Service Sabotage

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The relationship between frontline service employees and customers has always been interesting research topic for service marketers as the customer-contact service employee is the service and organization in the customers’ eyes and consumer interpretations of employee performance will create their impression of the service brand (Zeithaml and Bitner, 2009). Most early work on service frontline employees is based on the assumption that interaction between service encounters and customers is harmonious and productive, where service provider tries its best to satisfy customer’s needs and expectations and where service failure is generally described as service performance that fails below a customer’s expectations for all kinds of reasons – the service may be unavailable when promised, it may be delivered late or too slowly, the outcome may be incorrect or poorly executed, or employees may be rude or uncaring (Zeithaml and Bitner, 2009).

But there also exist another reason for service failure - employees who can sabotage the service brand through their performance at the front line (Wallace and de Chernatony, 2009). Contact employees who willingly perform badly and actively work against the brand. The misbehavior which deliberately causes a poor service experience for a customer is often called as “deviant”, and the employee is labeled as a “service saboteur” (Patterson and Baron, 2010). Ind (2004) describes the brand saboteur as any individual who works against the brand idea and Harris and Ogbonna (2002) view service sabotage as employees’ conscious actions that are designed to affect negatively customer service. Research works on sabotage topic estimate that up to 75 percent (Harper 1990), 85 percent (Harris and Ogbonna 2002), and even 96 percent (Slora 1991) of employees regularly behave in a way that can be described as either intentionally dysfunctional or deliberately deviant.

This paper aims to describe different approaches, perspectives, and motives for service sabotage at the front line and offers various implications and suggestions to help managers to better manage service sabotage.


Workplace sabotage is commonly defined as any unconventional practice used by employees to show their dissatisfaction. Findings uncovered in studies of employee sabotage and deviance in manufacturing companies provided by Ackroyd and Thompson (1999) markedly differ from the acts of service sabotage uncovered by Harris and Ogbonna (2002). The effects of sabotage are typically delayed in manufacturing firms while almost immediate in case of services. Manufacturing sabotage commonly targets the firm itself or coworkers in contrast to service sabotage where the target of service sabotage is customer. Manufacturing sabotage actions interrupt production and negatively affect the operation and performance of the organization. In services, sabotage has negative affect on employee-customer dynamics and disrupts service encounters. And finally, sabotage in a manufacturing setting is perceived more as hidden phenomenon that have commonly covert and private nature as opposed to service sabotage, where 64% of the cases described were public.


There are differences between the authors regarding their perspective/point of view when conducting research on service sabotage. Most of the research works related to employee sabotage and deviance focus on service performance, employee behaviour, and on the service encounter between a customer and an employee from the perspective of the consumer. On the other hand, Wallace and de Chernatony (2009) decided to approach the topic of the service performance and service sabotage from the managers’ and employees’ point of view, while Harris and Ogbonna (2002, 2006) limit their studies on service sabotage to employee views as the aim of their works is mainly to identify the motivations and consequences of the various types of employee misbehavior....
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