Academic journal article Journal of Supply Chain Management

Service Supply Chains: A Customer Perspective

Academic journal article Journal of Supply Chain Management

Service Supply Chains: A Customer Perspective

Article excerpt


One, if not the, key characteristic of a service is that it takes place at the interface with the customer (see, for example, Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry 1985; Sampson 2000). Furthermore, in many services customers are not simply a recipient, but are actively involved in the design, creation and delivery of services (Bitner, Faranda, Hubbert and Zeithami 1997). As such they are a resource, fulfilling roles often similar to a company's employees (Johnston 1989). A critical role for operations managers is to be able to control the variability and variety of the customer's input and interventions (Sampson 2012).

Given this central role of customers in services, it is striking that the predominant view of supply chain management is primarily based on the perspective of the organization rather than the customer. We acknowledge that there is an existing body of the literature that recognizes the need and importance of a customer orientation from the perspective of the service provider (see, for example, Levitt 1960; Dean and Bowen 1994; Lengnick-Hall 1996 and Vargo and Lusch 2004). However, in contrast to these views in this study, we consider supply chain management from the perspective of the customer.

In exploring how the network of service providers can be coordinated and managed to best satisfy the customer, we have taken a perspective

similar to that provided by Prahalad and Ramaswamy (2003). They placed the customer at the center of a "purposeful interaction of the individual customer with a network of companies and consumer communities" (p. 14). They contrasted the more traditional view of supply chains from the provider's perspective, with its focus on fulfillment, with a customer focus on a network of providers and organizations that come together to support personalized experiences. These "experience networks" are nonlinear and highly dynamic and involve multiple agencies, institutions, organizations, communities and individuals. There are also clear echoes here of Normann and Ramirez's "value constellations" (1993).

Taking a customer perspective on a network or constellation of organizations may provide both conceptual and practical opportunities. First, it may enable scholars to address an inherent contradiction in the concept of service supply chains. Our current understanding and models of service supply chains refer to the supply chain of goods and services that support the realization of the service; it is the supply chain for services, not of services. Taking a customer perspective focuses on the chain of interactions of the customer with the service providers rather from the provider providing services to the customer. This perspective asks the question, "How does the customer realize value from the supply chain?" Second, if we are to accept that value realization takes place in the customer's use of services (or indeed goods) referred to by Vargo and Lusch (2004) as "value-in-use" (see also Edvardsson, Enquist and Johnston 2010), we need to pay closer attention to how the customer realizes value from their interactions with an array of service providers. This perspective also provides research opportunities; for example, it provides a different context from which to consider supply chains and their boundaries. It would also provide opportunities for research into how the customer integrates the network of providers and how the customer coordinates and controls this network to produce a suitable outcome. It may also provide insights as to how managers can design and manage supply chains/networks to deliver better value for customers, improve relationships and create partnerships with them. Such a view may enable organizations to develop new services and also new business models that allow them to differentiate themselves and create more value for customers and other stakeholders.

Prahalad and Ramaswamy (2003) and Normann (2001) suggested that taking a customer perspective requires an understanding of the nonlinearities, time dependencies and relationships among the various elements of the supply chain and called for a complete consideration of the customer/provider system. …

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