The Customer Orientated Bureaucracy

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Introduction

Customer Oriented Bureaucracy (COB) is an amalgamation of the two conflicting images of service work these being new service management (NSM) which suggests a win:win:win relationship between customers, employees and employers against the more negative aspect of service work brought forward by Ritzer which suggests that service work has become McDonaldised and is fake, demeaning and highly routinised.

The original ideas were seen by Korczynski as being half right yet had their downfalls. The main flaw in the NSM was their use of the satisfaction mirror. This stated that the interests of the frontline worker were the same as the customer. This was conceptually flawed as research showed that employees want more pay and better working conditions and customers are looking for lower prices. Korczynski also looked in great depth at the McDonaldisation idea of service-work. Although retail-work does have the three dimensions of McDonaldisation these being efficiency, calculability and predictability its place as being totally rationalised was not seen in all organisations. This can be proven in my example of a supermarket where an employee is expected to follow protocol but use their experience and expertise to solve problems without having to get a supervisor.

These criticisms led to Korczynski proposing the innovative idea of the COB. The idea of this theory being that it is infused with two logics, these being that of the customer orientation, alongside that of rationality and efficiency. In effect these logics do contradict each other e.g. in terms of management, in the retail sector their will be variability and unpredictability, i.e. a customer at a supermarket wanting to have something ordered specially yet an employee will have the logic of rationalisation meaning that they have to act in certain ways. As well as this there is also the experience of retail workers. These workers have the conflicting thoughts of either following the logic of being personal and emotional alongside the logic of impersonal rationality.

To answer the question of how useful the COB is in retail work I have been to a supermarket that I was once employed at as a shelf stacker and assessed each of the dimensions of the COB.

Dominant Organising Principle/Labour Process

This dimension of the model suggests that there are dual dominant organising principles these being customer-orientation and the logic of rationalisation. This is especially true in the research that I have brought forward. The supermarket in question was Safeway and their company slogans were "Friendliest store in town…" and "We're happy to help." These were recognised by employees and built on the idea of customer sovereignty, however many employees expressed the form of rationality and the fact that the work had to be done a particular way and in a specific space. As already said above the idea that a customer can be unpredictable means that an employee has to use their own discretion to solve a problem and yet they have to do it within a specific time or else the rest of the work will not be done. For example, if the shelves are not fully replenished meaning the store may lose out on extra revenue, or a till worker taking extra time to help a customer which means a longer queue and other customers becoming dissatisfied. It is this contradiction that points out the need for finding a balance between the dual logics. In this case not just how efficient a customer was served but how it was done and whether the customer was pleased with it. This can help managers fashion the fragile social order. Alongside the management influences are the experiences of the employee. Getting a balance of the dual logics can be linked to the pleasures and pains that a worker may feel. In retail work this is very important as if an employee is asked to serve too quickly a worker may feel that they can't be as customer oriented and that the quality of...
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