It’s a dilemma that all businesses face. On one hand, they want to offer customers every dazzling product feature. But on the other hand, they have real cost considerations. So businesses need to be strategic—they need to identify and prioritize the highest-value features for their consumers. That's where the Kano model comes in.
The Kano model allows researchers to get to the root of customer satisfaction by asking two key questions. The first question is “How would you feel if the product had (or had more of) ______ [feature]?” The second question is the inverse: “How would you feel if the product did not have (or had less of) ______ [feature]?” For both questions, customers can choose from five options: I like it, I expect it, I don’t care, I could live with it, and I dislike it.
Depending on how customers answer those two questions, product features fall into one of six categories:
- Must-be features: As the name suggests, must-be features are not just “nice to have”—they must be present in the product. These features do not actually increase customer satisfaction. However, when they are absent, customers feel intense dissatisfaction. Customers may even view the product as “incomplete." Examples include windshield wipers on cars or fresh sheets on hotel beds.
- Attractive features: These features are also known as “exciters” or “delighters”—and for good reason! Customers do not expect these features or mind if they are absent. But when the features are present, customers are positively thrilled! An example could be a full dinner on a short economy flight.
- Performance features: Performance features are the most intuitive. Customers like when they are present and dislike when they are absent. Moreover, customers become increasingly satisfied as the quantity rises. They are aware of these features and factor them heavily into purchase decisions. Examples include horsepower in a sports car or resolution on a camera.
- Indifferent features: The so-called “indifferent features” are the features that…well, just don’t matter to customers. Their presence or absence has no real bearing on a customer's overall happiness. Businesses have some flexibility with these types of features as long as they don't negatively affect attractive, performance, or must-be qualities.
- Reverse features: Not surprisingly, these features have the reverse effect on customers as performance features. Customers actually like when the features are absent and dislike when they are present. An example is the screen on the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Though touted as the biggest and best, the screen proved too large to fit in pockets, earning the disdain of many Apple clients.
- Questionable features: Questionable features are those that customers evaluate in a contradictory way, suggesting possible misunderstanding or error. A classic example is when customers say they “like when the feature is present” and also “like when the feature is absent." If a business gets a large number of users with Questionable answers, they may need to take a closer look at the questions they are asking.
Once features are categorized, how should businesses act on the results? There are a few general rules of thumb. First and foremost, businesses should prioritize the "must-be" features over all others. If not, their products will struggle to enter or survive in the marketplace. Secondly, businesses should invest in developing and incorporating attractive features into their products (at the expense of performance features, if necessary). These “exciters” can differentiate products from competitors and “have the potential to lead to the highest gross profit margins." Third, businesses should suppress the indifferent or reverse features. In doing so, they could maintain or improve customer satisfaction while potentially reducing production costs.
Finally, with regard to performance and questionable features, businesses should consider investing in additional research. Such research can help businesses identify the optimal level of performance for their products (i.e. the level businesses can “deliver at a competitive price, while still maintaining an acceptable profit margin”). It can also uncover the true customer feelings towards the “questionable” features.