Gérer & Comprendre n°105 September 2011


Managing customer deviance

Introduction to this special issue

Jean-Baptiste Suquet


A double-edged deviance: Between disorder and innovation — the case of “agents of ambiance” at the SNCF
Damien Collard

The French national railway company (SNCF) recruited “agents of ambiance” under a government-sponsored jobs-for-youth program in the late 1990s. A detailed study, based on participant observation, of these employees’ activities shows that these young people occupy a “civic interface” in certain stations in “problem areas”. They try to facilitate the cohabitation in a single place of “ordinary” customers with the “unwanted”, i.e., individuals who are stigmatized owing to their behavior (which is deemed deviant) and are, therefore, seen as a source of insecurity. One finding is that railway workers consider these employees to be “pollutants”. This “pollution” is a form of deviance at the origin of both disorder and innovation, and the major reasons for it are discussed. Two key dimensions in the activities of these “agents of ambiance” are studied: the dimension of language and behavior and that of emotions.

The dynamics of offering a service and the deviant uses made of it: The case of teleassistance for the agèd
Florence Charue-Duboc, Laure Amar, Anne-France Korgan, and Nathalie Raulet-Croset

This analysis of the deployment of an innovation combining technology with a service (teleassistance for the agèd) focuses on changes in the way the innovation is used. Thanks to a system installed in their homes, the elderly are, in case of need, able to easily contact a call center. Operators at the call center have to deal with uses of the system that deviate from the initial purpose of helping persons who fall and injure themselves. This analysis of their responses to these deviant uses draws attention to the tension between, on the one hand, the necessary changes to be made in the service being offered as a result of changes in the way the system is used and, on the other hand, a management of customers that seeks to maintain the “normal” use of this service.

Steering the service relationship: Between regulating behaviors and satisfying customers

Laurence Bancel-Charensol, Pénélope Codello-Guijarro and Muriel Jougleux

This article inquires into the possibility of a global control of the service relationship defined as a set of interactions between customers and the personnel in contact with them while performing the service. Drawn from an “intervention research” in a French Social Security Health Insurance office (CPAM) on relations with health-care professionals, this article shows that the service relationship is subject to a complicated control process, which runs horizontally across the organization and is made up of interactions with many objectives and contents. Performance is in a state of tension between two distinct “logics”: satisfying health-care professionals (the customers of several proposed services) and regulating their behaviors and practices as partners in the health system and as co-producers of the services proposed by the CPAM. Controlling this performance entails working out a strategy for the service relationship that articulates these two logics within the organization. This case serves to propose generalizations by extrapolating to the control of all types of service relationships.

When the organization constructs its customers’ deviant behaviors: Changes in customer delinquency patterns at the RATP
Jean-Baptiste Suquet

More studies are being made of consumer, specifically customer, behavior patterns, but they are mostly based on, or contribute to, a “substantialization” of the concept. The Weickian approach of enactment is adopted to show how employees of the Paris area subway system (RATP) assign meaning to customer behavior patterns in the case of campaigns against fare-dodgers. The methodology, a mixture of a case study and a history, seeks to compare different periods, contexts and understandings of these campaigns throughout the 20th century. Though not claiming to be complete, this approach brings to light a process for making meaning inside the organization, and thus emphasizes how the organization itself helps construct deviant behaviors. Light is shed on certain issues and on the organizational tensions related to fare-dodging and its management. Thought is given to the survey processes that can be associated with making sense of deviant behaviors from the perspective of a more relevant strategy for regulating customer relations.




The fight of public housing organizations against unauthorized dumps and tenants’ acts of delinquency: An impossible quality of service?
Pascal Ughetto

In the buildings they manage, the HLM organizations that manage public housing projects in France encounter acts of property damage that are, for them, an enigma but also a serious managerial problem. Several of these organizations have developed “quality of service” policies that entail major commitments in terms of organization. The acts causing property damage are analyzed as actions that disorganize these commitments and force personnel in the field to improvise responses. They are also evidence that some tenants are not spontaneously interested in the quality of service or, at least, question whether customer satisfaction surveys are capable of shedding light on the complicated relations that such tenants have with the idea of quality.

When customers are incoherent: Automakers and their suppliers between expectations related to business and logistics
Aurélien Rouquet

In relations between businesses, a company’s expectations with regard to its suppliers might not be coherent, whence problems. For the supplier, the question arises of how to cope with this incoherence and satisfy the business customer. For the other party, the question crops up of how to explain the development of such situations and put an end to them. These problems are approached through an in-depth analysis of the relations that Renault and PSA have with the companies supplying them with parts. These two automakers have not yet coherently formulated their economic and logistic expectations with regard to their parts-makers.

“Watch out! One customer might hide another”: Managing customers when there is a disruption of services
Marianne Abramovici

Customer deviance is a category that comes out of a process of social construction in a company. It might reflect the firm’s inability to interpret and manage certain situations. The Villeneuve-Triage railway accident (20 September 2003) was an event of this sort that forced the French national railway company (SNCF) to examine customer behavior when services are disrupted. The analysis of how this accident was handled shows that the SNCF focused on studying the “deviance” of a few customers to the detriment of giving thought to the broader decision-making context that resulted for customers in the situation. An alternative interpretation of this accident is provided; and a few managerial suggestions are made for analyzing customer behavior patterns in the case of a disruption of services.




Where are the snows of yesteryear?

On Geoffroy de Lagasnerie’s Logique de la création (Paris, Fayard, 2011).
Jean-Marc Weller





Hervé Dumez: “Constructing a group judgement: The case of committees for funding research projects” On Michèle Lamont’s, How professors think: Inside the curious world of academic judgment (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009).


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