The Kano Model, developed and published by Dr. Noriaki Kano in 1984, provides a robust foundation with which to identify and measure customer and prospects’ feedback and satisfaction. As such, it’s an incredibly valuable and popular tool for gathering and processing customer feedback as part of the product management function. It puts rigor around a qualitative process, which is useful when many organizations lean towards quantitative data. It’s also an externally-focused technique, capturing broad-based feedback to then bring internally to the product team.

How the Kano Model Guides Customer Feedback and Product Prioritization

Gathering relevant customer feedback is a critical feature in the product prioritization process, but can be overwhelming. The Kano Model is just one of a number of world-class methodologies available to help.

The model came out of Japan’s Total Quality Management approach - a customer-centric orientation towards quality performance. It’s a method of identifying customer needs - both the baseline requirements all the way to expected and even unanticipated needs. Customers and prospects can be questioned around features to determine which they require and which they desire.

Dr. Kano’s Three Levels of Needs

Dr. Kano articulated three levels of customer expectations - expected, normal and exciting.

1. Expected levels of need

Expected needs are the non-negotiable baselines. A car must have tires and brakes, for example. But how far does that go in delighting the customer? Not so much. Even today, using cars as an example, we expect electric windows, heated seats, self-starter. What would have been exciting ten years ago has become the norm.

2. Normal levels of need

Normal goes one step further. It may be items selected as an add-on - like leather seats or a sunroof or automatic transmissions. In time, these features get incorporated into the main product and are no longer extras. These are frequently identified through voice of the customer feedback.

3. Exciting levels of need

Exciting of course is the wow factor. These often go beyond customer expectation because the customer didn’t know it was even a thing. Steve Jobs of course set the standard for doing this. These attributes sometimes actually define a new category, or at the very least set the manufacturer so far ahead of the competition they have to incorporate said feature to stay relevant. And of course the provider can charge a premium because the overall offering is seen as the best. The challenge is then to continue to provide wow factor enhancements in order to remain out front and to identify attributes which customers are actually excited to get. This backfires when it’s a wow technology feature, but customers are unwilling to pay for it.

Categories of the Kano Method

The Kano Method also divides features into four categories - performance, must-be, attractive and indifferent.

Performance - These are good features which, as they are enhanced, become better. Some product features behave as what we might intuitively think that Satisfaction works: the more we provide, the more satisfied our customers become.

Must-be - 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.

Attractive - There are unexpected features which, when presented, cause a positive reaction. These are usually called Attractive, Exciters or Delighters.

Indifferent - 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 towards the product.

These categories of product development are the essence of what most product managers must prioritize - and the Kano Method is just one method to use when helping to define requirements. There are the basics that must be included and must evolve to meet market expectations. But how to get ahead, and incorporate the game changing attributes that get to the exciting level?

There are a wide range of methodologies for capturing customer feedback - like Buy a Feature, Story Mapping, Prune the Product Tree, Scorecards and the KJ Method. Which just illustrates how critical the research/feedback approach is, but also the challenges of capturing and prioritizing it in a meaningful way for product development.

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