You are on page 1of 9

Introduction

Enhancing customer
service and
organizational learning
through qualitative
research
Peter R.J. Trim and
Yang-Im Lee

The authors
Peter R.J. Trim is a Lecturer in Management at Birkbeck College,
University of London, London, UK. He teaches a number of
marketing courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level, and
is currently undertaking research into corporate intelligence and
national security.
Yang-Im Lee is a Lecturer in the School of Business and
Management at Brunel University, Uxbridge, UK. She is a
marketing specialist and is at present researching various
aspects of marketing strategy and international management.

The body of marketing knowledge has over the


past two decades been extended and refined, and
as a consequence there does appear an occasion
to merge the body of marketing knowledge and
strategic management knowledge. It is also evident
that as companies enter new markets abroad and
form strategic alliances with previous competitors,
that new bodies of marketing related knowledge
will emerge. However, what is of interest is that the
subject of marketing is being transformed and is to
some degree being linked closely with human
resource management for example. This is to be
understood in the sense that the service economy
is important and as a consequence a distinct body
of knowledge has originated relating to services
marketing. Also to emerge is the concept of
relationship marketing and this is to be placed
within a cultural context. For example,
relationships are developed though time and issues
such as trust and loyalty emerge that are rooted in
organizational culture. Organizational culture
contains the cultural traits and values to be found
in national culture, and is shaped and reshaped by
a set of factors including history, religion and
technology for example.

Keywords
Research, Communication, Culture (sociology), Learning,
Marketing, Partnership

Qualitative research

Abstract
In order to develop a sustainable competitive advantage in the
knowledge based economy, senior managers need to ensure that
customer relationship management is placed within a clearly
defined organizational culture that embraces organizational
learning. Senior managers are required to exhibit a proactive
approach to leadership that results in creative solutions being
found to solve complex problems. Open communication
reinforces the decision-making process and allows mutually
based partnership arrangements to develop. This being the case,
the network approach to business development can be viewed,
as collectivist in orientation and this should allow partnership
arrangements to be developed through time.

Electronic access
The Emerald Research Register for this journal is
available at
www.emeraldinsight.com/researchregister
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is
available at
www.emeraldinsight.com/1352-2752.htm

Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal


Volume 7 Number 4 2004 pp. 284292
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited ISSN 1352-2752
DOI 10.1108/13522750410557094

In order to understand the complexities of the


issues confronting management academics and
business practitioners, it is necessary to undertake
qualitative research that allows insights to be
drawn from various, but related bodies of
management knowledge. This further underpins
the fact that the strategic marketing concept has
validity, and also suggests that marketing
academics and practitioners, and human resource
management academics and practitioners, have a
number of interests in common. For example, a
service oriented company relies extensively upon
its employees to market the products and services
available, and consumers and potential consumers
pay attention to the value for money concept and
the quality of the after sales service provided.
Therefore, the quality of marketing staff and their
support staff are key factors in determining the
type and amount of business that will be secured.
It is not surprising to learn, therefore, that to
achieve a specific marketing objective(s), staff need
to be adequately trained and motivated, and the
necessary leadership and reward systems need to
be in place. Owing to the fact that organizations
undergo rapid forms of transformation from time
to time (expansion followed by contraction), it is
relevant to suggest that research that provides

284

Enhancing customer service and organizational learning

Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal

Peter R.J. Trim and Yang-Im Lee

Volume 7 Number 4 2004 284292

insights into how staff feel (the feel good factor);


how they view their own performance and the
performance of their peers; and how they view
their superior from the stance of leadership and
motivation, are all worthy of study. Data can be
collected from attitudinal surveys, however, a
crucial point to note is that if a manager accepts
that organizations undergo periods of
transformation, it would be more relevant to
suggest that the employees themselves are involved
in the research process, as it is the staff who are
going to be responsible for making the necessary
sacrifices and changes vis-a`-vis working practices
for example. If senior management is determined
to reward and retain staff, it is vital that in-house
qualitative research is undertaken, that is viewed as
ongoing and relevant. Research that is viewed as
inclusive will sit comfortably within the
organizations culture, because it will produce
factual evidence, and any anomalies can be
thought through and turned into research
objectives and questions, which then form the next
phase of the research. In-house research is useful
with respect to making matters public (feelings,
emotions, programmes and policies, for example),
and it also has the advantage of immersing the
employees in the research process, and making
them more aware of the need for change.
This paper will make clear how action research,
which is a valid and increasingly deployed form of
qualitative research, can be used by staff employed
by an organization to study and influence the
process of change that is taking place, within
the organization (Easterby-Smith et al., 2003,
pp. 10-11 and 43-44). Action research can be used
to reform an organizations structure, as it provides
a platform for senior managers to devise and
implement new programmes and policies. Action
research has one key advantage. The research/
evaluation is controlled by the people in the
program or community. It is something they
undertake as a formal, reflective process for
their own development and empowerment
(Patton, 1990, p. 129).

a specific view of how goals and objectives are to be


established and realized. For example, Bae and
Chung (1997) have made some useful
observations regarding the motivation level of
workers in South Korea, and it is clear that South
Korean workers are loyal to the organization they
work for. The advantage of staff being committed
to the organization has been recognized by
Fincham and Rhodes (1999, pp. 417-418), and it
also provides further advantages in the sense that
the necessary style of leadership can be
forthcoming that produces a relationship
marketing focus. In other words, a shared
organizational culture has the benefit of allowing
staff within the organization to learn from each
other and this occurs through collaboration
(Porter et al., 2000). Collaboration may be
planned or indeed forced upon an organization.
However, once when partnership arrangements
are entered into they need to be directed and
managed so that a win-win outcome results.
Hofstede (1997) and Schein (1992) have
adopted a holistic view to culture and this allows
marketers to think more deeply about the cultural
setting in which goods are traded and partnership
arrangements are managed. One of the powerful
aspects to emerge relating to a culture is of course
the influence of religion. If one compares Japan
and South Korea, it is clear that over the centuries,
Buddhism and Confucianism have been adopted,
but adopted at different points in time and as a
consequence, the mindsets of the people from
Japan and South Korea are different. There are a
number of other factors to consider when studying
how a national cultural value system has emerged
and given rise to cultural traits that influence the
decision-making process. An important point to
note however, is that countries such as
South Korea are now undergoing a process of
transformation and this will result in new hybrid
management models being produced. One can
therefore suggest, that countries such as
South Korea will have more than one type of
organizational model in being (Lee, 2001, p. 271).
As a consequence, South Korean companies will
adapt in various ways to the challenges they face.
There are various ways in which action research
can be used to provide insights into the past,
present and future aspects of organizational
culture. Therefore, it is essential that senior
managers find ways to utilize the knowledge and
experience of existing staff, and to harness this
knowledge and experience in a meaningful way.
This assumes a degree of urgency when one
understands that organizations compete in what
can be classified as a knowledge management era,
where the speed at which information is exchanged
represents a key success factor. Politis (2003, p. 56)

Collectivist organizational culture


Oakland (1993) has indicated that the concept
of improvement is to be thought as a continuous
process. This suggests that the drive towards
quality needs to be placed within a specific
organizational context, and a collectivist cultural
setting appears to be the main integrating factor as
it considers how everybody can benefit and share
in the rewards gained. One is not suggesting that
individualism is to be perceived as unacceptable or
harmful, but that senior management need to have

285

Enhancing customer service and organizational learning

Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal

Peter R.J. Trim and Yang-Im Lee

Volume 7 Number 4 2004 284292

has put this perspective: Transferring knowledge


from one person to another requires that tacit
knowledge be converted into explicit knowledge
through sharing experience, dialogue discussions,
know how exteriorization and teaching.
Action research can be used to explain how
communities (staff in various departments and
partner organizations for example), relate to their
community (or tribe) and the wider community
(the industry within which the organization
competes). Therefore, research undertaken to
study and highlight the impact of cultural traits,
and which at the same time is aimed at influencing
change, should be viewed as relevant and
necessary. The fact that Schensul and Schensul
(1992), p. 166 have indicated that this type of
research can be conducted over a period of time,
suggests that a whole range of issues can be studied
and explored to provide deep insights into how
organizational culture evolves; who is instrumental
in developing or changing an organizations
culture; and how organizational culture can
complement or hinder marketing strategy
implementation for example.

possible to turn the knowledge into a competitive


advantage and this will as a consequence allow
those in the organization to learn (Appelbaum and
Gallagher, 2000, p. 46). This means human
resource management specialists need to identify
the skill gaps of the employees and devise training
and management development programmes to
eradicate the skill gaps. Alternatively, a thorough
audit can be undertaken and if necessary, expert
labour can be hired. Appelbaum and Gallagher
(2000), p. 49) have indicated that training must
be designed to help close the gaps between an
organizations current reality and its future
transformation. Therefore, it is not surprising to
note that staff in the human resource management
function need a high profile within the
organization because human resource
management specialists are required to ensure that
the organization has the required skill base. This is
a powerful argument for suggesting that human
resource management specialists should be
involved in work which is of a competitive
intelligence nature and also, human resource
management specialists should be seconded to
various departments/functions/strategic business
units in order to monitor and appraise staff on a
continual basis.
It is clear from the research undertaken that
managers considered it necessary to create an
environment of development and learning
(McKenna, 1999, p. 776). This being the case,
it should be relatively straightforward for training
and development to be viewed as an investment as
opposed to a cost. Whatever be the view, it is clear
that there are a number of advantages associated
with a learning organization. For example,
Appelbaum and Reichart (1997, p. 234) have
stated: Learning organizations are skilled at
systematic problem solving, and each is
accompanied by a distinctive mind-set, tool kit,
and pattern of behaviour. This suggests that a
learning organization can embrace new challenges
and is better able to confront the various threats
that materialize in the environment. Staff in a
learning organization appear to be proactive and
managers appear to be concerned about the
welfare of the employees. This being the case,
managers and their subordinates should be viewed
favourably by the shareholders owing to the fact
that as well as yielding a return on the investment
made, and enhancing the value of the company,
there is also a commitment to incremental growth
and survival in the long term.
The findings from action research can assist
senior management to develop a holistic approach
to organizational learning. It can also trigger
further research into areas that were previously
thought to be outside the scope of the research

Organizational learning
De Weerd-Nederhof et al. (2002, pp. 320-321)
have indicated that the word learning encompasses
individual, group and organizational learning. It is
important to place learning in a multidimensional
context because marketing managers do need to
identify which management training and
development programmes are appropriate for their
staff. A customer oriented culture will provide a
platform for relevant training programmes (Rubin,
1995) that are viewed as relevant and necessary,
which result in organizational learning objectives
being set and achieved. Becoming a learning
organization should prove beneficial in the sense
that Hitt (1996, p. 16) has indicated that there are
two interrelated reasons why organizations
become learning organizations: survival and
excellence. In a customer driven era it would seem
logical that an organization is driven by the
concept of excellence owing to the fact that senior
managers are being continually asked to search for
new ways to improve the performance of the
organization to meet specific objectives (increasing
market share and providing higher returns to
shareholders, for example).
It is becoming increasingly important to realize
that this is a day and age characterized by ideas and
knowledge, and staffs are known to work more
independently than earlier (Appelbaum and
Gallagher, 2000, pp. 43-44). By harnessing and
using the knowledge within an organization, it is

286

Enhancing customer service and organizational learning

Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal

Peter R.J. Trim and Yang-Im Lee

Volume 7 Number 4 2004 284292

objective, and this may result in the original


research questions being rephrased or redefined.
This should not be viewed as a weakness, but
should be viewed as useful and appropriate.
Biott (1996, p. 171) has even indicated that:
As projects unfold, questions are often
reformulated and new ones emerge. Interests are
reshaped, foci shift, and observations or findings
are frequently combined with self-revelation
including practitioners sense of the emerging force
of their own newly established identities as
researchers. This suggests that action research
has a fundamental role to play in areas of staff
development and training, as it can be used to
integrate separate staff development courses into
an overall staff development programme. It can
also be used to highlight the skill deficiencies of
marketing staff who are employed by partner
organizations in the marketing channel. This is a
crucial point owing to the fact that external
marketing staff may have the responsibility for after
sales service provision, which includes providing
training to staff employed by the end-user.

has highlighted the fact that managers face


significant problems while dealing with crosscultural management issues and relationships, and
that the time put into both building and developing
cross-cultural and global relationships can be
described as enormous.
According to Geissler (2001, p. 489), integrated
marketing communications can assist marketers in
managing relationships. The objective is to view
the communications effort from the eyes of the
consumer, and this will ensure that there is a clear
and consistent message, and maximum
communications impact (Geissler, 2001, p. 489).
Owing to the importance associated with the
process of communication, it is necessary to place
communication within a specific context.
Communication can be thought as internal
(in-house conferences and newsletters, for
example), and as external (a custom designed
promotion strategy). Action research can and does
provide an opportunity for evaluation and is useful
with respect to appraising promotional messages
and strategies. It can also be used to study the link
between an organizations identity and how the
leaders/senior management teams vision is
operationalized. Action research can be
undertaken to establish if there is a match between
the views put forward by senior management and
the views put forward by junior management, for
example. The research findings can identify the
gaps that exist, and action can be taken to close the
gaps and ensure that everybody that occupies a
management position is on the same wavelength.
Action research can also be used to establish if the
formal communication channels that are in being
are appropriate and work in the way that they
should.

Open communication
Communication is an important, but under
recognized aspect of management. One would
think that the better-educated workers are, the
more they will see the need to co-operate and share
information. This is not necessarily the case in
an organizational culture driven by individual
self-esteem and underpinned by the concept of
individualism. Open communication can and does
result in teamwork and the achievement of goals,
however, too much transparency can result in
jealousies and embitterment, and inevitably lead to
conflict. Conflict may be the result of individuals
competing, but it may transpire as a result of
groups competing (within a department/function/
strategic business unit or between staff at different
locations or between staff in a joint venture/
strategic alliance) for specific rewards.
Appelbaum and Gallagher (2000, p. 50) are
correct in suggesting that communication is a
critical factor with respect to the successful
implementation of change within an organization.
Appelbaum and Gallagher (2000, p. 51) have also
referred to a key point made by Senge, who is
attributed with the saying that a learning
organization encourages and embraces dialogue.
What is evident is that it is essential for managers
to invest sufficient time in developing and
cultivating relationships with staff within the
organization that they work for and with staff in
actual and potential partner organizations.
Research undertaken by McKenna (1999, p. 775)

Proactive leadership
Schein (1992) has made various links between
organizational culture and leadership. One of
the key points to emerge from the literature is
that the value system of top management can be
transferred to those lower down the hierarchy and
as a consequence staff throughout the organization
can improve the image of the organization by
transforming their energies into certain outputs.
Bearing this in mind, organizational performance
can be improved through ensuring that the guiding
beliefs of senior managers override the daily beliefs
of subordinate staff (Davis, 1984). This being the
case, it should be possible for new leadership styles
to emerge that lead to change being appropriately
managed. It also means that current thinking
relating to leadership style as explained by
Kakabadse (2000) needs to be viewed positively by
all the employees of the organization as

287

Enhancing customer service and organizational learning

Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal

Peter R.J. Trim and Yang-Im Lee

Volume 7 Number 4 2004 284292

transformational leadership is a necessary form of


empowerment that leads to new initiatives being
put forward which ensure that existing challenges
are dealt with in a positive and speedy manner.
Indeed, one of the advantages of transformational
leadership, for example, is that about changing the
status quo (Hughes et al., 1999, p. 291) and does
to a certain degree require that managers and their
subordinates are on the same wavelength. Hence,
an organizations value system can be defined and
can manifest in a specific corporate
communication process, that underscores the
value of a specific leadership style.
According to Patton (1990, p. 157), action
research can be used to focus on a specific problem
within a programme/organization/community.
Owing to the fact that research can be undertaken
of a confidential nature, it is true to say that the
research findings are not always made available to a
wider public. Aspects of the research outcome can
and do appear in the form of summaries and
recommendations, which are then circulated to
appropriate people for further discussion and
debate (Patton, 1990, p. 158). In the case of an
organization appointing a new leader, it can be
argued that there are reasons for appointing an
internal candidate (to maintain continuity) or an
external candidate (to improve the image of the
organization and raise the level of confidence of the
shareholders). Action research can be used to
establish if it is appropriate to appoint an external
leader, and if so, who should be appointed.

Marketing covers a broad range of issues.


Bearing this in mind it can be suggested that action
research can be used to study whether the product
development process needs to be changed; how
pricing policies (and especially Internet pricing, for
example) can be devised and implemented; and
how distribution channels can be reconfigured.
The issue of market entry may surface and need
attention. Regarding restructuring distribution,
it is possible to suggest that research may need to
be undertaken that involves and incorporates the
view of staff at several partner organizations. Thus,
collaborative research may be the most appropriate
way in which to obtain relevant data and
information, and may witness the global marketing
group or global brand group establishing the
parameters of the research.

The network approach to business


development
Krapfel et al. (1991) have indicated that when
appraising suppliers, it is necessary to think in
terms of substitutability, indispensability and
common interests. A key factor in determining
whether a supplier organization will be given
renewed/increased business is whether their staff
can meet quality objectives, price objectives and
delivery objectives. This means that the level of
customer service provided by the supplier
organization needs to conform to the level of
customer service provided by the manufacturer
(Geyskens et al., 1999).
Achrol and Kotler (1999, p. 151) have indicated
that marketing can be viewed from the stance of a
network integrator and this in turn suggests that
marketing managers will be involved in strategic
decision-making, for example. It also suggests that
marketers will become more involved in the
formulation and implementation of partnership
arrangements, and will participate more fully in
strategic alliances.

Strategic marketing focus


The strategic marketing concept as outlined by
Aaker (1992) is becoming increasingly relevant
and marketing managers have to think much more
carefully about market entry decisions. In the years
ahead, marketing managers will need to spend
time devising new forms of market intelligence,
both systems and processes, to consider the actions
of organizations involved in strategic alliances, as
these forms of organizational configuration have
changed the dynamics of the market place.
A strategic marketing approach will provide a basis
for relationship marketing and this should facilitate
the customer relationship management process.
The strategic marketing approach can also be used
by marketing managers to identify synergistic
business activities (Doyle, 1994) that result in
fitness (Porter, 1996) being achieved.
Pulendran et al. (2003, p. 492) have indicated
that the impact of marketing planning quality on
business performance is indirect rather than
direct. This raises all sorts of questions ranging
from who within the organization is involved in the
marketing planning process to issues such as the
degree of formalization that exists in the planning
process. In some organizations it is possible that
in-house economists provide data and conceptual
inputs and in specific industries that are
susceptible to fluctuating market conditions and/or
huge investments in technology, for example, it is
possible that marketing planning is based on or
incorporates some form of scenario analysis.
Should scenario analysis or some other forward
planning device(s) be used, it is possible that
marketers work alongside economists and
mathematicians, and that the organization
sponsors some aspect of a particular university
business schools programme offering or a line
of research or recruits a specific type of student.

288

Enhancing customer service and organizational learning

Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal

Peter R.J. Trim and Yang-Im Lee

Volume 7 Number 4 2004 284292

What one has to remember is that what is deemed


formal in one cultural setting may be perceived as
informal in another, or the degree of formality may
be different. With respect to the latter, it is clear
that Japan and South Korea represent collectivist
cultures, however, Japanese people consider that
disagreement should not result in open conflict
even if change is necessary whereas people in
South Korea believe that a disagreement can result
in conflict if change is necessary. This may be an
over simplification, but the key point to note is that
cultural traits found in a nations value system are
evident within organizations (they manifest in the
decision-making process). Hence, it is possible to
predict what might happen in a situation where the
values of one cultural group collide with the
cultural values of another cultural group. This is an
important fact to remember when studying
international partnership arrangements. To fully
understand what is happening requires that
marketing staff have a reasonably detailed
knowledge of the country from where the other
cultural group originate, and furthermore, have a
sound appreciation of how flexible the cultural
value system is of the people that the organization
is doing business with.
Action research is appropriate for studying
complex issues. It can also be said that action
research can be used to bring about reflection
within an organization. In other words, although
senior managers are keen to solve marketing
problems and move on to the next set of problems,
it is essential that there is a period of reflection that
allows those that have been involved in the
decision-making process (and their subordinates),
to think through more deeply the consequences of
their actions.
Patton (1990, p. 158) is right to point out
however, that Research can be a highly political
activity that generates opposing opinions and
strong emotions. Often people in positions of
power are reluctant to authorize change as it can be
viewed as an erosion of their own power base
within the organization. A commitment to action
research can change this misconception and
bring about what Biott (1996, pp. 171-2) calls
an emergence of a new researcher identity.
If people at the apex of the organization are
committed to ensure that more transparency
results in more effective decision-making, then
action research can be used to implement a
research culture within the organization that has
the additional benefit of encouraging the
employees to think more critically about how
decisions are made and implemented. This would
place the strategic marketing concept within its
rightful context, as the concept itself does
incorporate reflection.

It is useful, however, to pause and consider what


a researcher involved in qualitative research is
trying to achieve. For example, Gummesson
(2000, p. 116) has indicated that action research is
both demanding and far-reaching. This would
suggest that those embarking upon action research
should anticipate future problems well before they
materialize and think of ways to deal with the
problems before they become insurmountable.
One can cite many potential problems, however,
the key point to note is that the researcher may
need to formulate a contingency plan in advance of
the research being undertaken and also may need
to lobby a number of senior managers in advance
that the necessary political support is forthcoming.
Action research in organizations does expose a
number of issues and problems, and it is inevitable
that some members of staff will feel that they are at
risk. Staff who are exposed may behave in a
manner that cannot be anticipated, and that is why
it is crucial that those involved in the research
project think through carefully the possible
consequences in advance of the research
commencing.

Customer service policy


Cook (1992) has provided some useful insights
into the concept of customer service and Rowley
(2000) has indicated that satisfied customers
experience an increasing level of expectation
once their immediate satisfaction level has been
satisfied. Christopher et al. (1991) and Payne
and Frow (1999, p. 799) have indicated that it is
cheaper for an organization to retain the customers
that it has than for marketers to gain new
customers. Rubin (1995, p. 25) has indicated
that there is a link to customer retention and
profitability, and Parasuraman (1997) has made
the link between an organization providing a high
level of customer service and being able to achieve
a sustainable competitive advantage. It is
important to keep in mind that customers are
inherently different (Weitz et al., 1995) and their
differences can be gauged and monitored by
facilitating technology such as the Internet.
The Internet is considered valuable with respect
to gaining feedback from customers (Rich, 2000),
however, Trim and Tanudjaja (2001, p. 91) are
correct to point out that marketers need to study
how the Internet can be used to develop marketing
relationships. The concepts of trust and loyalty
also come to attention and Nooteboom et al.
(1997, pp. 311-15) have made a useful
contribution to the body of knowledge by stating
that the dimensions of trust need to be known in
order that the role which trust plays is fully

289

Enhancing customer service and organizational learning

Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal

Peter R.J. Trim and Yang-Im Lee

Volume 7 Number 4 2004 284292

understood. Therefore, it is clear that marketers


need to think in terms of mutuality if brand loyalty
is to be achieved; and this can be achieved through
accurate market segmentation (Trim and Lee,
1999, p. 65).
There is no doubt that in the years ahead,
marketers will need to undertake research that
provides a better understanding of how customers
think and what motivates them. Various qualitative
research methods can be used including focus
groups, in-depth personal interviews and small
group interviews, for example. Action research
can be used to devise customer focused support
programmes, which result in customer
expectations being met. Case studies highlighting
the best practice of customer service can be used as
in-house training vehicles, and current and future
areas of research activity can be identified.

However, trust-based relationships need to be


based on an accurate form of market segmentation
(Christopher et al., 1994, pp. 6 and 30-1;
Gronroos, 1994, pp. 10-13). It also means that
internal relationships (between managers and
subordinate staff) also need to be managed
appropriately (Piercy, 1995, pp. 26-7).
One way in which paradigm shifts can be fully
understood and appreciated is through a research
culture. A research culture can and does get staff to
question events, outcomes and broadens the
decision-making capability of the organization.
Marketing strategists, and marketing planning and
intelligence personnel, can be made responsible for
implementing a culture change within the
marketing function. This will bring to the surface
what is referred to as self and social identities
(Biott, 1996, pp. 173-5), and will result in a
commitment to practitioner-oriented research.
Biott (1996, p. 177) has made a useful
contribution to the body of knowledge by
suggesting that: Insider practitioner research,
like many other aspects of social interaction in
workplaces, is often shaped by caution, strategic
common sense, compromise, reciprocity and
unspoken truces. This is as much about
establishing and maintaining favourable
relationships, as it is about reducing risk and
protecting self-interest. One logical lesson to be
deduced from this quotation would appear to be
that those involved in the action research process
need to think carefully about continued access as it
would seem that if access is denied at any point, the
research outcome may be less effective than
anticipated. Should this be the case, it might be
that the organization is less inclined to favour a
research culture and as a consequence the status
quo is maintained. What the researcher has to
understand is that the term access covers a number
of factors and the consequences associated with
power and authority need to be understood
(Hammersley and Atkinson, 1996, p. 64). When
canvassing support for an action research project,
a researcher needs to demonstrate that they know
what benefits will be derived from the research and
what assistance they will need from personnel
within the organization.

Relationship marketing
In order to have a customer service policy in place,
it is necessary to have a customer-oriented culture
that underpins the concept of relationship
marketing (Lewis and Gabrielsen, 1998, p. 66).
This being the case, it should be possible for
marketing managers to formulate and implement a
customer driven marketing oriented strategy
(Doyle, 1994; Porter, 1996). When auditing the
marketing strategy process, it is realistic to suggest
that marketers need to have a firm understanding
of how their colleagues view the customer
development and retention process. For example,
Gummesson (1999, p. 9) has suggested that
relationship building, and in particular the
development of long term relationships, need to be
viewed from a win-win perspective. This suggests
that the relationship marketing concept represents
a paradigm shift in marketing as indeed Gronroos
(1996) has suggested. As a result of this paradigm
shift, both marketing practitioners and marketing
academics need to think in terms of new ways to
develop and test new marketing theories and
approaches.
A number of issues emerge which need
attention. For example, it can be suggested that we
are living in an image-oriented era, and because of
this, both individuals and organizations are
concerned about the way in which they are viewed
and perceived. Wei (2002) has highlighted why it is
necessary to differentiate between image and
identity, and has linked psychology to image
enhancement and perception. Market-driven
companies are implementing customer-focused
strategies and this is to provide higher levels of
customer satisfaction (Achrol and Kotler, 1999,
p. 147). In order to be effective, a long term
relationship needs to be based on mutual trust.

Security management
The link between security management and
marketing has not been fully explored in the
literature. Trim (2002, pp. 262-3) has indicated
that security will hold the attention of staff at the
apex of the organization for years to come. As well
as issues of fraud and industrial espionage, the
work of computer hackers will need attention.
Indeed, senior management will need to ensure

290

Enhancing customer service and organizational learning

Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal

Peter R.J. Trim and Yang-Im Lee

Volume 7 Number 4 2004 284292

that there is a formal security policy operating


within the company and that key staff have links
with staff employed by relevant trade associations
(Trim, 2002, p. 264). In order that the necessary
security barriers are in place, senior management
will be required to put in place a framework that
guarantees that the corporate intelligence activity
within an organization is underpinned by a
commitment to security and intelligence work
(Trim, 2001).
Security is an area of activity that can be more
thoroughly researched. At present, too few
individuals within an organization are charged with
determining security policy and implementing
security systems. There is an opportunity in most
types of organization to undertake securityoriented research that involves staff within the
organization working with staff from computer
security technology companies. Various action
research projects can be devised and implemented
in the area of security, and this is expected to
become a common practice. For example, security
action research projects would meet the criteria
laid down by Easterby-Smith et al. (2003, p. 10)
because they would have a direct and immediate
impact. It would also ensure that those involved
in action research projects learn from the research
process (Easterby-Smith et al., 2003, p. 10).
Ultimately, security-oriented action research
should result in security being viewed as a core
activity and given representation at board level.

In order to meet the objectives set, the various


marketing managers will need to be effective
communicators, exhibit a proactive leadership
style and be committed to achieving excellence.
Should this be the case, it is possible that a learning
organization culture will be developed and this will
ensure that long lasting partnership arrangements
are formulated. In order to be successful, long
term partnership arrangements need to be based
on trust, and need to be continually reinforced
through constant communication. There is no
doubt however, that the years ahead will be
reasonably unpredictable, and marketing
intelligence and planning will assume a higher
profile within companies. This means that issues
such as security and intelligence work will need to
be viewed differently than they are at present, and
that security management will become a core
activity.
Qualitative research and in particular, action
research, is expected to provide business
practitioners, with a means for establishing a
research culture within an organization. A number
of action research projects can be devised that are
aimed at improving the performance of individuals
and the organization itself. By ensuring that a
research culture materializes, it should be easier for
senior management to transform the organization
into a learning organization. Once a learning
organization culture has been established, various
initiatives can be introduced to ensure that
managers adopt a proactive approach to problem
solving. This in turn should result in greater
transparency and a highly motivated workforce.

Conclusion
The strategic marketing concept is both relevant
and useful as it integrates a number of related and
semi-related bodies of knowledge into a logical way
of analysing and interpreting the actions of
companies, customers and governments. The
strategic marketing concept also allows marketing
mangers to establish how the business
environment is changing and allows various
mechanisms to be put in place to monitor
developments as and when they occur. In order to
remain competitive, a company will be required to
develop a sustainable competitive advantage that it
can maintain through time. This means that senior
management will need to ensure that the company
invests in the latest technology and furthermore,
various marketing managers are required to
identify how their subordinates can develop their
skill base through time. Marketing managers will
increasingly need to work more closely with
specialists in the human resource management
function to put in place staff development
programmes. This should ensure that staff have
the relevant skills that they need to undertake a
growing range of complex assignments.

References
Aaker, D.A. (1992), Strategic Market Management, Wiley,
Chichester.
Achrol, R.S. and Kotler, P. (1999), Marketing in the network
economy, Journal of Marketing, Vol. 63 (Special issue),
pp. 146-63.
Appelbaum, S.H. and Gallagher, J. (2000), The competitive
advantage of organizational learning, Journal of
Workplace Learning: Employee Counselling Today, Vol. 12
No. 2, pp. 40-56.
Appelbaum, S.H. and Reichart, W. (1997), How to measure an
organizations learning ability: a learning orientation:
part 1, Journal of Workplace Learning, Vol. 9 No. 7,
pp. 225-39.
Bae, K. and Chung, C. (1997), Cultural values and work
attitudes of Korean industrial workers in comparison with
those of the United States and Japan, Work and
Occupations, Vol. 24 No. 1, pp. 80-96.
Biott, C. (1996), Latency in action research: changing
perspectives on occupational and researcher identities,
Educational Action Research, Vol. 4 No. 2, pp. 169-83.
Christopher, M., Payne, A. and Ballantyne, D. (1991),
Relationship Marketing: Bringing Quality, Customer
Service and Marketing Together, Butterworth-Heinemann,
Oxford.

291

Enhancing customer service and organizational learning

Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal

Peter R.J. Trim and Yang-Im Lee

Volume 7 Number 4 2004 284292

Christopher, M., Payne, A. and Ballantyne, D. (1994),


Relationship Marketing: Bringing Quality, Customer
Service and Marketing Together, Butterworth-Heinemann,
Oxford.
Cook, S. (1992), Customer Care, Kogan Page Limited, London.
Davis, S.M. (1984), Managing Corporate Culture, Ballinger
Publishing Company, Cambridge, MA.
De Weerd-Nederhof, P.C., Pacitti, B.J., Da Silva Gomes, J.F. and
Pearson, A.W. (2002), Tools for the improvement of
organizational learning processes in innovation, Journal
of Workplace Learning, Vol. 14 No. 8, pp. 320-31.
Doyle, P. (1994), Marketing Management and Strategy, PrenticeHall International Limited, Hemel Hempstead,
Hertfordshire.
Easterby-Smith, M., Thorpe, R. and Lowe, A. (2003),
Management Research: An Introduction, Sage, London.
Fincham, R. and Rhodes, P. (1999), The Principle of
Organisational Behaviour, Oxford University Press,
New York, NY.
Geissler, G.L. (2001), Building customer relationships online:
the Web site designers perspective, Journal of Consumer
Marketing, Vol. 18 No. 6, pp. 488-502.
Geyskens, I., Steenkamp, J-B.E.M. and Kumar, N. (1999), A
meta-analysis of satisfaction in marketing channel
relationships, Journal of Marketing Research, Vol. 36,
pp. 223-38.
Gronroos, C. (1994), From marketing mix to relationship
marketing: towards a paradigm shift in marketing,
Management Decision, Vol. 32 No. 2, pp. 4-20.
Gronroos, C. (1996), Relationship marketing: strategic and
tactical implications, Management Decision, Vol. 34
No. 3, pp. 5-10.
Gummesson, E. (1999), Total Relationship Marketing: Rethinking
Marketing Management From 4Ps To 30Rs, ButtersworthHeinemann, Oxford.
Gummesson, E. (2000), Qualitative Methods in Management
Research, Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA.
Hammersley, M. and Atkinson, P. (1996), Ethnography: Principles
and Practice, Routledge, London.
Hitt, W.D. (1996), The learning organization: some reflections
on organizational renewal, Employee Counselling Today,
Vol. 8 No. 7, pp. 16-25.
Hofstede, G. (1997), Culture and Organisations: Software of the
Mind Intercultural Cooperation and Its Importance for
Survival, McGraw-Hill, New York, NY.
Hughes, R.L., Ginnett, R.C. and Curphy, G.J. (1999), Leadership:
Enhancing the Lessons of Experience, Irwin/McGraw-Hill,
Boston.
Kakabadse, A. (2000), From individual to team to cadre:
tracking leadership for the millennium, Strategic Change,
Vol. 9 No. 1, pp. 5-16.
Krapfel, R., Salmond, D. and Spekman, R. (1991), A strategic
approach to managing buyer-supplier relationships,
European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 25, pp. 22-37.
Lee, Y-I. (2001), Factors to be aware of when dealing with
Japanese and South Korean organisations, International
Journal of Management Literature, Vol. 1 Nos 2-4,
pp. 263-74.
Lewis, B.R. and Gabrielsen, G.O.S. (1998), Intra-organizational
aspects of service quality management: the employees
perspective, The Service Industries Journal, Vol. 18 No. 2,
pp. 64-89.
McKenna, S.D. (1999), Maps of complexity and organizational
learning, Journal of Management Development, Vol. 18
No. 9, pp. 772-93.

Nooteboom, B., Berger, H. and Noorderhaven, N.G. (1997),


Effects of trust and governance on relational risk,
Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 40 No. 2,
pp. 308-38.
Oakland, J.S. (1993), Total Quality Management: The Route to
Improving Performance, Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford.
Parasuraman, A. (1997), Reflections on gaining competitive
advantage through customer value, Journal of The
Academy of Marketing Science, Vol. 25 No. 2, pp. 154-61.
Patton, M.Q. (1990), Qualitative Evaluation and Research
Methods, Sage Publications, Newbury Park, CA.
Payne, A. and Frow, P. (1999), Developing a segmented service
strategy: improving measurement in relationship
marketing, Journal of Marketing Management, Vol. 15,
pp. 797-818.
Piercy, N.F. (1995), Customer satisfaction and internal
marketing: marketing our customers to our employees,
Journal of Marketing Practices: Applied Marketing Science,
Vol. 1 No. 1, pp. 22-44.
Politis, J.D. (2003), The connection between trust and
knowledge management: what are its implications for
team performance, Journal of Knowledge Management,
Vol. 7 No. 5, pp. 55-66.
Porter, M.E. (1996), What is strategy?, Harvard Business
Review, pp. 61-78.
Porter, M.E., Takeuchi, H. and Sakakibara, M. (2000), Can Japan
Compete?, Macmillan Press Limited, London.
Pulendran, S., Speed, R. and Widing, R.E. (2003), Marketing
planning, market orientation and business performance,
European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 37 Nos 3/4,
pp. 476-97.
Rich, M.K. (2000), The direction of marketing relationships,
Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing, Vol. 15
Nos 2/3, pp. 170-9.
Rowley, J. (2000), Measuring service quality: SERVQUAL and
beyond, Journal of European Business Education, Vol. 10
No. 1, pp. 70-89.
Rubin, M.D. (1995), Reinventing customer managementlessons from the best of the best, Prism, (Fourth Quarter),
pp. 25-39.
Schein, E.H. (1992), Organisational Culture and Leadership,
Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA.
Schensul, J.J. and Schensul, S.L. (1992), Collaborative research:
methods of inquiry for social change, in LeCompte, M.D.,
Millroy, W.L. and Preissle, J. (Eds), The Handbook of
Qualitative Research in Education, Academic Press,
San Diego, CA, pp. 161-200.
Trim, P.R.J. (2001), A framework for establishing and
implementing corporate intelligence, Strategic Change,
Vol. 10, pp. 349-57.
Trim, P.R.J. (2002), Corporate intelligence and transformational
marketing in the age of the Internet, Marketing
Intelligence & Planning, Vol. 20 No. 5, pp. 259-68.
Trim, P.R.J. and Lee, Y-I. (1999), A framework for establishing a
high level customer service strategy, Journal of European
Business Education, Vol. 8 No. 2, pp. 60-9.
Trim, P.R.J. and Tanudjaja, S.P. (2001), Marketing and the
Internet: the Internet based relationship marketing (IBRM)
model, International Quarterly Journal of Marketing,
Vol. 1 No. 1, pp. 91-105.
Wei, Y-K. (2002), Corporate image as collective ethos: a
poststructuralist approach, Corporate Communications:
An International Journal, Vol. 7 No. 4, pp. 269-76.
Weitz, B.A., Castleberry, S.B. and Tanner, J.F. (1995), Selling:
Building Partnerships, Richard D. Irwin, Chicago, IL.

292