Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2012

Learning from Customers: Individual and Organizational Effects in Outsourced Radiological Services

by Jonathan R. Clark, Robert S. Huckman and Bradley R. Staats


The ongoing fragmentation of work has resulted in a narrowing of tasks into smaller pieces that can be sent outside the organization and, in many instances, around the world. This trend is shifting the boundaries of organizations and leading to increased outsourcing. Though the consolidation of volume may lead to productivity improvement, little is known about how this shift toward outsourcing influences learning by providers of outsourced services. When producing output, the content of the knowledge gained can vary from one unit to the next. One dimension along which output can vary—a dimension with particular relevance in outsourcing—is the end customer for whom it is produced. The performance benefits of such customer experience remain largely unexamined. We explore this dimension of volume-based learning in a setting where doctors at an outsourcing firm complete radiological reads for hospital customers. We examine more than 2.7 million cases read by 97 radiologists for 1,431 customers and find evidence supporting the benefits of customer-specific experience accumulated by individual radiologists. Additionally, we find that variety in an individual’s customer experience may increase the rate of individual learning from customer-specific experience for a focal task. Finally, we find that the level of experience with a customer for the entire outsourcing firm also yields learning and that the degree of customer depth moderates the impact of customer-specific experience at the individual level. We discuss the implications of our results for the study of learning as well as for providers and consumers of outsourced services.

Keywords: Experience and Expertise; Learning; Health Care and Treatment; Job Cuts and Outsourcing; Knowledge Acquisition; Volume; Performance Productivity; Health Industry;


Clark, Jonathan R., Robert S. Huckman, and Bradley R. Staats. "Learning from Customers: Individual and Organizational Effects in Outsourced Radiological Services." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 11-057, December 2010. (Revised September 2011, January 2013. NBER Working Paper Series, No. w18723, January 2013)