Research Highlight: Pros and Cons of Sales-Service Ambidexterity

AKSOB faculty investigates how playing a dual role takes its toll on salesforce performance and customer satisfaction.

By Raissa Batakji

Findings of the study could inform businesses on how to optimize their salesforce’s performance when employing sales-service ambidexterity.

While “multitasking” has become a staple on job descriptions, research on sales-service ambidexterity – when salespeople are required to provide the dual role of sales and customer service – has been very limited, according to Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Adnan Kassar School of Business (AKSOB) Omar Itani.

As businesses across industries continue to push their salesforce to take on dual roles, Dr. Itani points out that his co-authored study could bring in valuable empirical evidence. Published in the Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, the study looks into how sales-service ambidexterity can influence salespeople’s role perceptions and behaviors as well as customer satisfaction.

During an interview, Dr. Itani began with the obvious: “Sales and services are two goals that have not, traditionally, been achieved in parallel.” Indeed, he adds, “they have long been in conflict.”

To illustrate ambidexterity, Dr. Itani gave the example of bankers and insurance sales agents who are expected to meet monthly targets by means of cross and up-selling. Simultaneously, they take on the role of customer service agents who are charged with responding to questions and complaints. “Using the resources allocation theory and control theory, our research looked at how some tasks may go in parallel while other attempts to balance the two acts might hinder efficiency,” he clarified.

So why has sales-service ambidexterity been on the rise for the past five years, if it has shortcomings in practice? Dr. Itani shares several insights. “The increasing competition and limited budgets, have led businesses across industries to adopt this strategy, given the multitude of factors at play,” he said.

For one, as he explained, the rise of customer-centric marketing  and digital media have provided consumers with a sense of empowerment. “Customers take to digital media whenever they are unsatisfied with the service,” he said, adding that they also have quicker access to competitors’ information and offerings than they did before. “This has taken a toll on businesses that can no longer afford to measure success by sales only, as customer service has come to play an increasingly larger role, which is a battle that the employees have to fight.”

The upside of ambidexterity is that it helps the salesforce adapt to selling, “motivating them to experience different sales approaches that fit customers’ specific needs,” as Dr. Itani put it. Furthermore, customers are more satisfied with ambidextrous salespeople because they tend to experience and appreciate their efforts firsthand. “When the salesperson is also in charge of customer service, he or she can gain the long-term satisfaction and trust of the customer,” said Dr. Itani.

The downside, as the research suggests, is that sales-service ambidexterity holds unfavorable outcomes by increasing the “role conflict” experienced by salespeople, who tend to receive incompatible requests coupled with limited time and resources to complete multiple assignments. This problem is further intensified as customers become more demanding and have high expectations for service and support.

This is true across the array of industries that the study covered, from auto sales and financial operations to healthcare and information technology. As for geography, though the research used India as its subject, Dr. Itani argues that it is relevant for any emerging market.

“Consumer satisfaction and salespeople’s role perceptions share many similarities universally,” said Dr. Itani, adding that the findings and implications of the study could inform businesses on how to optimize their salesforce’s performance when employing sales-service ambidexterity.