Hearing music in service interactions: A theoretical and empirical analysis

Jonathan Payne*, Marek Korczynski, Rob Cluley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


There is an extensive literature concerned with the impact of music on customers. However, no study has examined its effects on service workers and their interactions with customers. Drawing together literatures on service work and music in everyday life, the article develops a theoretical framework for exploring the role of music in service exchanges. Two central factors are identified – first, how workers hear, and respond to, the music soundscape, and, second, their relations with customers, given these have the potential to be both alienating and positive to the point of meaningful social interaction. From these, a 2×2 matrix is constructed, comprising four potential scenarios. The authors argue for the likely importance of music’s role as a bridge for sociality between worker and customer. The article considers this theorizing by drawing upon interviews with 60 retail and café workers in UK chains and independents, and free text comments collected through a survey of workers in a large service retailer. The findings show broad support for music acting as a bridge for sociality. Service workers appropriate music for their own purposes and many use this to provide texture and substance to social interactions with customers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1417-1441
Number of pages25
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, © The Author(s) 2017.


  • alienation
  • customer
  • music
  • service interaction
  • service work

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Social Sciences
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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