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My experience with the Kano Model: Don't try to delight

Published: Sep 08, 2017
Author: Cary Cusumano

One of the unique and interesting aspects of being a customer experience (CX) professional is that we’re always “on the job,” even when we’re not at work. Many people develop a ready eye for what makes a good or bad experience, but that often stops at identifying the positive or negative emotions elicited. The CX professional, on the other hand, often goes a step further to analyze the fundamental CX principles that have been fulfilled or forgotten:  

“Another survey? They haven’t closed the loop on the previous three.”

“Why are they making me solve the problem, when they caused it?”

“That agent was great. She empathized with my situation and turned my complaint into a positive experience.”

I found myself thinking this way during a recent cruise ship vacation. The food was beyond excellent, the ports of call spectacular and the staff and crew were warm and welcoming.

Despite all these delights, I found myself dwelling on the extremely poor Wi-Fi service on the ship. And as a CX professional I know why: the Kano Model of customer satisfaction.

What is the Kano Model?

In the mid-1980s, quality management expert Noriaki Kano proposed a concept to explain why some changes to the customer experience result in greater satisfaction than others. While satisfaction drivers can be grouped in five or six categories, it’s common to focus on these three.

  • Must-haves: These are fundamental requirements, the “table stakes”. If you don’t have these, nothing else matters.

  • More is better: As the name implies, making these attributes bigger, better or faster boosts customer satisfaction—think phone battery life or hotel room size.

  • Delighters: The bonus features that go beyond the customers’ expectations.
The attributes that profoundly influence changes to customer satisfaction are usually found in the must-have and delighter categories. That’s because there are distinct and definite satisfaction limits for them—a ceiling for the former, and a floor for the latter.

For example, the presence of a must-have attribute will do nothing to raise customer satisfaction—the customer expects it to be there. But its absence will certainly lead to customer dissatisfaction. Conversely, the presence of a delighter will lead to higher satisfaction, while its absence will not lead to dissatisfaction because it was never expected.

Why the “must-haves” are crucial

Let’s return to my cruise ship experience. If I was able to book a 240 square foot room for the same price as a 200 square foot room, then I’d be happier—and happier still if I could get 260 square feet. More is better. If I walked into my room to find a chilled bottle of champagne with a welcome note, I would feel delighted. Wow, I never expected that—how nice! But wait. What if I also noticed there were dirty towels lying on the floor, and the bed was unmade? My delight would instantly turn to disgust.

A fundamental premise of satisfaction is that the must-have attributes trump everything else. And this is where many businesses get things backwards. There’s a widely held presumption that the best way to improve customer satisfaction is to focus on delighting customers, or providing the excitement factor. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The companies most renowned for great customer experience are those who get the basics right first. A bottle of cold champagne means little to me if my cabin is filthy. Once I have a clean room (along with the other fundamental attributes), then I’m open to other extras that raise my satisfaction.

A second, and possibly sneakier, premise of satisfaction is that the attributes that drive it aren’t static. Which takes us back to my Wi-Fi experience. It wasn’t that long ago that Wi-Fi access was a nice-to-have luxury while on vacation. But today—with network access almost ubiquitous, and our desire to share our experiences with our friends and family on social media—the presence of Wi-Fi has evolved from a luxury into an expectation.

And that is why there will always be a need for CX professionals to keep up with the rising demands of customers, whose delighters today will be their must-haves tomorrow.

How to increase customer satisfaction

The most memorable part of any product or service experience can’t be expressed in numbers, and sometimes not even in words. You most remember how that experience made you feel–the emotions it evoked. And it’s the gap between what you expected and what you got that elicits that emotion.

So how do you narrow that gap and create a great customer experience?

    •    Don’t try to delight. At least not in the beginning. This may sound heretical given conventional CX wisdom, but the reality is you earn greater customer loyalty by simply fulfilling expectations. Don’t skip the fundamentals and try to compensate in another area. I’m glad you resolved my billing issue and then surprised me with a free month of my favorite movie channel, but I would have been happier if my bill was right in the first place.

    •    Don’t be satisfied that your customers are satisfied. Customer expectations are always evolving, and you must adapt your delivery to meet them. If not, you’ll fail to deliver the must-haves that only a short time ago were delighters. Admit it: it wasn’t that long ago you were delighted to find out your DMV was giving you the option to bypass the lines and renew your registration online. Now, it’s the only way you expect to do it.

    •    Listen to what customers tell you—especially when you don’t ask. As my colleague Erin Van Remortel says, unsolicited feedback from customers is a gift. It gives you a glimpse into what is most important to them and it doesn’t cost you anything but the time to listen or read. Surveys give customers an avenue to address what you think is important. Unsolicited feedback tells you what really is important.

Remember, there are always two sides to the customer satisfaction formula: the expectation and the delivery. If delivering a great customer experience were a sport, it would be a marathon—but one with a twist: the finish line, the expectation, is constantly moving away. And nothing is fast enough to keep up with it, especially a slow Wi-Fi connection.
A 2016 CX Impact Award winner from the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA), Cary Cusumano is a Customer Experience and Design Thinking practitioner in Verizon Enterprise Solutions. He is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP) and Certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.