Relational Dynamics Supporting Client Orientation: Perspectives from the Front Lines of Service Delivery




client orientation, customer service, social identification, sport and leisure services


This study explored how identification processes among front-line workers influence client orientation. We interviewed 15 front-line workers from two sport/leisure organizations. Thematic analyses of interview results suggest how identification and relational processes can foster client orientation. Front-line workers may identify with co-workers, the organization (mission was particularly important), the client, and even the activity for which they are responsible. Identification with these targets offers insight into how to treat clients. For example, several of those interviewed noted the importance of mission statements in setting the tone for a client orientation. Two conditions seemed important. First, the mission statement must offer clarity into the role of client orientation in the service delivery model. It should focus directly on serving the client. Second, it must be crafted in a way that encourages identification by staff members. They must see their own value system within the mission statement. These identification processes became critical when other identification targets (in this case, other staff) offered direction that was incompatible with client orientation. We found, for example, that at times co-workers’ values and behaviours could be inconsistent with client orientation. On such occasions, though, those with already high client orientation tendencies failed to identify with, or at least model, the behaviours of their co-workers. Instead they looked to vision for service laid out by the organization. These findings also highlight the importance of staff-participant and staff-activity identification. Observers believed that staff members sharing a sense of similarity and familiarity with program participants, often possessed a client orientation. Particularly striking in our interviews was the notion of a shared passion for the activity (e.g., special event or sport) in developing client orientation. Most leisure service staff described here had a background in the activity they facilitated. As a result, they had a strong passion for that activity. When they interacted with participants who also demonstrated a passion for the activity, identification processes were enhanced. This identification seemed to aid in client orientation. Finally, participants described how job descriptions often failed to capture the nuances of client orientation and instead focused on core tasks. It is perhaps unsurprising then, that client orientation was described as being a lower priority among staff who focused on tasks (as laid out in their job descriptions or in policy). Subscribe to JPRA

Author Biographies

Ronald E. McCarville, University of Waterloo

ProfessorDepartment of Recreation and Leisure Studies

David William Drewery, University of Waterloo

Doctoral Candidate, Department of Recreation & Leisure Studies





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