Kano model and how to use it to prioritize features

Improve customer satisfaction and prioritize product updates with a Kano model survey.

Product feature development is an exciting time for your entire team. Everyone has ideas they think will be the most desirable, from your first concepts to production to marketing. With all that incredible enthusiasm, how do decide what features to run with and what ones are better off left behind? Which features should you prioritize and which should wait?

Determining what product features make sense practically and financially can delay your product launch and even lead to financial losses if you choose incorrectly. That’s where Kano analysis comes into play. The Kano model can enhance your products by choosing and prioritizing feature development based on customer feedback. 

What is Kano analysis?

The Kano model was developed in the 19080s by Dr. Noriaki Kano, a professor at the Tokyo University of Science. The model is used to prioritize features on a product road map according to the degree they are likely to satisfy customers based solely on the presence or the absence of functionality. Use it to determine new product features or features that should be added to an upcoming product update. 

Dr. Kano established through his research that customer satisfaction with product features depends on the level of functionality they provide. He found that features can be classified into four categories, and you can determine how customers feel about a feature with a survey.

Kano formed the hypothesis that there are five emotional response types to features:

  1. Must-be or must-have (basic features)
  2. Performance (one-dimensional)
  3. Attractive or delighters (excitement)
  4. Indifferent (irrelevant)
  5. Reverse (unwanted)

These response types are often times represented in graphs. Typically, the x-axis is functionality and indicates whether it is present or absent in the feature. The y-axis is satisfaction—whether we can expect the customer to be dissatisfied or delighted by the feature. Features can be plotted on the Kano model reaction graph based on satisfaction and function level. We’ll explore the Kano model further later in this article.

It’s important to note that a feature doesn’t always fall neatly into a category, and that’s where surveys come in. It’s necessary to perform separate Kano analyses for different target groups so you can evaluate them accurately. Keep in mind features that may have caused excitement five years ago may be basic, must-have features now.

Advantages of Kano analysis

Using the Kano model has several advantages when seeking the best features for your products:

  • Save time and money: rather than moving forward with features you think will satisfy customers, use a Kano analysis to make informed decisions. This saves time, effort, and money in the long run.
  • Identify priority areas: find out what features need immediate attention to improve performance and prioritize those fixes before approaching new features.
  • Group the best features: use your Kano analysis to develop a plan to both enhance performance and increase customer satisfaction with features your customers will be delighted with.
  • Increase customer satisfaction: please customers faster by focusing on features that will drive customer satisfaction.

Limitations of Kano analysis

As with any method, there are some limitations to the Kano method:

  • Mostly quantitative: Kano surveys are a type of quantitative research. The data reveals what customers want but not why they want it. You may want to conduct further reseach to expand your knowledge and understanding of how your customers use your product. 
  • Requires analysis: you’ll need to analyze and apply your knowledge of the Kano model to interpret your data correctly.
  • Can be difficult to manage: if you use a manual survey method, it is more time time-consuming and difficult to manage collecting data. Using a tool like SurveyMonkey will help you collect data quickly and efficiently.

How does Kano analysis work?

Kano analysis determines customer satisfaction and loyalty based on the functionality and emotional response to any given feature. 

Some features are basic, must-have features, like brakes on a car. But it isn’t always enough to just meet your customers’ basic needs. Your product needs a wow factor that sets it apart from the competition—something that strikes an emotional chord. Returning to the car example, a car that brakes automatically is much more exciting than a car with simple, standard features.

By using Kano analysis, your development team can increase customer satisfaction by adding features that go beyond basic. Instead of packing your product with an abundance of standard features, use your analysis data to add a few features that are important and exciting to your customers. 

Kano survey questions:

If you had (new proposed feature), how would you feel?

  • I like it
  • I expect it
  • I’m neutral
  • I can tolerate it
  • I dislike it

If you didn’t have (new proposed feature), how would you feel?

  • I like it
  • I expect it
  • I’m neutral
  • I can tolerate it
  • I dislike it

How important is it for you to have (new proposed feature)?

  • Very important
  • Important
  • Neutral
  • Not very important
  • Not important at all

Satisfaction vs. functionality

Dr. Kano created two scales, one for satisfaction and one for functionality. The customer satisfaction scale ranges from delighted (high satisfaction) to frustrated (low or no satisfaction).

The functionality scale ranges from none to best, representing what level of function the customer expects the feature to provide.

The data can be plotted on a graph with the x-axis representing functionality and the y-axis representing satisfaction. 

Five feature categories of Kano analysis

The Kano model assigns five categories to product features: must-be (must have), performance, attractive (delighter), indifferent, and reverse. Your company should strive to provide must-be, performance, and attractive features and avoid indifferent and reverse features.

Must-be features 

Product features that are expected by customers fall into this category. If your product doesn’t have them, it will be considered incomplete or unacceptable. Must-be features are needed and expected, but having them won’t increase customer satisfaction or cause dissatisfaction (though not having them causes dissatisfaction). These features need to be there, or the product will fail.

Examples:

  • Brakes on a car
  • A bed in a hotel room
  • A cell phone that makes calls

Performance features 

The performance category includes add-ons customers want. These features add to customer enjoyment of the product. Lots of performance features typically mean increased customer satisfaction. They are considered one-directional because they increase satisfaction and functionality.

Examples:

  • Multiple payment methods for food delivery
  • Discounts on airfare
  • Great gas mileage 

Attractive features 

Customers don’t necessarily think of “delightful” features. They don’t ask for them. That’s why competitors scramble to copy them when they prove to be desirable. The features that delight customers today will be must-be features in the future, so developing them is an ongoing process.

Examples:

  • Free dessert with a meal
  • A box of chocolates in your hotel room
  • A free extended warranty on a car
  • New technology on a cell phone

Indifferent features

These features don’t affect customer satisfaction either way. They are unimportant or irrelevant to the customer.

Examples:

  • The inventory management system used in a store
  • The name of the font used in the company logo
  • The brand of rug in your hotel room

Reverse features

If reverse features are present, they annoy your customers. They actually make your customers happy when they are NOT there.

Examples:

  • Waiting for a server to seat you at a diner
  • Very limited menu at a restaurant
  • Graphic-only instruction manual for assembling a table

How to use the Kano model to prioritize features

Follow these five steps to prioritize features for your product:

  1. Brainstorm features that you think you’d like to develop for your product. Choose to study the features that will provide the user with meaningful benefits.
  2. Select the right audience for your study. Use customer segmentation to determine your target participants. If you don’t have a customer list or need help finding survey respondents, check out SurveyMonkey Audience to reach your target audience segments. 
  3. Conduct a Kano survey for each proposed feature. Create your survey with clear, concise language for both questions and answers.
  4. Add a Likert scale question about the importance of each feature. This will be critical when prioritizing what features to develop.
  5. Test your survey with your team before sending it to participants. This will help identify any unclear areas.
  6. Use the collected survey data to categorize features as must-be, performance, attractive, indifferent, or reverse. 
  7. Create a table for results that categorizes the answers with the feature categories, the total number of responses, questionable responses (those that seem contradictory), and what category the feature ultimately belongs to.

You’ll discover which features must be included in your product. These are standard and expected by your customers. Leaving them off will lead customers to purchase from a competitor.

Each feature will have a place, and you’ll learn how important each feature is to the product. 

  1. Decide which features will yield the best results based on the potential to satisfy customers and the investment needed to implement them. Prioritize based on the Kano analysis, determining which features you will develop first, and make a plan for future feature development.

Tips for successful Kano surveys:

  • Test 15 - 20 features with your Kano analysis. This will yield actionable insights and not cause survey fatigue. 
  • Ensure that your survey is presented to people that represent your target customer segment. 
  • Follow-up with qualitative surveys to gain context. 
  • Remember features that are currently attractive will change over time and become must-haves.
  • Examine features in each category to find areas for improvement, such as increasing attractive attributes and reducing or minimizing reverse features.

Use cases for Kano analysis

In addition to identifying features that will increase customer satisfaction, a Kano analysis provides an understanding of whether current features cause high satisfaction rates, measures customer satisfaction, and identifies opportunities to enhance features to delight customers.

There are multiple ways to use the Kano model to analyze new features for your product or service. Here are some real-world examples:

Examples:

Apple is a company that has a proven track record of finding features that delight customers. Consider their magnetic laptop power cords that disconnect easily without damaging equipment. This is beyond must-have and performance qualities. This feature delights customers. Apple also invests in performance qualities like elegant design and ease of use.

Tesla’s novelty and exclusivity delight customers who want high-end, luxury cars. The exclusivity of the brand, paired with the novelty of an electric car, superior acceleration, and high performance, Tesla Roadsters check all the boxes for both performance and delighters. For customers in the economy-car market, price is a reverse emotional response, but customers for luxury cars are less interested in cost and more interested in extraordinary features.

Airbnb disrupted the hotel market by offering unique lodging at low prices. Traditional hotels are bland and impersonal, yielding a reverse emotional response in the Kano model. Airbnb offers cozy lodging that allows visitors to be immersed in the local cultures they are visiting. That equals more delighters and success for Airbnb.

Use Kano analysis when: 

  • There is limited time: when you have tight schedules and need to streamline decision making, a Kano analysis will help speed up the process.
  • There are limited resources: a simple email survey will yield the necessary information. There’s no need to spend extra time and resources on costly research methods.
  • You want to see what would impress customers: find out directly from customers what features they want, need, and would be wowed by.

Prioritize feature development with the Kano model

Make informed decisions about feature development for your products using the Kano model. Base your decisions on functionality and customer satisfaction by administering a Kano survey to your target customer segments and following through with feature development. 

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