Balancing Frontliners’ Customer- and Coworker-directed Behaviors when Serving Business Customers

Michel Van der Borgh, Ad de Jong, Edwin J. Nijssen

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In this digital era, where many product-oriented business-to-business companies are shifting to a product-service systems approach, frontline employees (FLEs) are urged to complement customer-directed behaviors with coworker-directed prosocial behaviors to achieve optimal performance. Surprisingly, little is known about the relationship between FLEs’ coworker-directed and customer-directed behaviors in product-service systems settings. This research addresses this void and serves two purposes. First, drawing on role balance theory, the authors develop and test a model of an FLE’s relative emphasis on serving coworkers (i.e., helping) relative to the emphasis on serving business customers (i.e., proactive selling) as well as the antecedents and consequences of customer-coworker (im)balance. Second, the authors propose that managers can influence antecedents and consequences through an incentive system and access to information sources, respectively. Multivariate time-lagged analyses using survey and secondary performance data reveal that customer-coworker balance is beneficial for an FLE’s performance, especially when leveraging their coworkers as a prime information source. Interestingly, the increasingly damaging impact of an imbalance toward customer-directed behaviors can be countered by using the information technology (IT) system. Also of interest is that managers can correct imbalance—caused by either work group identification or expected customer demand—via individual-based incentives.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Service Research
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)323-344
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019

Bibliographical note

Published online: 18. March 2019


  • Product-service solutions
  • Frontline employees
  • Customer-directed behaviors
  • Coworker-directed behaviors
  • Role balance theory

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