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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Customer Service and the Disempowered Client: Business Process Reengineering in a Public Welfare Agency

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License

This paper presents a case study of business process reengineering in the San Diego County Family Resource Centers (USA), which process applications for food stamps, welfare (TANF) and Medicaid.Reengineering is supposed to improve customer service and organizational efficiency by using information technology and worker empowerment. In this case we find thatreengineering has led to deteriorating service for clients and the deprofessionalization of the quasi-professional caseworkers. Our findings contribute to the sociology of interactive service work by building on insights regarding the contradictory logics at the heart of the service encounter: rationalization to achieve quantitative efficiency versus customer-orientation aimed at creating satisfied customers. We argue that because reengineering happened in a context of disempowered welfare clients, that cost reductions were emphasized over improved customerservice.

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