The boundary spanning activities of the customer support organization: hearing and articulating the customer's voice to improve software product quality
Van Bennekom, Frederick C.
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Quality management has become a key competitive factor (Garvin, 1988). Product design quality requires incorporating the wants and needs of the customer base into new product development, and product conformance quality relies upon identifying and resolving flaws found in the products. Collecting this feedback requires that the boundary between the customer and the firm be spanned, and applying the feedback requires that it be communicated to the functional group that can effect product improvement. Through its constant interaction with customers, the customer support group is well positioned to sense this customer feedback and communicate it to the product development group. This dissertation examined the strategic role of the customer support organization within software companies as a quality assurance agent. While traditionally viewed as a rectifier of external quality failures, the research model proposed that customer support could also serve appraisal and preventive quality assurance roles through its boundary spanning activities. A small sample, comparative case study tested hypotheses about customer support's boundary spanning and provided for grounded theory building. The research revealed three primary findings. First, service delivery designs that included higher levels of customer contact allowed the service agents to sense a broader range of customer issues. Second, product quality increased when the customer data were collected in a detailed format structured to meet the practices of the development group. Third, product quality also increased when the customer support group had more involvement in product management decisions throughout the product development cycle. Through grounded theory-building, the research identified contextual factors that fostered a preventative quality assurance role for customer support.
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