E-Learning as a Strategic Differentiator for Customer Services: An Empirical Investigation

By Dai, Zong; Rummel, Amy B. | Competition Forum, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

E-Learning as a Strategic Differentiator for Customer Services: An Empirical Investigation


Dai, Zong, Rummel, Amy B., Competition Forum


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Oorganizational learning is increasingly perceived as a possible source of sustainable competitive advantage. However, the literature lacks empirical studies in integrated learning with a focus on customer services. This paper is a case study of creating competitive advantage in customer services through a learning-based platform as a strategic differentiator. It examines how three business firms create their centralized e-learning systems for strategically enhancing their customer services. The research methodology employs a fact-based principle that combines quantitative and qualitative methods. Data was collected and analyzed at both the corporate and customer service levels of the subject organizations. A conceptual model of creating the centralized learning system for enhancing customer services has been developed based on the findings.

Keywords: E-learning, Customer Service, Competitive Advantage, Differentiator, Performance

INTRODUCTION

Organizational learning (OL) is increasingly perceived as a source of competitive advantage and playing a growing role in new theories on competitive advantage (Appelbaum and Goransson, 1997; Dickson, 1996; Hunt and Morgan, 1996; Kanter 1989; Senge, 1990). Since an organization's learning depends on a particular set of organizational conditions such as competitive environment, culture, structure, business processes and methods of innovation, it is more difficult to imitate than other corporate resources (Dickon 1996; Nonaka 1991).

Learning for competitive advantage can be achieved through satisfying changing customer needs, understanding the dynamics of competitive forces (Hosley et al. 1994). Nevis, DiBella and Gould (1995) define that learning orientations are the values and practices that reflect where learning takes place and the nature of what is learned. As one of the seven learning orientations, the value-chain focused learning places emphasis on learning in value-chain activities including sales and customer service activities (Nevis, DiBella and Gould, 1995).

There is a growing interest on customer-centered strategies, since managing businesses from this perspective will increase the likelihood of success (e.g. Slywotzky, 1996).

However, the literature fails to capture competitive advantages derived from dynamic OL (Smith, Vasudevan & Tanniru, 1996). Particularly, it lacks empirical studies in how the firm reconfigures and operates its resource base for competitive advantage in customer services under the new conditions through OL (Fiol & Lyles, 1985; Smith, Vasudevan & Tanniru, 1996).

Yin (1994) and Schwandt (1997) have suggested that the case study method is deemed proper for a research project that is exploratory in nature. This paper is a case study to examine how the firm creates competitive advantage through organizational learning linked to customer services.

Three business firms-HP, NCR and Caterpillar-were selected from the 2004-2006 ASTD's1 BEST Awards winners of organizational learning and performance in five countries. Data collection has been conducted through the companies' websites, interview and documentation such as annual reports, archival records, financial reports, electronic databases, and other publications. With focused topics, interviews and consultations were conducted with executives and/or their presentations, including James Bauman (NCR University Operations Director, 2001 to 2006).

HEWLETT-PACKARD DEVELOPMENT COMPANY (HP)

HP is a technology company that operates in more than 170 countries around the world. The company offers a wide range of products and services, from business services to technology solutions, and from computing devices to digital entertainment. HP is among the world's largest IT companies, with revenue totaling $97.1 billion for the four fiscal quarters ended April 30, 2007. HP's 2007 Fortune 500 ranking: No. 14 (HP, 2007, a). …

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