Accueil » 61-3 ( 2006) » La relation de service au client : source inévitable de contrainte pour les travailleurs ?

La relation de service au client : source inévitable de contrainte pour les travailleurs ?

Pascal Ughetto


Ces dernières années, la problématique de la relation de service a conduit à l’analyse de situations de travail de plus en plus prégnantes en s’intéressant de très près au déroulement de l’activité. Cette perspective peut être poussée jusqu’à étudier le caractère sollicitant d’une activité fondée sur la confrontation aux clients et les implications de cette sollicitation sur les contraintes ressenties par les salariés dans l’exercice du travail. Il s’agit donc d’examiner les effets de l’organisation de l’activité – y compris les dispositifs de gestion qui y interviennent et l’influence du travail de l’encadrement – à l’égard des contraintes que ressentent les salariés. Cette organisation peut alléger ou renforcer ces contraintes et accentue l’envie des salariés d’en discuter pour adapter les finalités et modalités du travail.


The Customer Service Relationship

An Inevitable Source of Pressure for Workers?

Over the past few years, the study of the service relationship (that is to say, work place situations dominated by face-to-face contact with the client or the user) has perceptibly renewed the analysis of ongoing shifts in employment and work. This study is broadly based on a very highly detailed observation of occupational activity. In so doing, we were able to bring to light all of the work done by salaried workers who were being confronted by the difficulties which were a part of their work, and were finding solutions, thus focussing attention on the very demanding nature of contemporary work. By using data from a study undertaken in France involving mail distribution services and supermarket departments, the article focuses, from this perspective, on work place tensions in the context of the service relationship and on the effect that management choices and organization have on these strains.

Appearing, with their slogans, to rediscover that they are at the service of their clients and users, businesses and public administrations obligate everyone in their service to subordinate their business activity less to internal constraints and to a higher degree to those of the service recipient. The postal sorting centre actors being studied, and particularly their managers, willingly comply with their administration’s statement that the business’s economic situation and other pressures make it inevitable to have to organize work in a client-centered way. On the other hand, the employees expect to discuss concrete changes and the means of action implied, showing thus the share of the social construction of reality which is involved: for instance, how to organize, to deal with the 5% of mail which is not distributed in “J+1”? Wouldn’t it be necessary to have an additional team to deal with it? Does the target of 95% adequately reflect the complexity of client expectations? Being “in the field,” the operational actors have direct experience with the real customer and a perception of tensions that they would like to express to those who create goals and performance indicators.

Indicators inspired by industrial logic do not take into account the complexity of the reality faced by customer service relations employers and their managers, and thus, these indicators give these employees further pressures which are difficult to manage. The fact of placing service work under the tension of the client’s judgment has, from the outset, the effect of making the work process more demanding: one must do one’s work without being able to escape from the client’s presence and his subjectivity. The framework which the supervisor sets up for the activity then has an impact, either in “adding on” in terms of pressures, or, on the other hand, of supporting work. For logistical activities such as mail distribution and supermarket departments, which function under a high degree of time pressure, the client service strategies make the deadline promised to the client even more imperative, and segment the clientele and the types of services provided: in this way, these strategies increase the pressures which are experienced and simultaneously create the desire on the part of the worker to be able to discuss these new pressures. Depending on the case, operational actors within the business manage or not to find the means of organization and management which help them to deal with these pressures. Thus, the head of one of the bakery-pastry departments decides to impose on his work and on his team’s work a very rigid flow, as if the customer orientation or focus could have no other effect but to force each person to work with his “nose to the grindstone.” His counterpart in another store contradicts this relationship by devoting a great deal of attention to the daily organization of the team’s activity, the division of labour, means of co-ordination (notebooks, etc.).

The daily experience of the tensions and demands which weigh upon work appear, in this way, very dependant on organization and on management which either reinforces them or make them less apparent according to whether management provides the rules and the means to deal with these pressures. What organizes work—and influences the perception of demands—is made up of everything which enables individuals and collective groups to equip themselves to confront the action. The collectivity, in itself, more or less helps individuals carry out their work. Evaluation interviews give workers the opportunity to discuss the situation, to inform supervisors if they find anything in the organization that meets management expectations, but, in fact, discussions on the subject of work fall short. Supervisors, themselves, have very few means of gaining recognition for the adjustment carried out under their supervision at the local level, and encounter standardizing logic from service relationship models primarily based on marketing orientations.


La relación de servicios a la clientela

Fuente inevitable de situaciones constrictivas para los trabajadores?

Estos últimos años, la problemática de la relación de servicio ha conducido al analisis de situaciones de trabajo cada vez mas constrictivas y a interesarse de cerca al desenvolvimiento de la actividad. Esta perspectiva puede conducir al estudio del carácter solicitante de una actividad fundada en la confrontación con los clientes y de las implicaciones de esta solicitud respecto a las coerciones resentidas por los asalariados en el ejercicio del trabajo. Se trata entonces de examinar los efectos de la organización de la actividad - incluyendo los dispositivos de gestión que intervienen y la influencia del trabajo de dirección - respecto a las coerciones resentidas por los asalariados. Esta organización puede aliviar o reforzar estas coerciones y acentúa el deseo de los asalariados de discutir sobre ello para adaptar la finalidad y las modalidades de trabajo.