The Kano model: understanding the basics of customer satisfaction

Picking up the smartphone, turning on the heated seats in the car, admiring the good quality of the TV - many of these things are taken for granted today and satisfy customers because they are happy with the features. But to get to the point of customer satisfaction for a project, product, or function, you first have to find out what satisfies customers in the first place. One method for doing this is the Kano model, which establishes the relationship between the fulfilment of certain customer requirements or qualities and the expected level of customer satisfaction. It is difficult to predict which feature influences satisfaction in which direction. But even a possible product improvement does not necessarily lead to higher satisfaction, since customer needs may differ and one person may perceive something as an improvement that another person would consider a disadvantage. Noriaki Kano came up with the idea of recording customer wishes and incorporating them into development in 1978.
Several hands hold up mobile phones with different smileys in different colours.


The five main qualities of the Kano model

In the Kano model, there are five different qualities that have different effects on customer satisfaction. Depending on their characteristics, satisfaction can be affected positively, negatively or not at all, lead to low dissatisfaction but never satisfaction, or make customers happy but never dissatisfied. This again underlines the statement that one cannot know in advance how a quality will affect satisfaction.
Must-be quality or basic attribute

These are must-have qualities. They are so self-evident that customers only become aware of them when they are not met. This means that they do not create satisfaction when they are fulfilled, but would cause dissatisfaction if they were not. This is why they are necessary, even if the advantage over the competition is very small.
A banal example is the ballpen. We use it to write, which is the most natural thing in the world. But as soon as it stops writing, we are dissatisfied.
One-dimensional quality or performance attribute

These qualities, on the other hand, have a direct influence on the satisfaction or dissatisfaction of the customer. The better they are fulfilled, the more satisfied the customer is.
So, if a ballpen writes very unevenly, we are dissatisfied. But if it has a good colour and writes evenly, we are satisfied.
Attractive quality or attractive attribute

This quality is not expected by the customer, so on the one hand it cannot influence dissatisfaction, but on the other hand it has a strong positive effect when it is present. Attractive qualities allow a company to stand out from the competition because it is a quality that others do not have. 
A hairdryer dries your hair normally and usually straightens it. But if a round brush is suddenly integrated into the hairdryer, the hair can not only be dried but also curled instantly. This feature was not expected but can make a positive impression on the customer. It makes the product stand out in the market and more people will want to buy it.
These three qualities are the most important of the Kano model. However, there are two other qualities that also have their place.
Indifferent quality

These qualities have no influence on customer satisfaction, whether they are present or not. Nevertheless, it is good to know which ones fall into this category so as not to waste resources and possibly work on them. Perhaps there is just a small variation missing that makes the quality more interesting?
Reverse quality

Customers have no interest in this quality and are sometimes even happy if it is not present. Its presence may lead to dissatisfaction, but its absence does not automatically lead to satisfaction.

The Kano model illustrated graphically

The graph shows the relationship between customer satisfaction and functionality, i.e., the degree to which a particular feature is fulfilled. It shows how the individual features affect customer satisfaction and quality and, of course, how quality can deteriorate over time. Customer satisfaction always moves between low and high, and quality between not fulfilled and fulfilled.
The Kano model

Procedure of a study

In order to find out in which qualities to invest, a study should be conducted. In this way, the company can use the resources sensibly and thus sparingly.

Before starting, it is important to decide which features to investigate. This can be done, for example, by looking at the current problems with the product and how they might be solved. The selected qualities should be described as precisely as possible to avoid misunderstandings. If necessary, pictures can be used to visualise the qualities. Next, the target group should be defined, as everyone has different needs or even interests, and it is better to interview people who would be interested in and would buy such a product. It is important to interview each group separately, because if they have different attitudes to features due to different interests, they may still conform to the opinion of the others, even if they do not hold that opinion. 
Through group processes, opinions can converge because people are afraid of making a splash with their opinion. 
If the target group is defined and you have a large number of participants, you can distribute a standardised questionnaire to collect opinions. For each characteristic, two questions are asked: how does one react to the presence of the quality (functional question) and how would one behave in the absence of the quality (dysfunctional question).

Once these questions have been answered, the individual qualities can be assigned to one of the five categories. There are two ways of doing this. 
In the discrete method, a quality is assigned to the category named by the most respondents. However, with this method the information about how many people said that the quality belongs in the category is lost. Even if the result is very close and only a few votes are decisive, the quality is assigned to the category with the most votes. However, this shows that the target groups may not have been separated well enough and the survey should be repeated with better selected groups. This makes the participants' statements more precise, and it is clear to which category a quality belongs.
Continuous evaluation also records how many participants voted for a particular category. This is done by plotting the answers on a graph, so that you can also see tendencies in which direction a quality tends to go. The positive answers are weighted more heavily because they represent added value.

What you should note about the Kano model

The correlations between quality and satisfaction are not constant over time. This means that there can be a habituation effect on the customer side. If an enthusiasm feature is present in the study, this may not be the case after a few months, as it may develop into a basic feature. When a new feature is used for the first time, it is new and exciting because it can be innovative and very practical. However, if the product with the feature is used frequently, users get used to the presence of the feature and it loses its strong positive effect. How strong this effect is also depends on the nature of the feature and the user. To determine if and when this effect occurs, new surveys should be conducted every few months to see if the features need to be adjusted. In this way, resources within the company can also be directed to continue working on the relevant qualities.
By conducting the survey, it is possible to find out how customer satisfaction is influenced by a particular quality and in which category this quality falls. Ultimately, however, Kano should also provide information about the order in which the individual qualities should be worked on, i.e., which priorities are necessary. It can be said that the must-be qualities should always be implemented first, as they are necessary without any ifs or buts to avoid creating dissatisfaction. This is followed by the one-dimensional qualities, which allow comparison with the competition and are particularly well received by customers if the quality is high, and finally the attractive qualities, which can make the company stand out from the crowd. Indifferent qualities can be neglected as they do not add value. However, inverse qualities should still be considered, as they are the opposite of one-dimensional qualities and can therefore generate a benefit.
It should be noted that preferences are very subjective. Each customer will consider something different to be important. Nevertheless, the results can sometimes be close, so it remains important to keep this in mind.


The Kano model is a good way to improve customer satisfaction and product quality. It is easy to understand and by assigning the individual qualities to the categories, the individual qualities can be well prioritised. In this way, resources are used efficiently and cost effectively, and a project can be developed successfully. However, it should always be remembered that satisfaction with the qualities will change over time and therefore a regular survey is necessary to ensure the success of the project.

Kano Model - The IAPM logo
Author: IAPM internal
Keywords: Project management, Kano model

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