The Kano model is a framework for guiding product development that identifies which features will most likely lead to customer satisfaction.
Choosing what features to prioritize in a product is not a decision that is made in isolation. Working on a feature requires an investment of time and development resources, after all. Product managers can use various prioritization frameworks to help them manage these resources and prioritize the most important features. One of the more common among these features is the Kano model.
In this glossary article, we describe the Kano model and the basics of its implementation.
Table of contents
- What is the Kano Model?
- How does the Kano Model Work?
- How Do You Use the Kano Model?
- The Kano Model: A Bevy of Insights into Customer Satisfaction
What is the Kano Model?
In 1984 by Dr. Noriaki Kano, a quality management professor at the Tokyo University of Science, published the Kano model. It was the product of his team’s research in the 70s and 80s on customer satisfaction.
Dr. Kano’s premise was that a uniform improvement of all of a product’s attributes wasn’t enough to fully satisfy customers. He believed that certain aspects of a product, when improved, would lead to greater customer satisfaction.
The product of this thinking was the original Kano model, a framework that considers every product initiative in the context of how much of an impact it has on customer satisfaction. The Kano model essentially asks the question: What product attribute will delight your customers the most?
How does the Kano Model Work?
The Kano model groups product attributes into four categories, based on their impact on customers who use them.
Also known as “threshold” or “basic” attributes, these features are the most basic features that a customer expects from your product or service.
Customers typically take must-be features for granted and assume that they’ll be present in your product. Because of this, must-be features don’t contribute substantially to customer satisfaction if they’re included. However, their omission results in significant customer dissatisfaction. You can therefore think of must-be features as the bare minimum that your product should have.
One example of a must-be feature is the presence of “Next Song” and “Previous Song” buttons on a music player. Virtually every music player since the dawn of the audio CD in the 1980s has had this feature, and customers have grown to expect it. Including this feature does not particularly impress users. And yet, without it, users will move to another product, no matter the USP of this music player.
Also known as “unexpected” attributes, attractive features have a major impact on customer satisfaction, but aren’t necessarily noticed or missed if they are absent.
Attractive features are unexpected and innovative features that can elicit a wide range of positive emotions from users, including delight and surprise. One example of an attractive feature is the all-touchscreen display of the first iPhone in 2007. Viewers were delighted by its first appearance at Macworld 2007 and it’s still considered one of the most successful product launches ever.
It’s important to note that attractive features are not going to remain in their category forever. Going back to our earlier example, when audio CDs first hit the market, the ability to change songs with the push of a button would have been a revolution compared to tape decks and record players—thus making them an attractive feature of the times. Nowadays, track selection is a must-be feature for any music player.
In a nutshell, the more your product provides in a performance attribute, the more customers you will satisfy. Similarly, the less you provide, the fewer customers you will satisfy. This linear relationship between functionality and satisfaction is why Dr. Kano originally called these “one-dimensional attributes.”
Performance attributes are the arena in which most companies compete. Examples of performance attributes include the range of an electric vehicle or the battery life of a smartphone. Note that it doesn’t always have to be “higher is better”. For example, the weight of a mobile device, like a smartphone or laptop, is a performance attribute where less is more satisfying.
Indifferent attributes are features that customers don’t particularly care about or notice. Their presence or absence in a product doesn’t meaningfully impact customer satisfaction.
How Do You Use the Kano Model?
The Kano model basically involves categorizing the various attributes of your product into one of the four above categories. To get started, you need to gather customer sentiment about each feature.
1. Evaluate Each Feature Using the Kano Model Questionnaire
The Kano model provides a questionnaire that allows you to evaluate customer sentiment. You can use this as the basis of a survey that you conduct among your potential users.
Dr. Kano’s questionnaire asks two questions for each feature:
- Functional: How would you feel if this product had this feature?
- Dysfunctional: How would you feel if this product did not have this feature?
There are five options for each question:
- I like it
- I expect it
- I can live with it
- I dislike it
With these two answers, you can construct a table that evaluates what category each feature belongs to:
Each letter in the table corresponds to whether a feature is Must-Be, Attractive, Performance, or Indifferent. You’ll notice the presence of two additional letters: R and Q. These refer to:
- Reverse attributes’ presence correlates negatively with customer satisfaction. In other words, they “like” that a feature isn’t present, and “dislike” it if it is present. This can be due to the fact that customers want the opposite of a feature they are evaluating.
- Questionable attributes, where respondents have answered “like it” to both the absence and presence of a feature. A large number of “Questionable” answers might mean that your description of a feature is confusing.
2. Prioritize Your Features on the Basis of the Questionnaire Results
With your results in hand, you can now select the best way to approach prioritizing your product’s feature development.
First, ensure that you included all the Must-Be attributes. These will have a significant impact on your customers’ baseline satisfaction, so you should do whatever it takes to have every single one in your product. This can even mean reducing the priority levels of Attractive or Performance attributes as necessary.
Next, look at the Excitement attributes that you include with your current resources. Excitement attributes have a big impact on your customers, but they can also be deprioritized safely because no one will really notice if they’re gone. You can opt to reduce some focus on Performance attributes further to get more Excitement attributes in your final product.
After that, you can proceed with working out how to prioritize your Performance attributes. Analyze how many resources you can devote to these without compromising your bottom line.
Finally, make sure that you eliminated all Reverse and Indifferent attributes , as they can end up becoming a money sink at best—or a negative influence on customer satisfaction at worst.
The Kano Model: A Bevy of Insights into Customer Satisfaction
The Kano model doesn’t just tell you what features to prioritize. It also provides deep insights into the kinds of features that your customers are looking for. Learning from these insights helps you build better products in the future that will truly delight your customers while trimming the fat that they might not appreciate.