Canadian Consulting Engineer

CHAIR’S REPORT: Industry client survey gives members clear direction

March 1, 2001
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

ACEC is intent on helping members to improve the value and the fees of consulting engineering across Canada, and improving how the industry is perceived. The results of an ACEC commissioned survey of ...

ACEC is intent on helping members to improve the value and the fees of consulting engineering across Canada, and improving how the industry is perceived. The results of an ACEC commissioned survey of clients provide clear direction to individual members and to our industry as a whole.

The survey data suggests that there are distinct differences in perception, for instance, between public and private sector clients, and between clients represented by CEOs compared to project managers. These differences are in respect of the clients’ relative satisfaction levels, and their perception of the quality of service received, the value of services provided and contracting practices.

The report finds that the expertise and experience of the CE industry’s personnel is what clients of all categories attach the most value to. But the report also suggests that the value of consulting engineering services is often taken for granted, that professional services are often treated as a commodity, and that consulting engineering services play more of a tactical role than a strategic role in the eyes of the client.

The survey conducted on ACEC’s behalf by COMPAS Inc. includes the following key findings:

Private sector clients are more likely to see greater value in services provided by consulting engineering firms;

Satisfaction levels of CE services are higher when the main client contact is the CEO;

Planning and design services top the list of client demands for CE firms;

Expertise and knowledge of the engineer are the principal criteria for selection;

Quality of service is seen as adequate, not exceptional, by the client community;

Clients ask CE firms to be better listeners.

There are important messages contained in these findings for both consulting engineers and for clients. For instance, if private sector clients value us more, remunerate us better and are more likely to retain our services on a sole-source basis as the data suggests, might the quality of our industry’s service to public sector clients be adversely affected over the long term?

If CEOs (typically non-engineers) seem to have a higher regard for the quality of our services, how do we get ourselves invited more often to participate with CEOs at the strategic level, and what does this finding say about our relationship with client engineers?

Since the most important asset of a CE firm and therefore its greatest value to clients seems to be its human resources, wouldn’t it make more sense to distinguish the quality of one firm’s staff relative to another, rather than competing based on a willingness to bottom feed on price? This finding also confirms the need for members to improve their profit performance so that adequate investments may be made in the training of personnel, and so that remuneration levels are high enough to retain and attract high-quality human resources needed to sustain or exceed client expectations.

Approximately 90 per cent of clients believe that consulting engineering services meet their expectations. Wouldn’t you have thought that the number of clients that felt we exceeded or failed to meet their expectations would have been greater? Does this say something about the role clients are asking consulting engineers to play, or about the level of innovation that consulting engineers bring to projects?

You will no doubt reach your own conclusions on what the survey data say. I hope you will find the report to be of value to your own corporate thinking and marketing strategies. As a minimum it will serve as a base line in the upcoming campaign of ACEC and Member Organizations to raise the image of our industry. ACEC member firms may obtain a copy of the full report and the executive summary through the ACEC Web-site at

If you have any comments to make on the survey, please contact the National Office in Ottawa at (613) 236-0569 or by e-mail to




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