Digital products: Bring genuine value to your customers using the Kano Model

By Makemedia

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Developed in the 1980’s by Professor Noriaki Kano of Tokyo University, the Kano model is a product development theory centred around understanding customer needs and the level of effort necessary to deliver on these expectations. It can help inform where – and how much – to invest in the development of a digital product.

Not only is it a useful model for focusing product vision and investment, it’s exploration can drive meaningful conversations about product strategy, development priorities and define measurements of success when going to market.

How does the Kano model work?

In the simplest terms, the Kano model maps a user expectation against the investment to deliver on it. What are my customer’s expectations, and how much time should I invest in meeting or exceeding them?

You can broadly categorise features into four separate areas or types:

Basic Expectations: These are essential features that a product must have in order to be able to compete in the marketplace.

Neutral: Features that do not add any tangible customer benefit.

Satisfiers: Add more of these or develop them further and customer satisfaction should increase proportionally.

Delighters: Your opportunity to set your product apart from the competition – use these to create a unique value proposition that will please your customers in unexpected ways!

With these four categories in place, you can then plot them on a graph:

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On the ‘x’ axis lie sophistication of features (alongside effort and investment to develop) with customer satisfaction on the ‘y’ axis.

To illustrate the correlations and simplify things slightly, let’s take each category in turn.

Basic Expectations

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If you don’t include these features, you don’t have a product fit for it’s target audience. Oft-cited examples are a hotel room without a bathroom, or a car without a steering wheel. Exclude or badly implement them at your peril!

In data product terms, imagine a subscription product without functioning login or authentication frameworks in place. These are crucial aspects of the user experience that do not need to be advertised, just expected to work reliably.

You’ll notice that these features are fundamental expectations that their inclusion still doesn’t push satisfaction above the base-line.

Points of note:

– Understand your market and the competitive landscape so you can be sure of including critical functionality.

– Ignoring these features will inevitably mean the loss of customers to direct competitors and will be damaging to your brand, potentially having knock-on effects in other areas.

Neutrals

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Neutral satisfiers too often become a major area of budget and investment dissipation, not least because they can be tricky to identify.

These are features that seldom deliver tangible satisfaction; regardless of the investment in, you will see little or no meaningful return for your efforts. These unwanted features are product bloat and can have additional detrimental effects including extra maintenance and increased cost of ownership.

Review your product backlog and identify the offenders. There can be overlap between neutral satisfiers and active satisfiers – this is often the product of customer segmentation, where different users want and are delighted by different things. If you can truly validate demand, then get around this by using different pricing and subscription modelling to separate these users and drive return on investment.

Points of note:

– Keep feature complexity in check. Validate them with customers before investing in development to prevent experience rot.

– Learn to say no to feature ideas that don’t add tangible value to your product.

Satisfiers

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Satisfier or Performance features should form the backbone of your product’s development; the more you add and invest here, the more satisfaction you generate. It sounds trivial, but a word of caution: if these features are implemented poorly, you risk actively generating user dissatisfaction.

To stick with the vehicle example, an obvious satisfier could be greater MPG; the higher the figure, the greater the level of customer satisfaction. For a data product, satisfiers may include workflow tools for analysis or reporting which have tangible time or money saving benefits.

Points of Note:

– As with the neutral features, it is important you understand what your customers will value (and potentially pay appropriately for) before investment.

– Once you’ve defined Performance features, execute a high quality implementation to justify additional value and build customer confidence in the feature.

Delighters

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These are your time to really shine against the competition; delighters set you apart and add intrinsic value to your product. By definition these features should come as a pleasant surprise to your customers, but also have meaning and usefulness where possible.

A small investment in this area can result in high levels of customer satisfaction. Delighters can be harder to unearth and often require some level of speculative investment to deliver. The return on your investment can be great, as delighters provide a memorable distinction from your competition.

As valuable as they are, delighters have a shelf life. As time goes by, they shift across the graph area, until they have inexorably become basic expectations. The timescale from delighter to basic expectation varies, but is an inevitable shift across the graph.

A good example is the option of free delivery when purchasing online – the concept of no-cost fulfilment was genuinely newsworthy a few years ago. Fast forward and free delivery is becoming a basic expectation, particularly through global platforms such as Amazon. Charging to deliver (or not masking it in product pricing) can dramatically lower order rates online.

Delighter decay over time

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Conclusion:

The Kano Model is a useful method for mapping and maintaining your product backlog’s value, concentrating on features that will satisfy customers and justify investment.

The most important input for the model is one that any successful product owner will advocate – understand your customers, revise your understandings often, and listen for opportunities that will deliver satisfaction and delight.

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