12 days of Christmas: a Kano analysis

Adrian Grant

A week left to go before Christmas….and if the thought of purchasing an ill-conceived gift for your loved ones fills you with dread here’s how a Kano Analysis can help.

Buying presents at Christmas presents a difficult challenge for even the well-informed observer. A thoughtful present can lead to shrieks of delight and pearly white smiles. However, an ill-conceived gift may lead to upset and discord and will swiftly end up being "re-gifted" or consigned to a dark corner of the house. It’s enough to make you wonder if it’s all just a waste of time, money and resources.

So what makes the difference between a gift that thrills and one that disappoints?

This is where quality management training comes to the fore. Thorough analysis of the needs and requirements of your customers (i.e. your personal life "stakeholders" such as wife, husband, kids, etc.) and a strict focus on what is critical to quality (CTQs) to them is essential to ensure that you avoid the common pitfalls of seasonal gift giving.

Kano analysis – an analysis of product attributes that are perceived to be important by customers – can help in this process. To illustrate how, we need look no further than a popular Christmas carol: The 12 days of Christmas.

Ask yourself: Does your true love REALLY want "seven swans a swimming" this Christmas?

Performing a Kano Analysis on the 12 Days of Christmas:

This English Christmas carol tells the elaborate story of the effort a lover goes to in order to please his beau. Each day in the 12 days leading up to Christmas, the lover sends a new present. The list of presents includes: 12 drummers drumming, 11 pipers piping, 10 lords-a-leaping, 9 ladies dancing, 8 maids-a-milking, 7 swans-a-swimming, 6 geese-a-laying, 5 gold rings, 4 calling birds, 3 French hens, 2 turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Clearly, as this song was first published in England in the 18th Century the list of gifts contains no references to the tablet computers, mobile phones, and video game consoles that are expected to crowd Santa’s wish list this year.

But that doesn’t mean that our Christmas lover boy spent less on attempting to delight his paramour. Indeed, economists at US-based PNC bank use the collection of goods referenced in the 12-days of Christmas song to calculate their annual Christmas Price Index (CPI). The cost in today’s money of sending 12 days of such an extravagance based on today’s prices was $24,263.18 (USD) in 2011, which was $823.80 more than the previous year.

With that amount of money at stake – you can bet that the love-struck hero of the song wanted to delight his mistress. So how did our 18th Century suitor fare?

The following graph shows a Kano analysis of each of the 12 gifts sent during the 12 day lead up to Christmas:

Figure 1: Kano analysis displaying ranking of objects distributed during 12 days of Christmas carol

In this graphic above, we have ranked each of the 12 gifts according to how skilful the gift was delivered (X-axis, from poor delivery to excellent deliver) and on the emotion that it elicited in the gift recipient (y-axis, from very unhappy or angry to delighted/unhappy). Clearly, as the gift giver, we would want the majority of our gifts to fall in the upper right hand quadrant, which indicates the emotion "Delighted/Very Happy" and "Excellent Delivery".

However, we can see that only one of his 12 gifts truly satisfied on all fronts: 5 golden rings rates both high on "delight" and was well delivered. We can thus, conclude that 5 gold rings could be considered a "delighter". The more the better and always a "safe" choice for future reference.

But what about the others? We can speculate why they may have ranked as they did:

  • Anything with birds or multiples there of, turns out to be less of a "must have" than perhaps one might have thought; at best a neutral.
  • Maids-a-milking require storage and the recipient could start to have an employer’s liability as they apparently have rights under EU employment law; a clear non satisfier for anyone outside of the dairy business.
  • Lords-a-leaping rank the worst of all as they are just damned annoying to be around, and cause potential issues with the maids-a-milking (apparently feudal rights are relinquished these days). Again a real turn off for the recipient.
  • The 9 ladies dancing and 11 pipers piping were undoubtedly excellent in terms of delivery - great coordination and organisation from the sender - but despite this the satisfaction was just under neutral. These gifts would have been better received if it was for the X-factor final on the Excel stage not a 1 bedroom flat in Edgware (note to self for future gifts – venue counts…)

Key takeaways:

Our Kano Analysis of the 12 Days of Christmas demonstrates clearly that poor prioritization of effort can have a reverse impact on satisfaction levels. Overall, a general lack of ability from the sender to satisfy was highlighted by this misplaced effort, and a list of relationship "needs not fulfilled" was soon forthcoming. It would have in retrospect been better to "do nothing" than raise expectations with an effort that only proved how little the sender knew his recipient (a stronger selection process should have been followed).

In summary, we have learnt that surprise gifts to the object of one’s affection can cause difficulties - particularly if those gifts sum up to the contents of an aviary, with little regard to the fact that the recipient’s London flat is not even the appropriate place for the pear tree.

Christmas can be a confusing time if you get distracted by the process of procurement and delivery as its own end and forget to remember the recipient’s needs. Remember what is critical to quality for the receiver and plan your resources accordingly!