Frontline service employees (FSEs), i.e. the ones that fix products after a breakdown, can be a rich source of innovation, improving products’ recovery performance and helping the firm to deliver superior recovery service, when their service portfolio is properly managed in terms of product diversity and customer familiarity, Andrea Ordanini (Department of Marketing) finds out in Don’t Just Fix It, Make It Better! Using Frontline Service Employees to Improve Recovery Performance (with Gielis ven der Heijden, Jeroen Schepers and Edwin Nijssen, Technische Universiteit Eindhoven, forthcoming in Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, published online on 11 January 2013, doi: 10.1007/s11747-012-0324-3).
The study challenges the efficiency focus most manufacturers adopt in their recovery efforts and demonstrates that firms may benefit from assigning FSEs an innovation role in addition to their recovery service role.
The recovery service role asks for problem-solving behaviour and courtesy and is measured by speed and quality of the intervention, while the innovation role asks for knowledge sourcing behaviour: sharing knowledge with the customers, FSEs can get information unaffected by dominant organizational paradigms, leading to new ideas which can improve the recovery performance. The downside is that such a behaviour takes time and mental resources, slowing down the recovery process.
Ordanini and his co-authors draw a series of hypotheses that link the two kinds of behaviour to the recovery performance and test them using a sample of Dutch field engineers working for a major international manufacturer of print and document management solutions.
Employing a Partial Least Square path modelling approach, they find a negative relation between recovery speed and quality and that core recovery behaviour positively influences speed, while knowledge sourcing behaviour has a slowing influence. On the other side, knowledge sourcing behaviour boosts FSEs’ development of ideas for improvement, and this has a positive influence on both the performance dimensions. The level of product diversity in FSEs’ portfolios and the level of customer familiarity strengthen the relationship between knowledge sourcing behaviour and ideas for improvement.
They also find that younger FSEs, or with a longer tenure in the same position, have a stronger tendency to develop new ideas, and that learning oriented FSEs are more inclined to display knowledge sourcing behaviour.
The authors conclude by warning firms that adding knowledge sourcing activities to core recovery behaviours can impair service recovery when not implemented carefully. “Managers seeking to boost frontline innovation”, they write, “should focus on recruiting learning-oriented employees, stimulate them to knowledge source intensively, be careful with rotating customers across the service workforce, and train FSEs to repair and maintain a broader range of products. (They should also) hire young frontline talents and keep them employed in the organization, preferably in the same position”.