What is the Kano model, what characteristics, examples and insights are there and where are the challenges for companies?
Kano Model Definition
The Kano model describes the relationship between customer satisfaction and the fulfilment of customer requirements. It is therefore also referred to as the customer satisfaction model.
The model is named after Noriaki Kano, a former professor at Tokyo University of Science. As early as 1978, he recognised that customer requirements can have five different characteristics that have different effects on customer satisfaction:
- basic features
- performance features
- excitement features
- insignificant features
- rejection features
Each feature can relate to both products and services and each feature can influence individual customer satisfaction.
Kano Model and Two-Factor Theory
The Kano Model goes back to Frederick Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory – also known as Motivation-Hygiene Theory – from 1959. The American professor of ergonomics defined motivators and hygiene factors and described satisfaction and dissatisfaction not as opposites, but as two independent characteristics. Herzberg had observed that satisfaction does not arise automatically just because there are no reasons for dissatisfaction.
The Kano Model is a transfer from ergonomics to the analysis of customer requirements. The basic features of the Kano Model correspond to the hygiene factors of the Two Factor Theory. Performance features and excitement features are comparable to motivators.
Visualisation of the Kano Model
Some insights can be derived from the visualisation of the Kano Model:
- Since no concrete measuring points are displayed, only qualitative and no quantitative statements can be made. For example, a performance feature may have an effect on customer satisfaction, which is more important in comparison with another performance feature, but cannot be read off.
- In the middle of the illustration there is the so-called indifference zone. Here the satisfaction values behave moderately. Outside the indifference zone, the satisfaction values of the basic and excitement attributes increase or decrease “disproportionately”, while the performance attributes develop “linearly”.
- In the course of time, characteristics often shift. Excitement features can become basic features over time (example: “wiping” on smartphones) and shifts in the “opposite” direction can also occur (example: extra costs for seats, luggage or food on board for air travel).
Characteristics of customer requirements in the Kano Model
Noriaki Kano defines the following five characteristics in detail:
- Basic features – also called threshold attributes, must-be expectations, expected or basic needs – are self-evident for customers and are assumed. They are regarded as expected requirements. Missing basic characteristics cause dissatisfied customers, but existing basic characteristics do not cause satisfaction. Even with a very good quality of individual basic factors, customer satisfaction cannot be increased. Example: A motorcycle has two wheels. If it had less than two wheels, potential motorcyclists would certainly be very dissatisfied. If the wheels had a special tyre profile, most motorcyclists probably wouldn’t care.
- Performance features – also called satisfiers, linear or one-dimensional attributes or performance needs – are explicitly expected by customers. They have a direct influence on satisfaction. Customers often compare different products based on performance characteristics (also called performance factors, quality characteristics or normal requirements). If performance characteristics are missing, dissatisfaction arises; if they are exceeded, satisfaction increases accordingly. Especially in markets with a lot of competition they are important for market success. Performance features can be determined through interviews and/or market observation.
- Excitement features – also called dilighters or exciters, attractive attributes, exciting needs or enthusiasm factors – inspire customers. They are not expected by customers and the lack of corresponding characteristics does not generate dissatisfaction. If, however, an exciting attribute is present, even a small increase in performance can lead to a disproportionate benefit and advantage. Attractive features (delightful requirements) turn customers into voluntary brand ambassadors. Since many products often pursue a “me-too strategy” and cannot stand out from the competition, companies sometimes try to generate enthusiasm with additional attention. Example: A glass of sparkling wine at the hairdresser’s, an additional bobby car when buying a car, etc.
- Insignificant features also called indifferent qualities – lead neither to satisfaction nor to dissatisfaction. The existence or non-existence of the characteristics has no influence on customer satisfaction.
- Rejection features – also called reverse qualities or dissatisfier – lead through mere existence to dissatisfaction. If they are not present, they produce however no satisfaction.
Kano Model examples
Here you can find some examples of the different features:
Basic features: Colour TV, automatic channel search in TV set, saving of TV channels in a desired order, connections for game consoles on TV, individually adjustable ring tones in mobile phones, hands-free system, height-adjustable steering wheel and heated seats in cars
Performance features: Resolution of the monitor, fuel consumption of the car, free delivery service of a supermarket, shelf life of the milk, seat heating on the back seat in the car, automatically retractable convertible top, level of insurance cover, return transport in the event of illness / accident abroad, free battery replacement service for watches in all branches worldwide
Excitement features: Cashless payment by mobile phone, parcel deliveries directly to the trunk of your car, telephoning with a wristwatch, automatically preheated car
Insignificant features: Playing radio stations on the TV set, position display of the fuel tank cap in the speedometer, illumination of the make-up mirror for car passengers.
Rejection features: Environmental zones in city centres, queues at supermarket cash registers, rust on rust-free screws, parcel deliveries that are not delivered to the recipient but somewhere in the neighbourhood.
Would you have chosen other examples? Do you rate characteristics differently? This is understandable, because the classification of characteristics is always subjective. In the case of services, too, there are many characteristics with regard to punctuality, reliability, diligence, friendliness, cleanliness, response time, goodwill, accessibility, etc. that can inspire customers or are irrelevant to them.
Findings from the Kano Model
The Kano Model shows that customers (users, operators, etc.) react differently to product characteristics. This leads to different conclusions:
- Individual product characteristics are of different importance for customer satisfaction.
- If basic features are missing, then customers are dissatisfied. Products should therefore cover basic features in order not to lose the competition for customers at an early stage. At the same time, you will not be able to win customers with basic features. A pure me-too strategy is therefore usually not conducive to success.
- Performance features are very important for customers, because products and services are compared on the basis of these features. Here you could stand out from the competition with the same number of performance factors with better performance or with more performance attributes.
- Delighters lead to disproportionate customer satisfaction. They are the most important features of products. However, it is difficult to find them because they cannot be determined by interviews or market observation. On the one hand innovations are in demand here, on the other hand the timing is also an important aspect: the first tablet PCs were available as early as 1997/98, but the idea could only be successfully marketed from 2010.
- In the ideal case, performance attributes and excitement features not only ensure satisfied or even enthusiastic customers, but also – depending on the industry and business model – follow-up orders, recommendations, positive evaluations, a decreasing number of cancellations, higher payment morale, etc.
- Companies should avoid investing in insignificant features because they have no influence on customer satisfaction and do not help with product differentiation.
- The importance of product characteristics and therefore customer satisfaction changes over time. Excitement features (e.g. wiping technology on a smartphone) often become basic features. There is a habituation effect. Sometimes a basic feature becomes a performance feature (e.g. free seat selection in an aircraft, free catering on board), which then helps to differentiate.
- Rejection features should be avoided at all costs. Often they do not only lead to rejection by individual customers, but “talk around” and the image of a product and/or a manufacturer suffers.
The identification of important product features in the Kano Model
How can companies classify product characteristics as basic, performance or excitement features? A bipolar survey with positive and negative questions, which Noriaki Kano has come up with, can help here:
- Functional – i.e. formulated positively: What would you say if the product had “xyz”?
- Dysfunctional – i.e. formulated negatively: What would you say if the product DOES NOT have “xyz”?
He defined the range of possible answers to both questions as follows: “I would be very happy about that”, “I assume that”, “I don’t care”, “I still accept that” and “That would bother me a lot”. The combination of the answers results in the classification of the characteristics:
Functional “That’s what I assume” + Dysfunctional “That would bother me a lot” = basic feature
Functional “That would make me very happy” + Dysfunctional “That would make me very uncomfortable” = performance feature
Functional “I would love that very much” + Dysfunctional “I could accept that” = excitement feature
Functional “I don’t care about that” + Dysfunctional “I don’t care about that” = insignificant feature
Functional “That would bother me a lot” + Dysfunctional “That’s what I assume” = rejection feature
The following table shows further answer combinations:
The two red fields show contradictory statements.
The two grey fields show alternative interpretations (an insignificant attribute or an answer to be questioned or ignored).
After the analysis of the product characteristics
What happens after the analysis of the product characteristics? Which features should be implemented first? If companies ask themselves such questions, they are – at least theoretically – already on the right track. They focus on the needs of customers and stakeholders. Of course, products and services must have characteristics that are also present in potential competitors. In the long run, it is unlikely that manufacturers and service providers will be able to do without basic features, but temporarily and with open and honest communication, users could possibly accept this. The actual competition takes place in the area of performance and enthusiasm factors.
Enthusiasm characteristics are on the one hand difficult to identify and on the other hand usually only temporary. Example: the wiping technology in smartphones; nobody knew it before it was “invented”, so that probably only a few people were able to express a corresponding idea. Today, every user can “wipe” his smartphone – the enthusiasm is gone. It is probably no longer even a performance factor, but merely a basic feature. Manufacturers and service providers naturally recognise this and therefore try to supplement products and services externally. Example: Doormats in the car. In the past, it was common for cars to be sold without floor mats. What did a salesperson do to inspire potential customers and convince them to buy? He “gave” them floor mats. These were awarded with a prize, so that the customer could get the impression that the salesman would take special care of him. Nowadays this is clear to most car buyers. They are not enthusiastic about such basic features. Car manufacturers therefore offer free warranty extensions, inspections and repairs. In the sense of the Kano Model these are probably not enthusiasm factors, but only performance factors. Or do you see it differently?
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