Module Note | March 2006 (Revised April 2008)

Conceptualizing the Customer Operating Role

by Frances X. Frei


The module introduces students to the concept and implications of a customer operating role. Building on the first year operations curriculum in which only employees' and machines' operating roles are considered, it provides the additional perspectives needed to bring the customer into this set. The module identifies the unique challenges posed by customer-operators and presents guidelines to help mitigate their impact. It then presents a taxonomy of the variability introduced by the presence of customer-operators and addresses the danger of misdiagnosing the type of variability. Finally, the module presents management techniques for handling this variability, with an emphasis on those that overcome the classic tension between operational efficiency and the service experience.

Keywords: Customers; Performance Efficiency; Perspective; Management Analysis, Tools, and Techniques; Service Operations;


Frei, Frances X. "Conceptualizing the Customer Operating Role." Harvard Business School Module Note 606-032, March 2006. (Revised April 2008.)