The Kano model is a theory for product development and customer satisfaction developed in the 1980s by Professor Noriaki Kano, which classifies customer preferences into five categories.
- Helps determine and prioritize which product attributes are most important to the customer
- By assigning each product attribute to one of five categories, customer values regarding satisfaction can be revealed.
- Required (atari mae or “quality element”) are the baseline features that must be included, such as privacy, safety, and security.
- Desired (ichi gen teki or “one-dimensional quality element”) are attributes that when included, increase the perceived value of the product.
- Exciter/Delighter (mi ryoku teki or “attractive quality element”) is a source of a surprise based on latent customer needs, improving measures of satisfaction.
- Neutral (mu kan shin or “indifferent quality element”) represent features that customers don’t have strong feelings for either way.
- Anti-feature (gyaku or “reverse quality element”) attributes provide insight into what you should leave out of a product.
What is the History of the Kano Model?
Dr Noriaki Kano, a professor of quality management at the Tokyo University of Science, created the Kano Model in 1984. As author Dave Verduyn explains, Dr Noriaki developed this framework while researching the factors that contributed to customer satisfaction and loyalty.
The model identifies five categories of potential customer reactions to a new feature, ranging from dissatisfaction to indifference, all the way up to what many call customer delight or excitement features.
These ideas are commonly called the Kano Model and are based upon the following premises:
- Customers’ Satisfaction with our product’s features depends on the level of Functionality that is provided (how much or how well they’re implemented);
- Features can be classified into four categories;
- You can determine how customers feel about a feature through a questionnaire.
Satisfaction vs Functionality
It all starts with our goal: Satisfaction. Kano proposes a dimension that goes from total satisfaction (also called Delight and Excitement) to total dissatisfaction (or Frustration).
In the image above, the dimension is annotated with different satisfaction levels. It’s important to note that this is not (always) a linear scale, as we’ll see in a second.
You might think that you’d always want to be at the top of that scale, right? Well, it’s not possible.
That’s where the Functionality comes in. Also called Investment, Sophistication or Implementation, it represents how much of a given feature the customer gets, how well we’ve implemented it, or how much we’ve invested in its development.
This dimension goes from no functionality at all, to the best possible implementation. That’s why the term Investment is also very good for this concept. It is clear in reminding us of the cost of doing something.
Naming aside, what’s really important is to know that these two dimensions put together are the basis of the Kano Model and determine how our customers feel about our product’s features, as we’ll see in the next section.
How Does the Kano Model Work?
Using the Kano Model, product teams pull together a list of potential new features vying for development resources and space on the roadmap. The team will then weigh these features according to two competing criteria:
- Their potential to satisfy customers.
- The investment needed to implement them.
In fact, you can also think of the Kano Model as the “Customer Delight vs. Implementation Investment” approach.
The Four Categories of Features
Kano classifies features into four categories, depending on how customers react to the provided level of Functionality.
Some product features behave as what we might intuitively think that Satisfaction works: the more we provide, the more satisfied our customers become. Because of this proportional relation between Functionality and Satisfaction, these features are usually called Linear, Performance or One-Dimensional attributes in the Kano literature (I prefer the Performance).
When you’re buying a car, its gas mileage is usually a Performance attribute. Other examples might be your internet connection speed; laptop battery life; or the storage space in your Dropbox account. The more you have of each of those, the greater your satisfaction.
Going back to the graphic representation for the model, we see the dynamics of customers’ reaction to this kind of feature. Every increase in functionality leads to increased satisfaction. It’s also important to keep in mind that the more functionality we add, the bigger the investment we have to make there (e.g. the team to build it, the required resources, etc.)
Other product features are simply expected by customers. If the product doesn’t have them, it will be considered to be incomplete or just plain bad. This type of features is usually called Must-be or Basic Expectations.
Here’s the deal with these features: we need to have them, but that won’t make our customers more satisfied. They just won’t be dissatisfied.
We expect our phones to be able to make calls. Our hotel room should have running water and a bed. The car should have brakes. Having any of these won’t make us happy, but lacking them will definitely make us angry towards the product or service.
Notice how the satisfaction curve behaves. Even the slightest bit of investment goes a long way in increasing satisfaction. But also notice how satisfaction never even reaches the positive side of the dimension. No matter what we invest in the feature, we won’t ever make our customers more satisfied with the product. The good news is that once a basic level of expectations is reached, you don’t have to keep investing in it.
There are unexpected features which, when presented, cause a positive reaction. These are usually called Attractive, Exciters or Delighters. I tend to prefer the term Attractive because it conveys the notion that we’re talking about a scale. We can have reactions ranging from mild attractiveness to absolute delight, and still, have everything fit under the “Attractive” name.
The first time we used an iPhone, we were not expecting such a fluid touchscreen interface, and it blew us away. Think of the first time you used Google Maps or Google Docs. You know, that feeling you get when experiencing something beyond what you know and expect from similar products.
Just remember that our brains don’t have to explode for something to fall under this category. It might be anything that makes you go: “Hey, that’s nice!”.
This is best explained graphically. Look how even some level of Functionality leads to increased Satisfaction, and how quickly it rises. This fact is key to keep a check on the investment we make on a given feature. Beyond a certain point, we’re just over-killing it.
Naturally, there are also features towards which we feel indifferent. Those which their presence (or absence) doesn’t make a real difference in our reaction to the product.
These features fall along the middle of the Satisfaction dimension (where the horizontal axis intersects it.) That means it doesn’t matter how much effort we put into them, users won’t really care. This is another way of saying we should really avoid working on these because they’re essentially money sinks.