Mass-Production of Professional Services
AMD-2015-0164.R2 from AMD Volume 3, Issue 2
by Roman V. Galperin
How is mass-production of professional services possible? Since professional services are credence goods, consumers rely on signals of expertise, like credentials and professional behavior of the service provider, to assess the quality and value of the service. Yet economies of scale in mass-production require non-professional workforce, which lacks the expected professional credentials and appears to be poorly equipped to project expert authority. Moreover, the low-wage, low-discretion job conditions of mass-production are antithetical to the ideal of professional work and thus seem to provide poor incentives for assuming and maintaining professional identity. By analyzing a case of contemporary tax preparation work in the U.S., this paper argues that non-professional workers assume and project expert authority while delivering mass-produced professional services, despite the poor job conditions. Aspects of worker selection, training, and interactions with clients, as well as a firm’s efforts to project a professional image, are identified as factors contributing to the emergence and the maintenance of expert authority in non-professional workers. The distinction between structural and cultural aspects of professionalism is discussed as a promising direction for studying professionalism in non-professional workers and relating job design to worker identity.
Keyword: professions and occupations, worker identity, worker incentives, job design