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Customer Co-Production: How one furniture company tested self-assembly messaging to enhance value and reduce frustration

February 1st, 2016

Self-service and customer co-production of products is everywhere — customers assemble furniture themselves, follow directions on food packages to prepare meals, scan their own groceries at supermarkets and use online banking. Despite its price-lowering and customization value, co-production has a dark side, requiring effort and time from the customer and potentially causing frustration. Today, we’ll look at a study from the furniture industry comparing the effects of two marketing communication strategies to mitigate customer frustration with the co-production process.


The Study

In November 2015, Till Haumann, Pascal Grϋntϋrkϋn, Laura Marie Schons and Jan Wieseke from the Ruhr-University of Bochum, Germany published the results of a field experiment with a multinational furniture company. The company sells furniture that requires co-production from the customer or, in other words, standardized, ready-to-assemble furniture that customers purchase in flat packages and assemble at home.

Depending on customers’ assembly skills, the process can be frustrating to a degree. So the scientists set out to test two ways of alleviating customers’ frustrations with the process (“co-production intensity”) by (1) enhancing the perceived value of the process and (2) reducing the perceived effort and time required in the process.



The study authors asked 803 self-assembly furniture customers to fill in two Web-based surveys. Customers were assigned to experimental and control groups. Participants in the control group were not exposed to any posters, while participants in the experimental group were exposed to one of the two types of company advertising poster messaging:

  • Value-enhancing communication strategy
    • Economic value messaging: The effort the customer invests in assembly allows the company to offer lower prices
    • Relational value messaging: Assembly can be a fun, social activity involving friends or family
  • Intensity-reducing communication strategy
    • Support service messaging: Company provides a support hotline customers can call if they encounter issues with assembly
    • Full-service messaging: Company provides help through reputable, reasonably priced service partner that assembles the product for customers

The researchers asked customers about the message of the poster, to make sure they understood it.

The first survey asked participants about their general attitude toward assembling furniture and demographic information. Participants who purchased and assembled a piece of furniture after the first survey then filled out a second survey, asking about their satisfaction with the process.



Haumann and colleagues found, as expected, that the more customers felt like assembling the product was effortful, exhausting, demanding, time-consuming and costly in terms of time and effort, the less they were satisfied with the co-production process.

However, customers who viewed economic and relational value-enhancing posters conveying the messages that self-service assembly allows the company to provide lower prices, and that assembly can be fun if shared with family or friends, felt more satisfied with the assembly process, compared to customers in the control group who didn’t view any posters.

Similarly, customers who viewed the intensity-reducing support service poster were more satisfied with the assembly process compared to customers in the control group who didn’t view any posters.

The intensity-reducing full-service offer poster did not have a significant effect on customer satisfaction, possibly because using this offer would involve additional cost for the customer.



Asking customers to engage in co-production can be risky. Customers can perceive co-production as costly in terms of time and effort, and this reduces their satisfaction. However, marketers can use value-enhancing and intensity-reducing communication strategies to increase customer satisfaction with co-production.

Marketers can communicate the economic (price-lowering) and relational (socializing) benefits of co-production to increase customer satisfaction. Communicating that customers can call a support helpline if they experience difficulties also increases customer satisfaction with co-production.


You might also like

Engaging Customers in Coproduction Processes: How Value-Enhancing and Intensity-Reducing Communication Strategies Mitigate the Negative Effects of Coproduction Intensity (from the American Marketing Association)

The Baskerville Experiment: Font and its influence on our perception of truth

Co-creation: The next realization of value-based marketing

Ways of Engaging Consumers in Co-production (By Michael Etgar, Technology Innovation Management Review) 

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