Business Services – the Body and Emotional Labor

Successful business service entrepreneurs possess three important attributes: professional expertise, an existing reputation (sometimes iconic), and a network of client contacts. These essential requirements for competitive success explain the concentration of founders’ previous employment in same sector or client firms, and into larger rather than smaller companies. The founders of business service firms acquire their reputations, expertise, and client contacts while working for either large supply or client companies. This partly accounts for concentrations of business service firms in major cities.

Professional reputations rather than knowledge drive the formation process for business service firms. This is because an imperfect market place for business service expertise exists. Part of this imperfection is the difficulties clients have in determining the quality of a supplier’s expertise. The problem is wrapped up in a product – knowledge/expertise – that is intangible and whose quality is difficult to measure or assess. One way of overcoming an imperfect market is to employ individuals and companies that the client already knows either directly or indirectly. Personal knowledge of individual professionals rather than of companies is thus extremely important in the client search process. The implication is that the balance of power in the labor market is held by individuals with established professional reputations and the value of this expertise is rising. This means that consultants, advertising executives, lawyers, investment bankers, and financial analysts, in effect, rent their brains, as well as reputations. The implication is that graduates enter large business service companies as trainees to acquire knowledge and a reputation amongst clients. Once these have been acquired, there is nothing to prevent the young professionals from leaving the firm, taking clients with them, and establishing their own practice. Business service activities have very low capital barriers to entry, but high human or reputational entry barriers.

The importance of presentation, communication, and display in service work implies that such work cannot be conceptualized solely as an economic performance. Business service work is a ‘hybrid’ form of work in which the economic and the cultural are blurred; this means that this form of work is a qualitatively different form of work to manufacturing employment. In effect, the provision of a business service to a client represents a dramatic act or a form of impression management. Impression management is a key feature of the work of KIBS as it is an essential part of the ways in which they present themselves and interact with clients. The accountants Coopers and Lybrand, as well as Ernst and Young hire image consultants to provide seminars in personal presentation for their audit teams. These seminars examine ways of increasing credibility and projecting the right image when undertaking client audits and when pitching for new business. Price Waterhouse employed image consultants to instruct potential partners in dining etiquette and in the art of looking, acting, and sounding like a partner of a major global accountancy company. This implies that KIBS represents a form of ‘emotional labor’, a term which describes the process by which employers manage employees’ feelings during social interaction in the work process. Much of the literature on emotional labor concentrates on exploring relatively lowpaid service work in which employers are actively engaged in managing the hearts and minds of their employees. In business service work, the professional institutions, the employers, and most importantly individual professionals are implicated in emotional labor in order to succeed in this economic sector.