Gatekeepers and Referrals in Services

45 Pages Posted: 14 Mar 2002

See all articles by Robert A. Shumsky

Robert A. Shumsky

Dartmouth College - Tuck School of Business

Edieal J. Pinker

Yale School of Management; Yale University School of Management

Date Written: August 2002


We examine services in which customers encounter a gatekeeper who makes an initial diagnosis of the customer's problem and then may refer the customer to a specialist. The gatekeeper may also attempt to solve the problem, but the probability of treatment success decreases as the problem's complexity increases. Given the costs of treatment by the gatekeeper and the specialist, we find the firm's optimal referral rate from a particular gatekeeper to the specialists. We then consider the principal-agent problem that arises when the gatekeeper, but not the firm, observes the gatekeeper's treatment ability as well as the complexity of each customer's problem. We examine the relative benefits of compensation systems designed to overcome the effects of this information asymmetry and show that bonuses based solely on referral rates do not always ensure first-best system performance and that an appropriate bonus based on customer volume may be necessary as well. We also consider the value of such output-based contracts when gatekeepers are heterogeneous in ability, so that two gatekeeper types face different probabilities of treatment success when given the same problem. We show that the firm may achieve first-best performance by either offering two contracts that separate the gatekeeper types or by offering a single contract that coordinates the treatment decisions of both gatekeepers.

Suggested Citation

Shumsky, Robert A. and Pinker, Edieal J., Gatekeepers and Referrals in Services (August 2002). Available at SSRN: or

Robert A. Shumsky (Contact Author)

Dartmouth College - Tuck School of Business ( email )

Hanover, NH 03755
United States

Edieal J. Pinker

Yale School of Management ( email )

135 Prospect Street
P.O. Box 208200
New Haven, CT 06520-8200
United States
203-436-8867 (Phone)

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Yale University School of Management ( email )

New Haven, CT 06520
United States
203-436-8867 (Phone)

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