chapter  5
26 Pages

Taking Customers Seriously

As outlined in Chapter 3, the change-management literature has radically redefined our notions of the organisation. Leaving aside the many variations, at least two core features are present in just about all versions of change management, and they are the notion of the ‘value chain’ and that of the ‘customer’. The concept of the value chain is important because it emphasises an aspect of the organisation that is often glossed or ignored, and that is the organisation as an economic unit. The organisation, in this view, consists of a series of exchanges, and at each stage the product or service recipient is the ‘customer’. Given that ‘adding value’ is the whole point of the exchange, it is not entirely surprising that ‘customers’ become a major feature of this kind of analysis. Here, we want to examine the idea of the customer in more detail, and in particular, the rationalist underpinnings of ‘customers’ as one end of a predictable, rationally based pole in the exchange dyad. But our angle is rather particular on this: we are interested in the rationalities exhibited in the actions and purposes of customers, what we have earlier called ‘local rationalities’. We are interested too in the same as regards bank staff. Our focus will be on these rationalities as displayed at point-of-contact activities, especially face-to-face ones. This will involve describing in some detail how customer-facing work in financial services has been and is being done. Our interest lies in the contingent and skilful nature of this work, all the more so given that it is being done in institutions undergoing large-scale organisational

change. As we have seen, how that work is done is typically glossed in the literature. We refer especially to arguments concerning the move towards a ‘selling’ culture, ‘team-based’ working and away from branch-based work towards more ‘proceduralised’ processing centres. Here one will find very little indeed on what actually happens in these places, except for the most gross and generalising descriptions. Besides, our interest is all the more pertinent given that, in this sector, the reconfiguration of the institutions has often been predicated on a ‘process’ model of transactions generated from within banks (albeit with much assistance from process-change experts, of course) and, as a result, some at least of the traditional ‘face-to-face’ qualities of interacting with customers have and are being eroded.