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Understanding management control systems in call centers

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Abstract:

Purpose ‐ The present paper attempts to integrate three streams of alternative approaches to provide a contingency-based framework to understand the management control systems (MCS) that are operating in call centers. Specifically, the paper's aim is to analyse the work practices of call center employees from three different lenses: the radical approach using Braverman's labor process theory; the Foucauldian approach, which explains the governance of the self; and the naturalistic approach, which explains the governance of the built environment. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The data for the case study were collected by conducting interviews. The data were gathered to identify if the work experience of the call center operators reflects the Tayloristic principles of scientific management, whether their responses reflect evidence of internalizing norms and adjusting their selves to fit to the norm, and lastly whether their work conditions are shaped in the manner described above to facilitate control of their work lives. Findings ‐ Prior academic studies have relied on either one of the approaches and the author's contention is that neither of the theories in isolation can explain the complexities that characterize the contemporary call center operator's labor process. Research limitations/implications ‐ The study of control and its resistance can add to the understanding of the modern workplace. Since the call center environment is unique, the results of this study may have limited generalizability. Practical implications ‐ Future researchers can extend the approach used in this research to areas other than call centers that may have similar overlapping paradigms. Such an endeavor will enrich the understanding of complex phenomena, where multiple theories may be espoused to explain a particular research question. Originality/value ‐ A significant contribution of this study is to recognize that there is concentration of limited control and power in the hands of those who are controlled. Such an understanding may revive the "emancipatory tradition" of labour process theory and though it may not lead to the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, it may lead to the awareness that strategies aimed at improving the lives of workers within the capitalist political economy are desirable.

Keywords: Call centres; Contingency planning; Control systems; Employee attitudes; Management strategy

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/17410401011089472

Publication date: November 2, 2010

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