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Previous research argues for the importance of involving actors, such as frontline employees (FLEs) and customers, in service innovation. Through their day-to-day work, FLEs takes part in shaping the service practice and value cocreation with customers. In service innovation processes FLEs have shown to contribute positively by conducting “value proposition test-driving”, that is the ‘process by which frontline employees try out different ways of integrating resources in order to create new, or to modify existing, value propositions’ (Åkesson et al., 2016, p. 340). However, when new value propositions (VPS) are initiated by the management, FLEs existing roles become outdated and needs to be changed. This study therefore aims to identify FLEs roles in the service practice, how FLEs test-drive new and existing roles in relation to the introduction of new VPS and how the test-driving process contributes to shape these VPS.
The research reported in the present study is taken from a management led change initiative at a customer center in the service industry of public transport. The empirical material is based on a multi-method approach including field observations, employee and management interviews, focus group sessions, customer survey data, and mystery shoppers; hence a rich material of employee-customer interactions.
Our findings indicate that FLEs test-drive different roles when a change initiative is implemented. The findings reveal that FLEs enact different roles depending on the context and the situation in their strive for creating value for and with customers, both in real time and for future value creation. When new VPS are initiated the roles sometimes needs to be changed. Often, only a slight adaptation is needed, but depending on the value proposition, completely new roles needs to be enacted by the FLEs. This study highlight three new roles: Judge of character, Mediator, and Interpreter. The role ”Judge of character” typically use cognitive resource integration practices. The ”Mediator” typically uses practical resource integration practices in their mediation with or between customers. The ”Interpreter” typically uses discursive resource integration practices, a role that is often enacted when interacting with vulnerable customers. When it comes to these customers, the FLEs have great power in guiding the customers hence they constitute a large part of the process and outcome of value cocreation.
The paper shows that FLEs take part in the creation and shaping of new roles in order to offer the new VPS to customers, and by doing so they also contribute to develop and modify these VPS, in relation to the service practice, but also generating ideas for new VPS. Hence, important findings emerging from the study concern the managerial issue of how to implement change initiatives that includes new VPS.