Negotiation, cooperative work and conflict in the provision of technical help: An empirical study of telephone computer support

D. S. Keith Duncan, University of Pennsylvania


This study examines the provision of telephone computer support (TCS) as an example of technical help by product support organizations to customers/users of technology. TCS is an approach to dealing with the technical help problem: "How to help users most effectively accomplish their goals in using computer technology products." The study investigates the provision of technical help from three key perspectives: (i) as a social interaction, (ii) as interorganizational cooperative work and (iii) as an interactional process that contains emergent conflicts. These perspectives motivate the study's research questions: (1) What are the types, structures, processes and range of activities of TCS interactions? (2) How is the TCS problem solving and interaction a negotiated activity, and a form of interorganizational cooperative work? and (3) What is the nature of emergent conflict in TCS? To answer these questions, an empirical investigation of the TCS activities at a successful computer support center of a large manufacturer of computer hardware and software is conducted, focusing on the data of over 200 naturally occurring TCS interactions and ethnographic data. This study develops structural and dynamic models of TCS interaction processes that account and organize TCS problem solving over multiple calls and shows that the problem solving that goes on in these interactions is a negotiated activity between support analysts and users. Further, these negotiations between users and support analysts are shown to be interorganizational cooperative work with users relying on the TCS center to help them work through their problems in real time and on the TCS center to share responsibility for the impacts of specific solution implementations. Finally, the micro analysis of emergent conflict demonstrates the time and resource costs to the support organization in the resolving of conflicts. This study suggests that categories of emergent conflicts can be identified and at what point in the TCS interaction they are likely to occur. ^

Subject Area

Business Administration, General|Sociology, General|Language, General|Computer Science

Recommended Citation

Duncan, D. S. Keith, "Negotiation, cooperative work and conflict in the provision of technical help: An empirical study of telephone computer support" (1992). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9227654.