Sources of conflicts

By Priya Chetty on October 30, 2010

Front-line employees often face interpersonal and inter- organisational conflicts on the job. Their frustration and confusion can rise, if left unattended. This may lead to:

  • Stress and job dissatisfaction.
  • A diminished ability to serve customers and burnout.

As these employees represent the customer to the organization. They often need to manage a number of customers simultaneously. Front liners inevitably have to deal with conflicts, including person or role conflicts, organisational conflict, and inter-client conflicts.

Person or role conflicts

In some situations the front-line employees feel conflicted between what they are asked to do and their own personalities, orientations, or values. Person/ role conflict also arises when employees are required to wear specific clothing or change some aspect of their appearance to confirm to the job requirements. E.g a young lawyer, just out of college may feel an internal conflict with his new role when his employer requires him to cut his long hair and trade his casual clothes for three piece suit.

Organisational conflicts

A more common type of conflict for front-line service employees is the conflict between their two bosses, the organisation and the individual customer. Service employees are typically rewarded  for following certain standards, rules, and procedures.

Ideally these rules and standards are customer based. When they are not, or when a customers makes excessive demand, the employee has to choose whether to follow the rules or satisfy the demands. So an employee has two bosses one customer and one in the organisation to whom he is reporting. These conflicts are especially severe when service employees depend directly on the customer for income. E.g. employees who depend on tips or commissions are likely to face greater levels of organisational conflict because they have even greater incentives to identify with the customer.

Inter- client conflicts

Sometimes conflict occurs for boundary spanners when there are incompatible expectations and requirements from two or more customers. This occurs most often when the service provider is serving the customers in turn such as a bank teller, a ticketing agent, a doctor or is serving many customers simultaneously like teachers & entertainers.

In case of serving customers in turn, the service provider may satisfy one customer by spending additional time, customizing the service and being very flexible in meeting the customer’s needs. Meanwhile, waiting customers are becoming dissatisfied because their needs are not being met in a timely manner.

Beyond the timing issue, different clients may prefer different modes of service delivery. Having to serve one client who prefers personal recognition and a degree of familiarity in the presence of another client who is all business and would prefer little interpersonal interaction can also create conflict for the employee.

In case of serving many customers at the same time, it is often difficult or impossible to serve the full range of needs of a group of heterogeneous customers simultaneously. This type of conflict is readily apparent in any college classroom where the instructor must meet a multitude of expectations and different preferences for formats and style.

Priya is the co-founder and Managing Partner of Project Guru, a research and analytics firm based in Gurgaon. She is responsible for the human resource planning and operations functions. Her expertise in analytics has been used in a number of service-based industries like education and financial services.

Her foundational educational is from St. Xaviers High School (Mumbai). She also holds MBA degree in Marketing and Finance from the Indian Institute of Planning and Management, Delhi (2008).

Some of the notable projects she has worked on include:

  • Using systems thinking to improve sustainability in operations: A study carried out in Malaysia in partnership with Universiti Kuala Lumpur.
  • Assessing customer satisfaction with in-house doctors of Jiva Ayurveda (a project executed for the company)
  • Predicting the potential impact of green hydrogen microgirds (A project executed for the Government of South Africa)

She is a key contributor to the in-house research platform Knowledge Tank.

She currently holds over 300 citations from her contributions to the platform.

She has also been a guest speaker at various institutes such as JIMS (Delhi), BPIT (Delhi), and SVU (Tirupati).



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