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IT Service Climate

IT Service Climate: An Extension to IT Service Quality Research

Journal of the Association for Information Systems, May 2008 by Jia, Ronnie, Reich, Blaize Horner, Pearson, J Michael
Copyright 2008, by the Association for Information Systems.

Abstract

IT departments are service providers to business users, and service quality has been proposed as one measure of IT effectiveness. Previous research has adapted the SERVQUAL scale from service marketing literature, using it to gauge business users' expected and perceived levels of IT service quality. In this research, we investigate the other side of the IT-user relationship and look inside the IT function to identify variables that could affect IT service quality.

Building on research into climate from the organizational psychology literature, we propose a new construct, IT Service Climate, and a theoretical model that links IT Service Climate with antecedents and service quality. A series of propositions are derived from the model to guide future empirical research, and other potential applications of the climate construct in IT research are discussed. By focusing on the IT department's impact on service quality, we hope to assist managers to pinpoint the causes of service shortfalls.
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It is necessary to distinguish climate from culture, because the term culture is often used when climate is the more appropriate term (Schein, 2000). Climate is about experiential descriptions or perceptions of what happens; it can most accurately be understood as a manifestation of culture (Schein, 1985). In contrast, culture is a deeper phenomenon based on symbolic meanings that reflect core values and fundamental ideologies and assumptions (Schein, 1992; Trice and Beyer, 1993).
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We adapt Schneider et al. (1998) and define IT service climate as IT professionals' shared perceptions of the practices and behaviors in their workplace that support the prevision of IT service to business customers. As with other organizational climates, IT service climate will be described as having a level and a strength. Thus, IT units with higher service climate levels will be said to have more favorable climates; units with higher climate strength will be said to agree more completely on the favorableness of their service climate.

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We therefore propose a fourdimension model of IT service climate, including service leadership, service vision, customer feedback, and customer communication.

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Service leadership, similar to Schneider et al.'s (1998) managerial practices dimension, refers to the extent to which IT managers take actions to guide and reward the delivery of service, such as setting goal, planning and coordinating work, and recognizing and rewarding employees. This dimension finds its theoretical bases in goal setting and expectancy theories of motivation as well as path-goal theory of leadership.

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Service vision is defined as the extent to which IT professionals view themselves as having a serviceoriented role and emphasize meeting business client needs. Also referred to as service orientation or customer orientation, this climate dimension has been investigated in a number of studies in the services literature (e.g., Lytle et al., 1998; Schneider et al., 1998).

IT services are complex, knowledge-based work, and providing quality IT services to business clients requires much more than "a smiley face." Because vision represents "a higher order goal and a motivating force at work" (West, 1990, p. 310), the notion of a service vision has a broader scope than customer orientation, as it allows a more proactive role for the IT professionals, i.e., going beyond meeting customers' current needs to becoming strategic partners and providers of valueadded service, or from a "factory" support role toward a "strategic" role (McFarlan and McKenny, 1983).

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Customer feedback refers to the extent to which feedback from clients regarding service quality is solicited and addressed (Schneider et al., 1998). The effect of feedback on work performance is well established. In job characteristics theory (Hackman and Lawler, 1971; Hackman and Oldham, 1976), feedback is viewed as one characteristic essential to jobs constructed to motivate employees for higher performance. Goal-setting theory research also shows that task-relevant feedback enables employees to gauge their progress toward goal attainment, thus it moderates the relationship between goals and performance, such that goals can have little or no impact on performance in the absence of feedback (e.g., Erez, 1977).

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Customer communication refers to the extent to which IT professionals openly and frequently communicate with customers regarding task-related issues. Customer communication, unlike the more formal practice of soliciting feedback, is concerned with the day-to-day information sharing with clients over task-related issues. While not all IT departments formally solicit client feedback, all communicate with their clients to varying degrees.

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To summarize, based on an extensive review of the literature and field interviews, we propose a fourdimension model of IT service climate, including service leadership, service vision, customer feedback, and customer communication. This conceptualization highlights the scope and complexity of creating and sustaining a favorable service climate in the IT organization. As evidenced in Watson et al.'s (1998) case study of two unsuccessful IT service quality improvement initiatives, the delivery of quality IT service requires appropriate actions at strategic, tactical, and operational levels. Without in-depth knowledge of the various service climate dimensions and a systemic approach, change programs are likely to result in failure and employee cynicism.

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