Great Customer Experience & The Kano Model

Providing a great customer experience is one of the best differentiators for any product or service and can lead to success through increased revenue, profits and especially repeat customer business. The challenge we all face is what does it take to create, deliver and maintain great customer experiences day in and day out? One approach with some representative examples is described here.

In the 1980’s Professor Noriaki Kano developed a model that created a framework of describing product features that correlate to customer satisfaction known as The Kano Model1. The Kano Model basically described three basic categories that relate product features to customer satisfaction: must be quality, more is better and exciters (delighters). Rather than try to describe the theories of the model it is best understood through some examples.

For example in 1999 when Research In Motion (RIM) first introduced the first wireless handheld, the immediate predecessor to the Blackberry, it created excitement i.e. a delighter, with an easy to use text only mobile email device with a QWERTY keyboard that allowed it’s users to stay connected through email virtually anywhere with a device that was small, easy to use and relatively inexpensive. The perceived need to stay connected by users became so pervasive that eventually the term ‘Crackberry’ was coined due to incessant use during meetings, at meals, in bed, etc.

Over the next several years cell phone makers and other companies along with RIM began introducing smart phones that combined the features of: email, text messaging, calendaring, graphics, web browsing and many other applications, these being examples of both more is better and delighters in the Kano Model terminology. As a result merely having a texting device with a QWERTY keyboard was no longer exciting but had become commonplace and therefore a ‘must have’ feature, the marketplace had shifted. The key lesson is that customer expectations evolve with time and what was once exciting can become commonplace and in order to retain customers companies must also evolve their offerings. Later when Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007 there were a multitude of multi-functional devices in the marketplace, so what was different?

The iPhone was different by packaging these now common functions into something that was physically appealing along with new functions such as full function web browsers, videos (which Apple had experience from its iPod devices), but one of the real key differentiators was how easy and intuitive it was to use. One the key characteristics of all the Apple portable devices had always been how easy they were to use, prior to the iPhone every other smart phone device came with a thick instruction manual and more importantly it took an average user several hours to be able to use these devices. Nevertheless the capabilities that these products delivered fell into the delighters and more is better categories thus offsetting the difficulty in initial product use.  With the iPhone Apple changed all that by essentially eliminating the instruction manual replaced with just a single sheet that took each new customer through a few steps along with an intuitive user interface combined with a well developed software application in iTunes that guided the user to functionality in a matter of minutes. The ease of use became the ‘delighter’ and of course all the current competitors followed suit and several others also jumped into the marketplace and once again form and intuitive ease of use shifted from the ‘delighter’ category to the must have category, this time however the cycle time for the expectations shortened to just over one year demonstrating that in some marketplaces there is an acceleration

Apple continued to evolve by offering more applications and also inviting others to develop applications for that platform, of course the New Product Introduction (NPI) cycle time continues to shrink, others also have added additional applications and have opened their platforms to others to develop applications and this week Google introduced its entry into this market with the Nexus One Android phone. The take away from all of this is that product features that enter into the marketplace as innovations that delight customers rapidly become commonplace with competition and shortened cycle times for new product introductions.

In order for companies like Apple to retain and increase the number of customers is to continue to find ways to delight them in some way, be it features, cost, ease of use, etc. To this point Apple has been adding value and delight to its customers through services available through iTunes thus shifting the entire customer experience to a broader set of products and services of course everyone else is following suit but the advantage today is similar to that of PCs and Microsoft, the installed base of hardware and software, in this case music, videos and applications is orders of magnitude larger than that of the competition.

Here the evolution of what constitutes features that delight customers often starts with technical innovations and over time encompasses various aspects of service and the overall user experience. Every industry that touches a large consumer base is going through these evolutionary changes, be it how PCs are purchased, configured and maintained, the automotive industry with ‘free’ maintenance, longer warranties, free car rentals, etc. These trends are valid even for companies with business models where the core is a service through the internet, think of Amazon, Craig’s List, eBay, etc. For each we see a virtually continuous introduction of capabilities that ‘delight’ customers that become commonplace and are replaced by new capabilities. Expect these trends to continue as companies seek ways to retain and grow their customer base.

Of course finding ways to delight customers is by no means trivial and can require significant investments in technology, people and time. And not all attempts to delight succeed and unfortunately sometimes have the opposite effect, nevertheless those that succeed are rewarded in the marketplace.

What examples can you think of where the principles of the Kano Model have been applied? What about your company or service? Let me know and I’ll publish a summary of examples in a future Blog.

1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kano_model

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