J. Service Science & Management, 2010, 3: 1-15
doi:10.4236/jssm.2010.31001 Published Online March 2010 (http://www.SciRP.org/journal/jssm)
Copyright © 2010 SciRes JSSM
Offering Appropriate Information Technologies at
Different Stages in the Customer Service Life
Cycle for Improved Service Delivery
Jennifer E. Gerow, Janis Miller
Clemson University, Clemson, USA.
Email: jgerow@clemson.edu, janism@clemson.edu
Received October 28th, 2009; revised December 4th, 2009; accepted January 9th, 2010.
The service sector is growing in importan ce in the US, particularly in B2B contexts. Despite this, resea rch in these ar-
eas lags behind manufacturing and B2C studies. The purpose of this article is to begin addressing this issue by looking
at how information techno logy can improv e service delivery in B2B contexts by look ing at the fit between the CSLC and
a mix of customer contact technology modes. Specifically, we look at how Web 2.0 technologies facilitate interorgani-
zational communication even for small and medium businesses by providing a wider variety of technologies at a lower
cost. This allows businesses to use technology to reduce business customer uncertainty and equivocality, hence im-
proving the quality o f their service d elivery. Due to the increasing use of the Internet as a source of communica tion and
the evolution of customer expectations, this is becoming an increasingly important research topic. Propositions and
implications are presented.
Keywords: Se r v ic e Science, B2B, Customer Service Contact model, Customer Service Life Cycle, Media Richness Theory
1. Introduction
Although the service sector contributes 79.6% to the
United States’ GDP (Gross Domestic Product) [1], ser-
vice research lags behind that of manufacturing. This is
significant because the distinctive characteristics of
managing services require a different approach than what
is found in manufacturing [2]. IBM and others have re-
cently urged participation in the service science move-
ment (or Service Science, Management and Engineering
– SSME). On their web page, IBM describes service sci-
ence as “a growing multi-disciplinary research and aca-
demic effort that integrates aspects of established fields
like computer science, operations research, engineering,
management sciences, business strategy, social and cog-
nitive sciences, and legal sciences” [3]. The goal of this
movement is to improve quality and productivity, in-
crease efficiency and scalability, and nourish learning
and innovation rates in the service industry by combining
interagency, interdisciplinary and innovative resources [3,4].
In addition to the shortage of research on the service
industry, we also find that even though 85% of e-com-
merce is business-to-business (B2B) [5], most of the
e-commerce research has been in business-to-consumer
(B2C) [6]. Just like the service science movement, re-
searchers are calling for more research in B2B contexts
[7]. This paper resides in that rare intersection of B2B
service research and examines how technology, specifi-
cally Web 2.0, can be used to facilitate efficient and ef-
fective service delivery.
To address this need, we bring together the customer
service contact model [8] from the field of operations
management, which describes various modes of customer
contact, and the customer service life cycle model [9]
from the field of management information systems,
which describes the stages a customer must go through
when contacting a vendor. Our intention is to bring in-
sight to the question: “What form of information tech-
nology improves service delivery in specific situations?”
To address the question, we created the matrix shown in
Figure 1 (see Table 1 for construct definitions).
In this matrix, we cross Froehle and Roth’s [8] tech-
nology-mediated customer service contact model with
Ives and Mason’s [9] customer service life cycle (CSLC)
model. The technology-mediated customer service con-
tact model indicates a range of service delivery modes
ranging from technology-free, where two individuals
conduct business without the aid of any technology, to
Offering Appropriate Information Technologies at Different Stages in the Customer Service Life Cycle for Improved Service Delivery
Copyright © 2010 SciRes JSSM
Contact CSLC
Mode Stage
*New contact modes added in this study to Froehle and Roth’s frame-
work [8]
Figure 1. Customer service contact mode / customer service
life cycle matrix
technology-only, where business transactions are con-
ducted without the presence of any individuals. For the
second dimension of our matrix, we chose to use Ives
and Mason’s [9] CSLC model because it provides a
framework for applying IT to external, customer-focused
applications [14]. The framework of their model contains
four stages: requirements, acquisition, ownership, and
retirement [9] as illustrated in the matrix. Specifically,
this matrix links the way services are delivered to a
business customer depending on the business customer’s
stage in the customer service life cycle. Our model will
aid in the selection of the appropriate technology level
based on the business customer’s position within the cus-
tomer service life cycle.
This paper contributes to the existing literature in the
following ways. First, we present the matrix which pro-
vides strategic insight into which customer contact modes
Table 1. Construct definitions
Construct Definition
Customer Contact physical presence of the buyer in the service system [10]
Full-Service the buyer interacts directly with the provider in the front office (e.g. technology-free and technology-assisted modes
of customer contact) [8]
Self-Service the customer service representative does not actively participate in service performance (e.g. technology-generated
mode of customer contact) [8]
Auto-Service no human involvement is required for business transactions to occur (e.g. technology-only mode of customer
Mode of Customer Contact
Technology-Free the buyer only makes contact with the service representative and technology is not involved at all in the process [8]
the customer only makes contact with the service representative but the service representative has access to tech-
nology in order to process the transaction [8]
Facilitated the technology system available to both its service representatives as well as the service customer [8]
Mediated the service customer and service representative interact with technology but they do not interact with each other [8]
Peer-to-Peer the customers discuss (with other customers) the supplier’s service on a supplier-provided platform
Generated the service customer interacts directly with the technology without the assistance of a service representative [8]
Mode the computer systems at both companies interact with each other with no human involvement
Customer Service Life Cycle Opportunity
Requirements analyze and define purchase requirements, gather service information from suppliers, and identify service providers
that meet requirements [9,11]
Acquisition search for and identify potential suppliers, order the service, transfer funds, and evaluate the service [9,12,13]
Ownership integrate the service into business processes, monitor the interaction [9,12]
Retirement analyze expenses and switching costs [9,12]
Offering Appropriate Information Technologies at Different Stages in the Customer Service Life Cycle for Improved Service Delivery
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should be utilized at the various stages in the customer
service life cycle. Second, we add two additional cus-
tomer contact modes, peer-to-peer and technology only,
to the work of Froehle and Roth [8]. Third, we provide
insight into how Web 2.0 can be used for both intra- and
inter-company coordination. Finally, we present research
propositions based on our framework, leading to future
research that can test our conceptual framework.
This paper is organized as follows. In the next section
we provide a background on Web 2.0, the characteristics
of business-to-business transactions, and the concepts of
equivocality and information richness. The succeeding
section presents our model and propositions. The final
section discusses implications for future research.
2. Background
In this section we provide information which will set the
stage for the presentation of our model in Section 3. Our
first background section covers Web 2.0, followed by a
section on B2B, and finishes with a discussion of
equivocality and information richness.
2.1 Web 2.0
Because Web 2.0 is a fairly new technology, we will
define Web 2.0, describe four concepts of Web 2.0 that
are suitable for B2B usage, and discuss how businesses
can exploit these concepts for their B2B transactions.
First, we define Web 2.0 as a collection of websites that
use information technologies and applications to en-
courage user participation, information sharing, social
interaction, and collaboration [5]. Unlike the more tradi-
tional websites (referred to as Web 1.0), Web 2.0 sites
are typically used as services to accomplish tasks, typi-
cally with other people [5]. In a B2B context, companies
can leverage Web 2.0 concepts such as Rich Internet
Applications, Software-as-a-Service, collective intelli-
gence, and mashups [15]. These are described in detail in
the following paragraphs.
The first Web 2.0 concept that applies to B2B envi-
ronments is Rich Internet Applications (RIA). These ap-
plications allow business customers to specify the type of
information they want to receive from a supplier so that
the supplier can proactively provide the information [15]
and the buyer can then organize and view the information
they receive more effectively [16]. For example, Web 2.0
can enable a business customer to automatically and se-
curely access information about their account or perform
complex data entry for highly customized purchase or-
ders through an easy-to-use desktop-like experience such
as drag and drop [17,18]. In short, Web 2.0 technology
allows a business customer to get real-time information
about their account or current business transactions in an
information-rich environment with the added benefit of
being able to do it from anywhere at any time [17]. This
results in improved responsiveness and operational effi-
ciency on the part of the supplier [15,19].
Second, Web 2.0 delivers functionality as a service
rather than packaged software [5]. The B2B concept is
Software-as-a-Service or SaaS. This means instead of
purchasing software to install on company computers, a
supply chain member can access the software, and all of
the relevant data, through the internet by use of a web
browser (and the correct password) from any location at
any time. Since the software is not purchased and in-
stalled, payment to the software supplier is commonly
pay-per-use. Also because the software and data are not
installed on local computers, updates and maintenance
are transparent to end-users, allowing software suppliers
to continuously update the software and users to have
access to the latest version of the software [15].
A third, applicable concept for B2B contexts is that
Web 2.0 is based on collective intelligence (a group of
people can both contribute to and use the information
gathered). One of the best examples of collective intelli-
gence, although not B2B or even business-related, is
Wikipedia, as it supports more than 1.5 million articles
written completely by user contributions. Another form
of this collective intelligence is blogs where users post
their solutions to problems they have personally encoun-
tered, or respond to requests to solve the problems of
others [5]. In a B2B environment, collective intelligence
can be used to improve forecasts or understand demand
patterns. Additionally, customers can exchange their
views on the supplier’s service [15–20] or share ideas on
how to improve the service [18]. Several of the top En-
terprise Resource Planning (ERP) software vendors sup-
port blogs where experienced users can discuss issues
encountered in using the ERP applications as well as the
solutions they arrived at to address the issues. As these
systems attract more user participation, they will become
even more valuable, unique, and richer [18]. And when
users help each other, the supplier doesn’t have the ex-
pense of providing quite as much customer support.
The fourth and final Web 2.0 concept is the support of
mashups. A mashup is the result of the transformation
that occurs when local data is integrated with one of sev-
eral powerful web services such as Google Maps [15].
For example, it is possible to analyze local firm data
about the location of supply chain members and/or ship-
ments by combining it with the Google Maps’ applica-
tion to get a visual display of the routes of all shipments
to and from a plant. Viewing data in new ways may en-
able supply chain efficiencies, such as sharing transport
or minimizing deadhead miles, which can benefit the
entire supply chain.
So how can businesses exploit these concepts in their
B2B transactions? Many small businesses have hesitated
to invest in interorganizational systems, such as elec-
tronic data interchange (EDI), in the past [2123] due to
resource constraints and failure to understand the strate-
Offering Appropriate Information Technologies at Different Stages in the Customer Service Life Cycle for Improved Service Delivery
Copyright © 2010 SciRes JSSM
gic benefits of these types of systems [24,25]. In addition,
the negative repercussions of investing in these systems
can be major [22]. Typically, small and medium busi-
nesses are more likely to adopt these systems because of
external pressures such as competitive pressure, depend-
ence on trading partner, trading partner pressure, or in-
dustry pressure [21,23]. However, Web 2.0 technologies
provide low-cost options for smaller businesses. In fact,
small businesses may be able to integrate Web 2.0 tech-
nologies before many of the larger businesses, because
the large businesses are tied to their legacy systems [26].
This likely explains why Forrester Research Inc. predicts
investments in Web 2.0 technologies will increase an
estimated 43% per year over the next 5 years with a total
of 4.6 billion investment dollars being spent on the tech-
nology by 2013 [27].
2.2 Business-to-Business
Parasuraman and Zinkhan [7] wrote in a special issue of
the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science that
most of the scholarly research has been focused on B2C
even though the internet affects both B2C and B2B and
the “economic magnitude of B2B transactions are esti-
mated to be substantially higher than that of B2C trans-
actions” (p292). They conclude there is “clearly a need
for more research in B2B contexts” (p293). LaPlaca and
Katrichis [6] give two reasons for the imbalance of B2B
and B2C articles in the marketing literature. The first
reason is B2C data is more available than B2B data. The
second is that consumer marketing is more popular than
business marketing among students.
When compared to B2C relationships, developing ef-
fective B2B relationships through the use of technology
has the potential to significantly benefit all members of a
supply chain. Within a long supply chain (as illustrated
in Figure 2), all but one of the transactions occur between
businesses. The only transaction that involves the cus-
tomer is the final transaction in the chain. In lean supply
chains, businesses actively strive to establish long-term
relationships with a small number of suppliers [28,29].
This makes it worthwhile and economically feasible for
both business suppliers and business customers to invest
the required money, time, and effort needed to automate
their supply chain relationships [30]. In addition, the long
history of EDI has demonstrated that many B2B transac-
tions are fairly standard, making them amenable to
automation [31].
2.3 Equivocality and Information Richness
Daft and Lengel [32] discussed why organizations gather
and process information and conclude that “information
is processed to accomplish internal tasks, to coordinate
diverse activities, and to interpret the external environ-
ment” (p555). They further state that, in order to accom-
plish these goals, organizations must overcome both un-
certainty and equivocality. They defined uncertainty as
the absence of information. To reduce uncertainty, the
organization gathers information that is assumed to exist.
When enough information is obtained, a clear decision
can be made.
Equivocality is similar to uncertainty, but it presumes
ambiguity. This means even if a plethora of data is ob-
tained, it could still result in multiple, conflicting inter-
pretations and an unclear solution [32]. Daft and MacIn-
tosh [33] used the term “unanalyzability” to describe a
similar concept. In order to reduce equivocality, manag-
ers cannot just collect more data; instead, they must
ponder the issue at length, use judgment coming from
experience, and elicit discussions with those of both
similar and opposing views. So the solution to equivocal-
ity is what Daft and Lengel [32] call rich information.
They define information richness as “the ability of in-
formation to change understanding within a time interval.
Communication transactions that can overcome different
frames of reference or clarify ambiguous issues to
change understanding in a timely manner are considered
rich. Communications that require a long time to enable
understanding or that cannot overcome different perspec-
tives are lower in richness” (p560).
Daft, Lengel and Trevino [34] further the discussion of
information richness and identify four characteristics of
rich media, which they define as media which has the
capacity to process rich information. Their first charac-
teristic of rich media is that it provides immediate feed-
back to both the message sender and the message re-
ceiver so they can check interpretations without delay.
The second characteristic of rich media is it provides
multiple cues which the message receiver is able to infer
information not explicitly stated in the message (e.g. tone
of voice and body language). Their third characteristic of
rich media is it is able to convey material in a variety of
formats such as pictures, symbols and verbal statements.
They call this characteristic language variety. Their
fourth and final characteristic of rich media is that rich
messages can be tailored with a personal focus so that it
fits personal circumstances and can be infused with emo-
tions and personal feelings. They then go on to order
media from most rich (face-to-face) to least rich (imper-
sonal, written documents). Daft et al. [34] also found that
managers who could recognize the equivocality of a
message and then chose appropriate media to convey the
message (media high in richness to convey high-
equivocality messages and media low in richness to con-
vey low-equivocality messages), had higher performance
ratings than managers who were unable to match the me-
dia to the equivocality of the message.
In this paper, we intend to illustrate that the stages in
the customer service life cycle [9] vary in equivocality,
and that the modes of customer contact [8] vary in media
Offering Appropriate Information Technologies at Different Stages in the Customer Service Life Cycle for Improved Service Delivery
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richness, allowing us to recommend appropriate cus-
tomer contact modes for different stages in the customer
life cycle.
3. Research Model
In this section we present the details of our model first
introduced as Figure 1. We will first discuss the mode of
customer contact (rows) followed by the stages in the
customer service life cycle (columns).
3.1 The Mode of Customer Contact Dimension
To address the different customer contact technology
modes, we will utilize Froehle and Roth’s [8] model of
conceptual archetypes of customer contact in relation to
technology, and describe how they vary in the B2B con-
text. We will first provide an overview of this model and
describe each customer contact mode. Then, we will
discuss how each type of contact (full-, self-, or
auto-service) can be addressed by different levels of me-
dia richness according to Media Richness Theory. We
will present propositions for each type of contact.
Figure 3 illustrates the broad range of conceptual ar-
chetypes (or technology modes) of customer contact.
They can range from traditional, technology-free services
to completely automated e-services (“comprised of all
interactive services that are delivered on the Internet us-
ing advanced telecommunications, information, and mul-
timedia technologies” [35 p175]). According to Froehle
and Roth [8], the first type of contact, technology-free
customer contact (Figure 3A), occurs when the business
customer only makes contact with the service representa-
tive and technology is not involved at all in the process.
A second form of contact, technology-assisted customer
Figure 2. Example of a supply chain [Adapted from PowerPoint slides of 5]
Figure 3. Froehle and Roth’s [8] customer contact technology modes with B2B marketplace adaptations for S2S and P2P
Offering Appropriate Information Technologies at Different Stages in the Customer Service Life Cycle for Improved Service Delivery
Copyright © 2010 SciRes JSSM
contact (Figure 3B), occurs when the business customer
makes contact with the service representative and the
service representative makes use of technology (such as
Web 2.0 technologies like wikis or blogs) in order to
serve the business customer. These two types of cus-
tomer contact are referred to as full-service contacts. A
third form of contact, technology-facilitated customer
contact (Figure 3C), occurs when a supplier makes the
technology system available to both its service represen-
tative and its business customer. In addition to interacting
with the system, the service representative and business
customer also interact directly with each other. All three
of these customer contact models (Figures 3A, 3B, and
3C) are considered “face-to-face” solutions to customer
“Face-to-screen” contact occurs, also according to
Froehle and Roth [8], when the business customer inter-
acts only with technology and not with the service repre-
sentative. The first “face-to-screen” mode is technol-
ogy-mediated customer contact (Figure 3D) where both
the business customer and service representative interact
with technology but they do not interact directly with
each other. In technology-generated customer contact
(Figure 3F), the business customer interacts directly with
the technology without the assistance of a service repre-
sentative; therefore, Froehle and Roth [8] considered this
self-service contact.
One additional form of self-service interaction for
business customers not mentioned by Froehle and Roth
[8] is as a member of a virtual community where a buyer
can interact with other buyers in lieu of a service repre-
sentative (Figure 3E). An example of this is the “collec-
tive intelligence” Web 2.0 concept. In this case, business
customers can interact directly with each other on a site
provided by the supplier (e.g. http://blogs.oracle.com/)
[36]. Businesses can install platforms to facilitate
peer-to-peer interactions that can be used to solve and
share solutions to mutual problems related to the com-
pany’s service [17,18,20]. This interaction can be of two
distinct types: viewing and posting. Customers can view
(read) comments written by other customers or post
(write) their own comments or questions that can be
viewed by others. We call this technology-mediated
peer-to-peer (P2P) contact.
These six technology-mediated customer contact
modes can apply to both B2C and B2B marketplaces
because a company’s buyer can have the same type of
relationship with a service supplier as an individual con-
sumer can. However, B2B marketplaces, effectively,
have an additional mode we call technology-only cus-
tomer contact (Figure 3G)1. In this scenario, the technol-
ogy systems at both the buyer’s and supplier’s companies
interact with each other with no human involvement. For
example, organizations have deployed inter-organiza-
tional B2B applications such as purchase order process-
ing, invoice and payment processing, and procurement
analysis [37]. Since this is not face-to-face or face-to-
screen, so we call this auto-service contact.
3.1.1 Full-Service (Figures 3A and 3B)
There are three main benefits for the business customer
in full-service customer contact modes. First, the buyer
receives high human contact. This is important because,
according to Vickery et al. [38], rich information “should
be particularly relevant to customer contact in an indus-
trial service environment” (p1108). The two media
channels with the highest information richness include
face-to-face and the telephone [32,34,38]. Only the
full-service offers this type of human interaction because
all the other modes involve the business customer inter-
acting with a computer. A second benefit is most or all of
the risk is the responsibility of the server. This assump-
tion of risk can be critical for those customers who are
inclined toward full-service [39]. Full-service gives these
buyers the opportunity to avoid any risk in the perform-
ance of the service because the server is accountable for
all of the activities after the intent to purchase is stated
[3941]. The final benefit of full-service contact is an
avoidance of customer effort. Just like risk, the burden of
activity resides with the server. This is particularly im-
portant for “non-standard” transactions [35] such as con-
figuring specialized, industrial electric motors. Because
the configuration can significantly influence the reliabil-
ity of the motor [42], it requires a knowledgeable indi-
vidual. If the buyer simply places the order, the burden of
proper configuration is placed on the supplier [39].
Proposition 1: Business customers who need rich in-
formation, are risk-averse, and want to avoid extra ef-
fort will be more likely to opt for full-service contact
with their suppliers, if given a choice.
3.1.2 Self-Service (Figure 3F)
In this type of service offering, the service representative
does not actively participate in service performance.
These types of interactions are called Self-Service Tech-
nologies (SSTs) [8]. SSTs are defined as the “techno-
logical interface that allows customers to produce and
consume services without direct assistance from em-
ployees” [43 p283]. For example, employees at General
Electric (GE) use a system called Trading Partner Net-
work Register to electronically order office supplies from
pre-approved vendors because it saves them money [44],
wait times are shorter, no paperwork needs to be filled
out, and authorizations are done electronically [41,45]. In
addition to these benefits, SSTs offer an interactive,
convenient, consistent, and personal way of communi-
1While it could be argued that personal, automatic payments could be
an example of B2C technology-only customer contact, we argue this
type of contact is actually B2B since the automatic payments are proc-
essed by either a bank or credit card company. Therefore, this type o
interaction is ultimately B2B even though it seems B2C from the con-
oint of view.
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cating with the seller [35,41,46]. While SSTs can provide
immediate feedback and a personal focus, they do not
offer the same number of cues (e.g. body language and
tone are not conveyed) or language variety (e.g. verbal
statements combined with pictures or graphs); therefore,
they are considered less rich [34].
For the supplier, SSTs can also offer a number of
benefits. First, they can reduce costs [47] by eliminating
costly specialists and experts [35]. Second, they allow
the organization to meet customer demand for alternative
ways of purchasing services. Third, SSTs can allow a
company to generate new markets by introducing a new
channel that will reach worldwide markets [47].
It is important to note all of these benefits are not
automatic or all-encompassing. First, the supplier must
analyze its buyers’ wants, needs, and capabilities to de-
termine if self-service is the appropriate offering [48,49].
For example, the supplier needs to determine whether the
customer willing to accept the lack of verbal communi-
cation inherent in less media rich channels [34]. Second,
if SSTs are appropriate, the supplier has to try to cus-
tomize the web interface to meet specific buyer needs.
This typically results in a more complex website because
of the level of personalization that is required. However,
the website must still be simple, accessible, easy to use
[35,41] and provide immediate feedback through pictures,
on-screen displays, or text messages.
Proposition 2: Business customers who do not re-
quire verbal cues or statements (i.e. less rich informa-
tion) will be more likely to opt for self-service contact
with their suppliers, if given a choice.
3.1.3. Auto-ser vice (Figure 3G)
Auto-service customer contact solutions are at the ex-
treme of technology-mediated customer contact solutions.
In this scenario, no human involvement is required from
either supplier or customer for the business transactions
to occur. In other words, the buyer and supplier work
together to create a shared infrastructure utilizing the
Internet and other technologies as a means for commer-
cial exchange. These systems are referred to as interor-
ganizational information systems [50,51]. A traditional
example is Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) [49]. EDI
is a standard protocol for electronically exchanging
documents like purchase orders, invoices, and advanced
ship notices. In the past, data was converted using ex-
pensive translation software and exchanged between
corporations through a Value-Added Network (VAN) or
a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Since it was so expen-
sive and complicated, implementation of these types of
technologies was usually restricted to large businesses
[52]. If small businesses did choose to use interorganiza-
tional systems, they did so in response to competitive,
trading partner, or industry pressure [21,23]. However,
Web 2.0 technologies like enterprise application integra-
tion (EAI), Internet-based EDI, and point-to-point or
system-to-system has made “auto-service” modes of cus-
tomer contact available to even small and medium firms
since these technologies are services rather than software
packages that need to be purchased [15].
The main benefit of these auto-services is they allow
firms to exchange information quickly [38] and more
frequently because their systems are linked together [53].
Some other benefits of this technology include reducing
transaction costs, reducing order cycles, improving part-
ner relationships, improving the flow of data, and im-
proving planning and forecasting [54].
Just like full- and self-service, auto-service does have
disadvantages. For example, electronic media, like EDI,
are considered “lean” or less rich [38,53]. Electronic me-
dia receive this label because the channel restricts visual
communication [38]. Another disadvantage of auto-
service is the substantial coordination costs necessary to
connect the two systems [21]. However, Web 2.0 prom-
ises to reduce those costs because it can be used as a ser-
vice (e.g. SaaS) or the software can be hosted either by
the supplier or by a third-party host, so we propose:
Proposition 3: As Web 2.0 becomes more widely ac-
cepted, supplier compa nies will be able to provide richer
information to their customers at a lower cost, so they
are more likely to use Web 2.0 technologies than tradi-
tional interorganizational systems like EDI.
3.1.4 Mo d e Combination (Figu re s 3C and 3D)
As shown in Figure 3, there are middle-ground options
available to sellers. First, the company can make their
technology available to both the service representative
and the service customer in a technology-facilitated cus-
tomer contact. Second, the organization can support a
technology-mediated customer contact environment
where both the customer and representative mutually
interact with the technology but not directly with each
other [55]. These combined with full-service, self-service,
and auto-service offer a wide variety of options that can
be mixed-and-matched to best meet the customer’s
There are other ways that a company can utilize vari-
ous modes of customer contact. One example of this
combination is a company that provides full-service on
the first transaction in order to demonstrate usage of the
system while subsequent transactions are performed by
the customer in self-service mode. A company could also
split its high-volume, standardized services from its
low-volume, customized services. The supplier could
make its high-volume, standardized services available on
their website while the customized services are handled
by full-service customer representatives. Therefore, the
business customer receives the benefit of both rich and
lean media depending on the circumstance. In summary,
the business customer can employ “media switching”
Offering Appropriate Information Technologies at Different Stages in the Customer Service Life Cycle for Improved Service Delivery
Copyright © 2010 SciRes JSSM
based on the task at hand [56].
Proposition 4: Business customers will use a variety
of contact modes depending on the previous number of
transactions or the type of transaction.
3.2 The Customer Service Life Cycle Dimension
To address the different customer life cycle dimensions,
we will utilize Ives and Mason’s [9] model of the cus-
tomer service life cycle. As illustrated in Figure 4, there
are four stages in this life cycle. The first stage of the
customer life cycle is the requirements stage. This stage
presents the supplier with a number of opportunities for
serving the customer more effectively with technologies
such as Web 2.0. For example, suppliers can develop
websites specifically designed to provide customers with
the information they need (e.g. inventory levels, tracking
information). These websites can offer real-time infor-
mation (i.e. immediate feedback). They can also specifi-
cally address services the business customer is interested
in purchasing (e.g. personal focus) and present the in-
formation in multiple locations (e.g. a service could be
viewed through the supplier’s website or an offsite blog2)
and multiple ways (e.g. language variety through demon-
strations, trial packages, or written descriptions of the
service). In other words, the supplier can use the Internet
to provide a greater richness of information [8,57] that is
unconfined by individual salespeople having to contact
the customer during normal business hours [58,59].
In addition, the data can be more comprehensive, in-
cluding both service details and specifications as well as
potential application suggestions [58]. Since most or-
ganizations are utilizing their websites to provide more
comprehensive information [13], the buyer can easily
become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of options
available to him and his company for purchasing services
[60]. This is combined with the fact the buyer may al-
ready be addressing an ambiguous business need, par-
ticularly when it comes to the nature of services [61]. In
order to deal with the complexity, uncertainty, equivo-
cality, and information overload introduced by technol-
ogy-mediated marketplaces [11,62,63], suppliers need to
be proactive about providing service recommendations or
substitution queries that help buyers filter unwanted ser-
vices and alleviate some of the confusion and informa-
tion-overload problems.
The second stage in Ives and Mason’s [9] CSLC is the
acquisition stage. In this stage, the buyer first searches
Figure 4. Ives and Mason’s customer service life cycle [9]
for and identifies potential suppliers for the services
identified in the requirements stage [64]. Through Web
2.0-supported peer-to-peer sites, the buyer can gather
information from those who have provided comments
about the service. Once a procurement source has been
chosen, the buyer orders the service from the supplier
[12]. The buyer then has the option to follow the progress
of the order [13]. Once the order arrives and the buyer
takes possession, he can transfer the appropriate funds
[12,65]. Finally, the buyer can perform a service evalua-
tion [13] to ensure the service meets expectations [12].
Unlike the first stage, this stage has a lower level of
equivocality since there are a finite number of suppliers
The third stage in Ives and Mason’s [9] CSLC is the
ownership stage. This stage involves integration with
other services, monitoring the access and use of the ser-
vice, and upgrading to higher levels of service as needed
to meet changing requirements [12,14]. As more compa-
nies refocus their efforts on core competencies, this stage
can also include pay-for-usage models typical of out-
sourced activities [58]. This stage has an even lower
level of ambiguity than the previous two stages because
the company is likely going to have well-defined pur-
poses for the purchased service. The only equivocality at
this stage is the dyadic choice of upgrading to higher
levels of service or not.
Finally, the buyer enters the fourth stage in Ives and
Mason’s [9] CSLC – retirement. This encompasses the
analysis of expenses and the transfer or cancellation of
the service [12]. At this stage, the buyer and supplier
have the opportunity to establish a relationship instead of
continuing to search for new partners that satisfy their
service needs [66]. Business customers in this stage
demonstrate the lowest level of equivocality because they
only have to choose between continuing with the current
supplier and moving to another supplier. If they choose
to select a new supplier, they would move back into the
requirements stage with its highest level of equivocality.
2SAP is a notable example of this. Not only does SAP provide an “SAP
Community” for its business customers on its website (see http://sap.
ittoolbox.com/), but they also have a separate blog site (http://sapro.
blogspot.com/). Through these two sites, SAP customers can request
weekly newsletters, e-mail alerts, and join groups. They have access to
blogs, wikis, white papers, and other resources. In the blogs, SAP em-
loyees, SAP consultants, and SAP customers discuss their implementa-
tion challenges, the issues they experience using the SAP software, and ho
they overcome the problems they face with SAP.
Offering Appropriate Information Technologies at Different Stages in the Customer Service Life Cycle for Improved Service Delivery
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While the model proposed by Ives and their model is
B2C in nature, it can be modified to reflect the needs of
B2B buyers. Unlike B2C marketplaces, B2B buying
situations typically involve different decision-makers
along the life cycle. This means the person who makes
decisions in the requirements stage may be different from
the person who actually purchases the service in the ac-
quisition stage [67].
3.3 Mode of Customer Contact / CSLS matrix
With the two dimensions defined, the complete matrix
shown in Figure 1 is considered. From the supplier’s
perspective, moving from the top to the bottom of the
table reduces labor requirements. The top four rows
(technology-free, -assisted, -facilitated, and -mediated)
require service representative to interact with the busi-
ness customer at some level. The bottom three rows, on
the other hand, don’t require interaction with any em-
ployee (peer-to-peer, technology-generated, and tech-
nology-only). From the business customer’s perspective,
the upper three rows of the table involve face-to-face
interaction with a service representative, the next three
rows are self-service in which the business customer is
required to interact with the technology, and the final
row does not require any interaction by either party.
By analyzing each stage in the customer service life
cycle, a service-provider can identify opportunities for
appropriate customer contact technology modes and
avoid excessive IT spending that might result in unnec-
essary technology and potential buyer loss. Full-service
customer contacts give customers human contact and
risk-free service activities. Self-service technologies, on
the other hand, offer customers control, convenience, and
consistency across their service experience. By analyzing
the customer’s needs/wants and the service provider’s
technological ability, the company can offer the appro-
priate service for each circumstance.
We posit that levels of equivocality decrease when
moving from left to right in the matrix. The most am-
biguous phase is the requirements phase which has a
higher level of equivocality than the acquisition phase
which has higher levels than the ownership phase which
has higher levels than the retirement phase. As the cus-
tomer moves through the service process life cycle, from
left to right in our matrix, from requirements, to acquisi-
tion, to ownership to retirement, the transactions become
more routine and require fewer customer contact modes
and less media richness and are more suitable for auto-
We also posit that media richness decreases when
moving from top to bottom of the matrix. Technology-
free, or full-service, is the richest mode of customer con-
tact because the business customer and service represent
interact directly via face-to-face or telephone conversa-
tions which are not constrained by any technology.
Moving down through the rows of the matrix, contact
with the service provider decreases and contact with
technology increases. As the technology contact in-
creases, this indicates a move toward less-rich media
characterized by limited visual channels of communica-
tion [38]. The seventh row, auto-service, needs to be ex-
tremely structured so that the transaction can occur
without intervention from the service representative.
As equivocality decreases right to left and media rich-
ness decreases top to bottom, we suggest the most ap-
propriate matching of customer contact with stages of the
customer life cycle will appear in a broad diagonal band
going from the upper left to lower right. Because not
every task in each stage of the customer life cycle has the
same equivocality, it is possible to effectively use almost
every mode of customer contact in every stage of the life
cycle (see Table 2). For example, even if the two compa-
nies have an EDI-type relationship, it may be necessary
to resort to technology-free face-to-face communication
in order to solve a specific problem [53]. Additionally, it
is possible a business customer in the requirements phase
may want to peruse the comments in an online commu-
nity discussion or download detailed specifications, re-
sulting in effective off-diagonal positions. We now go on
to discuss the diagonal positions and generate proposi-
tions for each stage.
3.3.1 Require ments
The requirements phase, the leftmost column in the ma-
trix, is the time during which the new business customer
moves from first realizing a need exists to specifying the
attributes that will meet that need3. During this stage, the
supplier company needs to educate potential business
customers about the purpose of their service and help
these business customers distinguish their service from
the services of their competitors [68].
The decisions made in this stage have high levels of
equivocality because gathering more data can easily re-
sult in more interpretations of the data, especially for
services of which the buyer does not have experience.
Because of the high levels of equivocality in this phase, a
company should provide customers with as many contact
modes as possible, including fact-to-face options, in or-
der to make the communication with the potential cus-
tomer as rich as possible. Therefore, we propose:
Proposition 5: In the CSLC requirements stage, cus-
tomers will experience the highest levels of equivocality.
Proposition 6: In the CSLC requirements stage, rich
media will be utilized to assist the customer to manage
high levels of equivocality.
3Repeat customers move directly from the retirement phase to the ac-
quisition phase without cycling through the requirements phase, so only
new and inexperienced customers enter the customer service life cycle
through the requirements stage.
Offering Appropriate Information Technologies at Different Stages in the Customer Service Life Cycle for Improved Service Delivery
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Table 2. A matrix for linking CSLC opportunities and customer contact technology modes
Customer-Service Life Cycle Stage
Requirements Acquisition Ownership Retirement
· presales support and service
specialists for high-demand
customers [69]
· understand the buyer’s
problem and seek solutions
to it [58]
· “non-standard” transac-
tions [35]
· sales force to maintain
public relations [10]
· request for information
(RFI) service - written
information about the
capabilities of various
suppliers [64]
· single-point sales contact -
he utilizes technology to
maintain the vast amount of
service information [58]
· automate quote genera-
tion and order tracking for
the sales force [78]
Technology-Facilitated · marketing/advertising tool
· customer service call
center applications - rout-
ing, queue management
· transactional interaction
(e.g. order entry, delivery,
order tracking)
· routine ques-
tions via elec-
tronic interaction;
complex prob-
lems via live
interactions [69]
Technology-Mediated · contact sales staff through
the website [13]
· purchase on-line, pick-up
in person [59]
· pay for orders online [13]
· management
information and
reporting [48]
· online support
· research/verify the experi-
ences of existing customers
· problem resolu-
tion through
interactions with
customers en-
countering simi-
lar problems [18]
· service catalogues [11,57,
· automated caller ID units
and voice response units that
suggest solutions to meet
needs [58]
· customer forums [58]
· service and pricing trans-
parency real-time [59,88]
· global marketing auto-
mation - segmentation,
targeting, response track-
ing [59,78]
· personalized purchasing
website [69]
· order tracking [13]
· receive auto-
matic, real-time
information about
the supplier’s
inventory levels to
make restock
decisions or adjust
forecasts [15]
Technology-Mediated Service
· automated payment sys-
tems [71]
· automate cur-
rent information
flows [35,49,83]
Offering Appropriate Information Technologies at Different Stages in the Customer Service Life Cycle for Improved Service Delivery
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As illustrated in Table 2, research has shown that sup-
pliers do employ a wide spectrum of customer contact
technology modes to handle the complexity of the ser-
vice being sought or the depth of information that must
be gathered in order to suit many different buyer needs.
For example, high-demand customers might need face-
to-face presales support to handle all their specific ser-
vice questions [69]. On the other hand, some buyers
might have some generic questions that can be resolved
by automated caller ID units that ascertain customer
needs and then make suggestions without direct contact
with a salesperson [58]. Another possibility is these is-
sues could be resolved by the business customers them-
selves by accessing comments from an online users’
community that can be used to determine attributes of
actual service usage as well as company responsiveness
issues [18]. Since different buyers will have different
levels and timing of customer demand [70], a single tech-
nology-mediated service is not sufficient. Therefore, we
propose the following:
Proposition 7: All modes of customer contact except
auto-service will be commonly utilized in the require-
ments stage.
Proposition 8: Peer-to-p eer contact will be dominated
by viewing, with little or no posting.
3.3.2 Acquisition
Customers can enter the acquisition stage from the re-
quirements phase or from the retirement phase of a pre-
vious order cycle3. Customers who are entering from the
requirements phase experience a lower level of equivo-
cality than they did in the first stage because now the
supplier choice has been limited to those that offer the
required services. On the other hand, customers entering
from the retirement phase do not experience any equivo-
cality because they’ve already done business with the
supplier, so they know what to expect. Therefore, we
Proposition 9: In the CSLC acquisition stage, equivo-
cality will be lower than it was in the requirements
Proposition 9a: In the CSCL acquisition stage, new
customers will experience high levels of equivocality.
Proposition 9b: In the CSCL acquisition stage, cus-
tomers retiring previous services with the same supplier
will experience low levels of equivocality.
Just like the requirements stage, the acquisition stage
presents a number of opportunities for the supplier to
support the buyer through a mix of customer contact
technology modes. First, this stage presents opportunities
for automated payment systems [71]. For example, buy-
ers and suppliers can exchange invoices via EDI or util-
ize automated clearinghouse (ACH) transactions. These
systems allow the two parties to bundle transactions and
avoid manual entry and reconciliation. Therefore, they
can reduce or eliminate financial and human resources
personnel for those processes [72]. Another opportunity
is the supplier can make sure its website has clear and
accurate pricing information [73,74]. This presents at
least two benefits for both the buyer and the supplier.
The first benefit is the buyer’s uncertainty about the
transaction process is reduced because the pricing infor-
mation is readily available. This makes the buyer more
likely to purchase from the supplier and it reduces the
coordination costs of the transaction for both parties [75].
A second benefit is the price-sensitive buyer can accu-
rately weigh the supplier against potential competitors
[76]. Once the buyer chooses a supplier, he might be
willing to establish a collaborative relationship with the
supplier. This would mean the two parties could improve
their efficiency as they synchronize their planning and
scheduling activities [46,65]. Finally, the supplier can
offer financial services or logistics arrangements in order
to facilitate the order process [65,66]. Providing financial
services, for instance, gives the buyer access to real-time
payments or credit approvals [65] that can speed-up the
order entry process for buyers. Since research indicates
buyers are reducing their number of suppliers [77], any
opportunity the supplier can find and meet will give that
supplier an advantage.
As illustrated in Table 2, different customer contact
technology modes provide a wide range of ways to fulfill
these needs. For example, the supplier can empower its
sales force by creating automatic systems that generate
quotes and orders, provide contact management tools,
and facilitate pipeline management [78]. Armed with this
information, these salespeople can quickly and flexibly
respond to the buyer just like the buyer wants [59]. For
technology-facilitated services, the supplier can provide
transactional interactions that allow the buyer to perform
his own order entry or order tracking via the website
[57,65,69,79]. This gives the buyer another valuable
channel [80] for meeting his needs consistently and ac-
curately [74]. In addition, interaction with an online us-
ers’ community can assist with installation and early us-
age issues [18]. Because we can address the acquisition
opportunities with a wide spectrum of customer contact
technology modes, we propose:
Proposition 10: All modes of customer contact will b e
commonly utilized in the acquisition stage, but the use
of self-service and auto-service will be higher than in
the requirements stage.
Proposition 11: Peer-to-peer contact will be primarily
viewing, with some posting.
3.3.3 Ownership
Typically, the supplier’s role is to provide basic training
[69] or education about the benefits of the service.
Routine, unambiguous questions can be addressed elec-
tronically (e.g. FAQ sections on the supplier website)
Offering Appropriate Information Technologies at Different Stages in the Customer Service Life Cycle for Improved Service Delivery
Copyright © 2010 SciRes JSSM
while the more complex, equivocal problems can be
handle via live interactions (e.g. demonstrations over the
phone or through a salesperson visit) [69]. Customers can
leverage online users’ communities to solve unique prob-
lems and to find innovative uses for the service [18].
Since this stage doesn’t require the interaction-intensity
of the previous two stages [71], we propose the follow-
Proposition 12: In the CSLC ownership stage, cus-
tomers will experience lower levels of equivocality than
in the acquisition stage.
Proposition 13: In the CSLC ownership stage, the
use of self-service customer contact modes will increase
and the use of full-service customer contact modes will
decrease when compared to their use in the acquisition
Proposition 14: Peer-to-peer contact will be both
viewing and posting.
3.3.4 Retirement
Firms can establish their value-added partnership by
automating their current, standardized/unambiguous,
information flows through interorganizational systems
like EDI [49]. This means firms can coordinate their
simple processes (e.g. inventory management) [81,82] or
automate their high-volume, repetitive restocks [35,49,
83,84]. As the services become more standardized, local
knowledge and relationships become less crucial [85].
Therefore, the supplier and buyer can utilize different
modes of technology services in order to reduce their
coordination costs. In addition, as customers gain more
experience with the service, they will become more ac-
tive in participating in online users’ communities because
they will be able to offer suggestions of their own related
to the service [15,20]. Therefore, we propose the follow-
Proposition 15: In the CSLC retirement stage, cus-
tomers will experience the lowest levels of equivocality.
Proposition 16: In the CSLC retirement stage, the
use of self-service customer contact modes will increase
and the use of full-service customer contact modes will
decrease when compared to their use in the ownership
Proposition 17: Peer-to-peer contac t will be primarily
posting, with some viewing.
4. Implications and Conclusions
In future research, scholars should explicitly examine the
relationship between each CSLC opportunity and the mix
of implemented customer contact technology modes. By
using the customer as a unit of analysis, researchers can
identify how different customers respond to different
service offerings. In these studies, it will be important to
control for different supplier sizes because they adopt
B2B portals to different degrees. For example, smaller
suppliers are less likely to create B2B websites because
they are expensive and are likely to have fewer custom-
ers that will utilize these sites [86]. However, smaller
suppliers are more likely to establish these types of sites
in the future as Web 2.0 becomes more common. Larger
suppliers, on the other hand, have access to more finan-
cial resources as well as in-house expertise so they find it
easier to adopt B2B portals [52].
It would also be beneficial to study each technol-
ogy-mediated service as a different variable. Future re-
searchers could compare service experiences for each
model to determine if one model is preferred over an-
other in B2B marketplaces. Again, it is important to con-
trol for supplier size to determine if resource expendi-
tures are the cause of higher acceptance ratings.
Future research needs to empirically examine the ef-
fectiveness of the modes of customer contact during the
different CSLC stages. During each stage of the customer
life cycle, the customer contact modes can be examined
individually. In addition, the interactions between these
modes should be examined to detect synergies obtained
by using multiple modes of customer contact. Effective-
ness can be measured in a number of ways including
accurate information transmitted to the customer, the
proportion of present customers that are retained and the
percentage of new ones recruited, the percentage of cus-
tomers that can be sold higher-levels of or complemen-
tary services, the number of “hits” on the online users’
community as well as the number of ideas obtained from
this platform and integrated into company operations.
In conclusion, the primary purpose of this article is to
propose the fit between the CSLC and a mix of customer
contact technology modes can improve service delivery.
Due to the increasing use of the Internet as a source of
communication and the evolution of customer expecta-
tions [77,87], this is becoming an increasingly important
research topic. Therefore, this article proposes a theo-
retical lens for studying the buyer-supplier relationship in
a B2B context.
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