Service supply chain integration: the role of interpersonal relationships

Publication Date14 May 2018
AuthorBill Wang,Yuanfei Kang,Paul Childerhouse,Baofeng Huo
SubjectInformation & knowledge management,Information systems,Data management systems,Knowledge management,Knowledge sharing,Management science & operations,Supply chain management,Supply chain information systems,Logistics,Quality management/systems
Service supply chain
integration: the role of
interpersonal relationships
Bill Wang
College of Sciences, Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand
Yuanfei Kang
Massey Business School, Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand
Paul Childerhouse
College of Sciences, Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand, and
Baofeng Huo
School of Management, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to explore the role of interpersonal relationships (IPRs) in service
supply chain integration (SSCI) in terms of strategic alliance, information integration, and process integration.
Design/methodology/approach Theresearch employsan exploratory/investigationalapproach to multiple
case studies and empirically investigates effects of IPRs in SSCI. The data were mainly collected through
semi-structured interviews with senior management staff from four service companies and their suppliers or
customers inNew Zealand. Archival datafrom the Internet and companydocumentations were alsoapplied.
Findings The authors find that three dimensions of IPRs influence SSCI in different ways. The effect of
IPRs on SSCI is indirect: personal affection acts as an initiator, and personal credibility works as a
gate-keeperand strengthens the confidence of interactive partners, while personal communication, a
facilitator, plays a more important role in SSCI than personal affection and credibility.
Practical implications The research provides managers in service supply chains the awareness of the
importanceof IPRs, as well as the characteristicsof IPRs, in order to best utilizeavailable resources. Managers
shouldsynergize all three dimensionsof IPRsresources:make efforts to cultivate personalaffection to avoid the
instinctive isolation modern technology brings; attempt to accumulate positive personal credibility profiles;
focus more on the role of personalcommunication and retain physical contact in SSCI processes.
Originality/value This study contributes to SSCI literature by extending from the inter-organizational
relationships (IORs) to interpersonal level relationships to explore the inner influence mechanism. Also, it
explores the role of IPRs on all three dimensions of SSCI simultaneously rather than individual dimensions
independently. Finally, it contributes to resource orchestration theory (ROT) by synthesizing three
dimensions of IPRs resources, and IORs resources in order to achieve capabilities of SSCI. The study develops
the individual-level research in supply chain integration (SCI) to a further depth.
Keywords Service supply chain, Interpersonal relationship, Supply chain integration,
Resource orchestration theory, Case study
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
With the increasing importance of the service sector in the world economy (World Bank,
2015), service supply chain management (SSCM) research has gradually gained
significance. However, the main body of the SCM literature still focuses on the
manufacturing sector (Boon-itt et al., 2017; Uusipaavalniemi and Juga, 2008). Compared to
physical products from the traditional manufacturing sector, service products exhibit
unique characteristics that can be summarized as IHIPCD: intangibility, heterogeneity,
inseparability, and perishability (Hemilä and Vilko, 2015); customer participation
Industrial Management & Data
Vol. 118 No. 4, 2018
pp. 828-849
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/IMDS-02-2017-0062
Received 14 February 2017
Revised 26 June 2017
27 September 2017
Accepted 15 October 2017
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
This research was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 71525005,
No. 71372058).
(Aitken et al., 2016); and difficulty of quality dimension evaluation (Arlbjørn et al., 2011).
These special attributes should be considered when applying product-centric SCM
practices to customer-oriented SSCM.
Supply chain integration (SCI) is regarded as an efficient and effective approach to
improving the performance of supply chains (Huo, 2012). However, there are some
significant gaps in the research on SCI in the service sector. First, this stream of research
is highly limited, with only some conceptual definitions and/or comparisons with SCI in
the manufacturing sector available (Aitken et al., 2016; Boon-itt et al., 2017; Selviaridis and
Norrman, 2014). Second, SCI research tends to overlook the influences of individual
behavior and interpersonal relationships (IPRs). This is a noticeable weakness of the SCI
research, especially in the service setting, as one of the main differences between services
and manufacturing is that services require close person-to-person contact between service
providers and customers. Moreover, a service supply chain (SSC) is a supply chain for
service rather than a supply chain of service (Maull et al., 2012). Human behavior is not
purely rational, as people care about and are influenced by their relationships with others
(Cai et al., 2017; Gligor and Autry, 2012; Schorsch et al., 2017). Third, SCI research tends to
focus on the individual SCI dimensions, rather than addressing all SCI dimensions as a
whole. For example, Uusipaavalniemi and Juga (2008) examined the information
integration level in maintenance services in SSCM by answering questions regarding
which information, which form of information, and how and when information should be
shared between supply partners. Lillrank et al. (2011) explored SSCM processes and
suggested decomposing processes into service events. Boon-itt et al. (2017) developed
and validated measurement scales for SSCM process capability constructs. However,
to achieve superior performance, firms must achieve SCI by synthesizing all three
SCI dimensions: strategic alliances, information integration, and process integration
(Liu et al., 2016; Wang et al., 2016; Zhao et al., 2011).
To address the research gaps identified above, we aim to examine the influence of IPRs
in facilitating the achievement of SCI in all three SCI dimensions, with the service sector as
the research setting. To do so, we address two research questions:
RQ1. What rolesdo the three IPR dimensions of personal affection,personal credibility,and
personal communication play in the service supply ch ain integration (SSCI) process?
RQ2. How do IPRs identified influence SSCI along its three dimensions (i.e. strategic
alliances, information integration, and process integration)?
Research has conceptualized the three IPR dimensions in terms of their influences on inter-
organizational relationships (IORs) (Barnes et al., 2015; Wang et al., 2016). We apply this IPR
conceptualization to examine the mechanisms through which different IPR dimensions
influence SCI in the service sector. We develop several research propositions based on the
empirical findings generated from four case companies in New Zealands service sector.
Using resource orchestration theory (ROT) as a theoretical lens, we seek to gain a better
understanding of the roles of IPRs in achieving SSCI. ROT suggests that the firm can
structure and bundle all of the available resources in its disposal to build competitive
capabilities and to leverage those capabilities to achieve superior performance (Sirmon et al.,
2007; Sirmon et al., 2011), instead of focusing on individual resources or simply combining
them (Liu et al., 2016). From an SCM perspective, individual IPR factors can be regarded as
firm resources, as they are valuable, rare, inimitable, and non-substitutable (Barney, 1991).
In the SSCM literature, only limited attention has been paid to the orchestration and synergy
of these resources in SSCI (Liu et al., 2016). Thus, there is a need to empirically examine how
firms can interrelate their IPR resources between suppliers and customers to achieve
superior SSCI.
Service supply

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