grown considerably (e.g. MacDonald & Merrill, 2009). Although this could encourage the investigation of differences and singularities of service work, managerialist approaches rather tend to assume universal management models , based on a prescriptive set of human resources practices and a harmonious vision of the relationships between management, customers and employees. Writing within this tradition, Norman (1984) labeled the point at which client/customer and service worker interact as the 'moment of truth' for the service firm.


This sub-theme asks scholars to critically reflect on what kind of truth claims are put forward, enacted and experienced within service interactions, and on how we, as scholars, mediate these truth claims. A different set of answers to these questions are suggested, for instance, within sociological approaches that analyse service settings as based on potentially antagonistic relationships leading to contradictions and tensions between the parties involved (e.g. Korczynski, 2002; Lopez, 2010).

Looking at service work with a critical and pragmatic eye can be expected to foster a more reflexive and renewed understanding of service work. Such a bottom-up approach to organization proceeds by questioning the specifics of customer interactions (e.g. interactional skills, emotions management, division of work between employees and customers), including their effects on working life (e.g. Ruiner, 2013), using and confronting the different perspectives offered by the idea of the service triangle of workers, customers, and managers. Critically reflecting on service work as a 'moment of truth' starts from alternative descriptions of service. Just as sociologists have differed in how far their theorizing fully addresses the role of the client/customer (e.g. Korczynski, 2013), so organizational scholars may question how far a sociological and critical account of service work can challenge the usual way service organizations work. How do organizations use workers' experience, knowledge and sensemaking (e.g. Suquet, 2010)? What kind of devices and structures make it possible to keep in touch with the reality of service work? How can managers cope with the complexity of the situations encountered by employees and uncovered by work analysts?

To reflect on the complexity of service work, we welcome papers that refine the picture of service work in particular from a sociological perspective but also from every other relevant scientific discipline (e.g. work psychology, conversation analysis, ergonomics, management sciences). We look forward to discussions articulating different perspectives on service work and focusing on different aspects of customer-facing service work (e.g. customers, managers, back / front office staff, low- to highly-skilled workers).

The following issues illustrate potential thematic aspects, but are not exhaustive since we are open to a broad range of topics, theories and methods:

  • Individual experiences of service work
  • Distinctions / status / class / frontiers, etc. in service work
  • Service working
  • Working in the service triangle
  • Implications of service interactions for political economy




  • Korczynski, M. (2002): Human Resources Management in Service Work. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Korczynski, M. (2013): "The customer in the sociology of work: different ways of going beyond the management–worker dyad." Work, Employment & Society, 27 (6), 1–7.
  • Lopez, S.H. (2010): "Workers, managers, and customers: triangles of power in work communities." Work and Occupations, 37 (3), 251–271.
  • Macdonald, C.L., & Merrill, D. (2009): "Intersectionality in the emotional proletariat." In: M. Korczynski & C.L. Macdonald (eds.): Service Work: Critical Perspectives. New York: Routledge, pp. 113–133.
  • Norman, R. (1984): Services Management: Strategy and Leadership in the Service Business. Chicester: Wiley.
  • Ruiner, C. (2013): "Time for business?! Time binds of female founders and their familial origin." In: G. Koch & S. Everke Buchanan (eds.): Pathways to Empathy: New Studies on Commodification, Emotional Labor, and Time Binds. Frankfurt: Campus, pp. 65–84.
  • Suquet, J.B. (2010): "Drawing the line: How inspectors enact deviant behaviors." Journal of Services Marketing, 24 (6), 468–475.


Marek Korczynski is Professor of Sociology of Work at the University of Nottingham Business School, UK. He was a sub-theme convenor at the EGOS Colloquium 2013 in Montréal, and has been a visiting Professor at Karlstad University, Sweden. He has published widely in the area of sociology of service work, including books with Cornell University Press, Oxford University Press and Cambridge University, and articles in such journals as 'Organization Studies', 'Journal of Management Studies', 'Work and Occupations', and 'Work, Employment and Society'.
Jean-Baptiste Suquet is Associate Professor at NEOMA Business School, France, member of CMAC and Associate Researcher at IRG. His research deals with the organizing of frontline employees work, and especially the way organizations cope with client deviant behaviors.
Caroline Ruiner is a post-doctoral researcher at the Institute of Work Science at Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany. Her research and writing focuses on highly-qualified knowledge workers, psychological contracts and fairness in (new) employment relationships.