The antecedents of client satisfaction in product design consulting

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Published in: Proceedings of the ASME 2014 International Mechanical Engineering Congress & Exposition, Montreal, QC, November 2014.


Product design consulting has been promoted as an open innovation strategy but project outcomes vary widely and the causes of this variation are not well understood. Because client satisfaction is both a holistic, overarching measure of consulting project success and an under-studied one, this paper derives a model explaining it in terms of project performance and value, working relationship quality, and the client’s experience with design consulting and reason for outsourcing the project. The model is tested using quantitative survey data from 97 consulting projects, and explains 73% of the observed variation in client satisfaction. The results confirm predictions from customer satisfaction theory but challenge conventional wisdom about outsourced innovation. Although design consultancies have been widely portrayed as “creativity experts,” clients outsourcing to obtain an original perspective had lower satisfaction than those outsourcing for other reasons. The consultancies were much more effective at rapid innovation, developing familiar products far more quickly than bureaucratic organizations and inexperienced start-ups can.