How to use the Kano model to guide UX strategy

Will Grounds
Published February 23, 2023 by Will Grounds – UX Director

The Kano Model created by Noriaki Kano is a behavioural economics model that visualises the relationship between investment and customer satisfaction. 

When defining a UX strategy or product roadmap it’s a helpful model to evaluate how much effort and investment is required to delight customers, increase acquisition, drive loyalty, and outperform competitors.

Throughout this article, please feel free to swap the word ‘customer’ for user, consumer, prospect or employee.

A diagram of the Kano model by Noriaki Kano

The three concepts of the Kano model:

1. Performance payoff

The value that comes from investing in new product features.

2. Basic expectations

The value that comes from ensuring the product meets users ever changing expectations.

3. Excitement generators

The value that comes from adding unexpected features and capabilities.

The following article will unpack these three concepts and discuss how to address them through the lens of user experience.

The Kano model: Performance payoff

1. Performance payoff

Adding new features and capabilities over time is a very common approach to meeting the performance payoff goal. By supporting more and more customer needs, organisations can build loyalty, upsell, and venture into new markets with their products and services.

However, in the world of digital product and service design, every new feature adds complexity, and as complexity builds, usability can be negatively impacted as the user interface becomes more complicated. 

Simply adding feature after feature, release after release, year after year often leads to what is known as experience rot, and when experience rot sets in, the irony is you leave your customers exposed to jumping ship to a competitor or a shiny new start up that provides a much simpler and less frustrating user experience.  

The golden rule of product design is to keep it simple. This doesn’t mean your features need to be simple, they may be highly complex in terms of technology and capability, however it's important to be conscious of the impact they are having on the user experience and over time consider re-designing your products and services to remain simple and intuitive to use. 

How best to add new features whilst maintaining usability:

  • Undertake regular qualitative user research (usability testing, user interviews and field studies) to get a deep understanding of how you customers interact with your product or service, learn which features add the most value, which features rarely get used and how you could better align features and capabilties with their needs.
  • Consider depreciating features with very low engagement in subsequent product releases.
  • When adding new features be conscious of the complexity you are adding to the user interface and strive to keep them simple and intuitive to use. Only add features and capabililties that add real value.
  • Smart organisations that have older products that are suffering from experience rot will often launch a new or revised version their product or service that streamlines the user experience and better aligns with customer needs.
  • Remember – additional complexity can create a mental burden on customers, creates higher support costs, and if implemented badly risks customers jumping ship to a competitor that is providing a better user experience.
The Kano model: Basic expectations

2. Basic expectations

Basic expectations are often defined by customers and change over time. For example, these days if a web page takes more than 2 seconds to load over a quarter of users will click away and choose a different search result. We also know that is today’s climate next day delivery is expected by over 40% of online shoppers and if customers have to wait too long for delivery, many will abandon the brand or stop shopping altogether. These are both basic expectations that brands and organisations don’t get to set, only deliver against if they want to survive.

When it comes to basic expectations it’s important to regularly bench mark your product or service to understand if it’s falling short of meeting your customers basic expectations. You leave yourself open to delivering a frustrating user experience and potentially losing customers to competitors when you don’t meet their basic expectations.

How to meet your customers ever changing basic expectations:

  • Undertake regular user research (usability testing, user interviews and field studies) to understand what your customers expect from your product or service. 
  • Make sure to prioritise and address basic expectations in subsequent product releases when they are uncovered.
  • Regularly review your competitors’ products and services to understand how well they are meeting basic expectations.
  • Remember – you may fail by not addressing your customers basic expectations which are constantly changing over time as technology advances. 
The Kano model: Excitement generators

3. Excitement generators

Excitement generators are the opposite of basic expectations because they deliver something that your customers find unexpected, yet delightful. By delightful, we are not referring to animated gifs flashing up on the screen but rather digital experiences that truly meet a user need, are pleasurable to use, save customers time or provide a deeper connection with what they are trying to achieve.

One of the key concepts of introducing excitement generators is to help move a quietly usable product or service into being a highly recommended and talked about product because it does something delightful that your competitors are not.

How to delight your customers with excitement generators:

  • By undertaking regular user research (usability testing, user interviews and field studies) you have a valuable opportunity to gain a deep understanding of what would make a dramatic change to your customers life if your product or service did X, Y or Z.
  • True value comes from spending time with your customers in their environments to uncover those deeper insights into how your product or service fits into their life. From our experience how they actually use your product or service is often quite different to how you might have expected. Here lies the golden insights into how your product or service could really transform the life of your customer.
  • Remember – customers don’t generally talk about or highly recommend merely satisfactory user experiences. Customers talk about and share products and services that are unexpectedly delightful! Don’t forget to generate excitement through your user experiences.

 Bringing the Kano model to life

One of our favourite UX advocates Jared Spool, has been using the Kano model in his talks and presentations for years.

We highly recommend you watch him talk about the model which he brings to life with entertaining real-world examples – you will forever think about UX strategy differently, always making sure to consider adding more features carefully, remembering to meet basic expectations and always looking for excitement generators to add value to your user experiences.

If you would like to learn more about how a UX strategy can help increase customer acquisition, decrease support costs and drive customer loyalty, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

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