Keeping Pace With the Ever-changing Voice of the Customer

Jeff Cole

Customers are great. In fact, it’s kind of hard to stay in business without them. You have to love them, but at the same time they can be quite annoying. Have you ever noticed how their requirements change over time? Just when you think you had them figured out – Wham! – some requirement change comes out of left field to smack you in the head.

While there is no magic answer for staying on top of these changing needs, there is a model that helps us categorize, understand and maybe even predict some of those changes. It’s called the Kano Model.

It was developed in the 1970’s and named after its inventor, Noriaki Kano. The model helps to categorize customer needs into three categories: Must-be, More-is-better, and Delighters.

If you did a focus group of your customers, they are most likely to give you their More-is-better (or Less-is-better) requirements. These are usually top of mind in a customer. As the name implies, the more (or less) you fulfill that requirement, the happier the customer will be. For example, say you run a grocery store: greater selection, lower prices, more parking, less time in the checkout line, etc. are all examples of this type of customer need.

Delighters won’t be mentioned as often in a focus group. These are things that would surprise and delight your customers. Customer satisfaction is not lowered if these are missing. However, if they are present, customer satisfaction rises. Back to our grocery store, example of things that could delight customers: quintuple coupon day, checkout clerks that sing or are celebrity look-alikes, free carnival rides for the kids, etc.

Must-be requirements also aren’t mentioned often because they are taken for granted. These are requirements that must be in place. Customer satisfaction doesn’t go up because they are there. However, if they are missing, customer satisfaction goes down. In a grocery store you expect adequate lighting, a safe and attractive shopping environment, a comfortable temperature range, etc.

So, how does change come into play? Guess what! Today’s Delighters become tomorrow’s Must-be’s! Humans easily calibrate their expectations upwards. Take a television set for example. In the 1960’s a remote control or color was a delighter. More recently, having a flat panel set was a delighter. Today those are all Must-be requirements. While HD is getting old and 3D is a fascinating new delighter, can you imagine where they will be in 10 years? How about automobiles? Not that long ago electric doors and windows and keyless entry were delighters. Pretty soon, those nice things like self-parking systems, rear video systems, USB audio connections, satellite radio, GPS, OnStar, remote starters, paddle shifters, and the like will be standard fare. In a few years you may be saying "What do you mean the color of my car doesn’t change on demand when I press a button?"

While customer needs will forever be changing, at least you have Kano on your side! To learn more in a short article with a graphic depicting the Kano model, I'd recommend an article I wrote: Kano Analysis: A tool for building customer loyalty.