The Kano model, named after its creator Noriaki Kano, aims to standardize the way companies see the needs of their customers, and is a great tool in resolving one of the most common problems that arise in modern organizations – misunderstood requirements. Like many other methodologies related to production and manufacturing, Kano attempts to abstract things into several categories, allowing you to think in terms of classifiers rather than trying to attach your own attributes to requirements.
Kano works by separating the different types of needs into several categories. Depending on the literature you’re referencing, you might see those needs split into three or four types, and whether or not you’re going to work with the more fine-grained version depends on the product you’re developing. Here, we will look at customer needs on three levels.
Customers always expect something from a certain type of product. A car must be able to be driven. A smartphone must be able to make calls and send texts. A television must show a picture with sound… and so on. The point is, these are features that your customers will expect from your product by default. They won’t feel any more impressed by their presence – you don’t buy a phone and go “wow, this can actually make calls!”; however, be wary of the opposite. If your product doesn’t meet those must-be needs, customers will feel significantly dissatisfied.
In fact, lacking even a small bit of core functionality in any kind of product can result in a sharp decline of customer satisfaction, and it’s a situation you must avoid at all cost. This also means that you will need proper quality control on all levels – even if you meant to implement a feature, if it turns out that it wasn’t properly tested and doesn’t work correctly, this will still draw negative attention to your release and may even kill your product completely.
This refers to the standard functionality of the product or service you’re providing, and according to Kano, they provide a linear 1:1 return on investment in most cases. In other words, the better this need is satisfied, the happier customers will be, but you shouldn’t expect an exponential growth of your results. Still, even linear progression should be good enough for most companies that work on some product.
However, even though the returns on your investment in the satisfaction of performance needs grow in a linear pattern, the effort required to implement those improvements tends to grow on a sharper incline. This means that after some point, you’ll start to see diminishing returns as you’ll be putting significantly more effort to push the line up.
And on the other end of the spectrum, we have needs which customers typically don’t expect, but add a lot to their overall impression of the product. A computer operating system that works smoothly and intuitively, with beautiful animations and effects is a good example of that. The auto industry spends surprising amount of time and money researching the sound car doors make when they’re closed, because it adds a small but important bit of extra satisfaction to their customers.
Every little bit helps a lot here, and these features can really help sell the point that your product is a premium one. However, you must also be careful with how much attention you’re paying to this aspect of your development. If your customers see that all of your products come with a huge emphasis on attractive needs, they will eventually start to expect this as the baseline, leading to a decline in positive responses.
Kano also recognizes “indifferent” needs – that is, needs which are completely unrelated to what the customer expects to receive and add nothing to the product’s value. On the bright side, the absence of those features typically has no negative impact either. The important point to take away from this is that indifferent needs are a waste of time and effort and should be avoided.
Communicating the value of your product successfully can be as simple as understanding what customers expect to receive from it, and once you’ve started looking into the Kano model in detail, you’ll realize that it’s not actually that complicated to figure out what your typical customer is looking for when purchasing one of your products.