Becoming who we serve: A model of multi-layered employee–customer identification

M. Teresa Cardador, Michael G. Pratt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Though employee identification with customers has received little explicit attention in organizational scholarship, and has only recently emerged as an area of focus in marketing, research suggests that customers should play a central role in the identity dynamics of employees. What makes employee–customer identification different from other forms of identification (e.g., employee–organization and customer–organization identification) is that although the organization may be the conduit for identification to occur, it may not be the focus of identification. Indeed, in the organization we explore here, organizational practices lead employees to identify with customers, but to do so in such a way that employees become—at least in part—more like “who they served” than vice versa. Moreover, the bonds we find between employees and customers are multilayered, incorporating nonwork identities, as well as identities at different levels of inclusiveness (e.g., collective and role). This paper explores and models the development and consequences of multilayered employee–customer identification, argues for its theoretical and practical implications, and suggests avenues for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2053-2080
Number of pages28
JournalAcademy of Management Journal
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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