Not all product features are of equal importance. The Kano model helps identify those features that will be especially appreciated by the customer.
I once stayed in a hotel in Yokohama, Japan where each guest room had an unusual bathroom. As is typical in Japanese hotels, there is no exhaust fan, and when the guest steps out of the shower, the mirror is completely fogged up. But in this bathroom, a square region directly over the sink was always clear. It took a little time to figure out how it works (a hot plate behind the mirror keeps that area clear), but it takes no time to realize that this is a good thing.
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This is an example of a delighting feature. It’s unexpected, it’s a pleasant surprise, and understanding its value takes no effort or training and is instantaneous. Of all the attributes of that hotel room, guess which one I tell people about?
Rare is the IT project that doesn’t have more features than time to implement them. How do we sort through them? We can rank them by how much effort they will take to implement; how loudly customers demand them; or how well they will shore up our product in response to the features in competing products?
Think of how features please customers. We often think of quality versus customer satisfaction as being linear. For example, suppose we’re building a car. Fuel economy around 15 mpg would be rated poor, 25 mpg might be good, and 45 might be excellent.
It’s roughly linear — the higher the mileage, the happier the customer. Cost works the same way — the lower the cost for an individual car model, the higher the satisfaction. But many features are not linear. The Kano model (developed in the 1980s by Dr. Noriaki Kano) helps make sense of this.
In the Kano model, fuel economy and cost are known as “compared features.” If I’m in the market for a car, I will compare these across all cars. I’ll also ask: Are the seats comfortable? Attractive? Easy to clean? How about the engine—what’s the power? Reliability? Ease of maintenance? And so on.
Effort put into improving these features will be repaid by proportionately increased customer satisfaction.
The next category is the “expected features.” The customer assumes these features and pays little attention to them. In the case of a car, for example, it’s expected that it will have an engine, seats, seat belts, and wheels.
Doing a poor job on an expected feature produces a very unhappy customer. But doing a great job does not create an ecstatic customer. The absence of an expected feature is a problem, the presence of that feature simply removes that problem. Extra effort spent here simply gilds the lily and does little to improve the customer’s impression of the product.