Service with a conscience: moral dilemmas in customer service roles

Dana Yagil, Tamar Shultz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Service employees are frequently exposed to moral dilemmas as a result of their boundary role, attending to the interests of both the organization and customers. The purpose of this paper is to explore organizational and personal values that generate moral dilemmas in the service context, as well as emotions related to employees’ moral decisions. Design/methodology/approach: Using the critical incidents technique, data were collected from service providers about moral dilemmas in the workplace. The data were analyzed independently by each author, with an agreement rate of 84-88 percent. Findings: The results show that service employees confront dilemmas as a result of conflicts between the following organizational and personal values: standardization vs personalization; profit vs integrity; and emotional display rules vs dignity. Moral decision making involves emotions generated by customer distress, negative emotions toward customers, and emotions of guilt, shame, or fear. Originality/value: Little research has studied moral conflicts in service encounters from employees’ perspective. Using a qualitative approach, this study explores the role of personal values and moral emotions in such processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)689-711
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Service Theory and Practice
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, © Emerald Publishing Limited.


  • Customer services
  • Moral dilemmas
  • Moral emotions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management


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