Kano model: Devilish detail, heavenly result

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Reylito A.H. Elbo

Reylito A.H. Elbo

PAYING great attention to detail is the path to product and service excellence. Unless you’re a scientist, researcher, police investigator, or even an electronic factory worker, among others — you may find such work not to your liking. The devil is in the details and you don’t want to handle it. Not only that, business articles are replete with admonition that managers must look at the big, total picture. Focus on the finish line and not on the stones, rocks, or even dead leaves along the trail. Otherwise, you’ll get bogged down.

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That’s one very good piece of advice, but not all the time. Certainly there are exceptions that you can consider. For one, in lean manufacturing, workers and their managers are always on the alert for minor mix-ups that can result in millions of pesos worth of defective products. In the service industry like those in banks, business processing, and healthcare, they are doing a lot to identify invisible waste that could imperil service quality and brand integrity.

How can you be attentive to much detail so that you can generate solutions before a problem can even happen? That’s being proactive, of course. You don’t wait for an issue to come before coming out with answers. When you understand a work process, whether it’s in production, customer service, or something else, you increase the chance of devising practical approaches that improve work efficiency, labor productivity, and of course, product quality.

In a fully functioning dynamic organizational system, everyone is on the lookout for improvement ideas. The underlying notion is that everyone must serve the customers to the best of his ability. And so, how do you intend to do it?

If you feel like turning Japanese once again, let me introduce to you the Kano analysis. It is a technique developed by Noriaki Kano (b. 1940) to help understand varying levels of value that customers place on different features of a product or service. Dr. Kano, alongside with his colleagues at the University of Tokyo, established a framework that can be used to assess customer satisfaction.

The Kano model can be illustrated in three levels. One level is “dissatisfiers,” which include all expected features and characteristics of a product or service. If these are not fulfilled, the customer will be greatly disappointed. For example, if you’re buying a new car, you expect that it must come with four tires.

Second is the “satisfiers.” This includes all the standard features of a car that can either increase or decrease the satisfaction level of the buyer. In the above example of four tires, what brand or type was actually delivered compared to what was shown in the showroom?

Last is the “delighters,” or anything that excite the customers. This includes a service feature that would impress the car buyer and entices him to come back for more. It may include company giveaways like coffee mug, umbrella, or jacket that advertises the car more than anything.

The challenge for product manufacturers or service providers is how to delight the customer with the best approach possible but without spending much money in the process. Say, you’ve just checked in for your economy seat in an international airline. How would it be possible for an airline company to upgrade your seat to business class, assuming that it is not fully occupied? Would that pose as a “delighter” under the Kano model? I don’t think so. Indeed, it is a delighter but may not be given to every Tom, Dick, and Harry who may request for it. That’s the difference.

Organizations firmly committed to customer satisfaction must be able to identify challenges by one source – the customer. As soon as you’ve understood the problem, you have no other recourse but to establish new standards to ensure that the issue is minimized, if not permanently eliminated.

If your organizational mission, vision, and value statements don’t spell out customer satisfaction to inspire people, then no one can. Or even if you have something like it, from the standpoint of the customer, motherhood statements can mean nothing if you cannot prove something. As Peter Drucker has said many times in the past, “It’s not what you put into a product or service. It’s whatever the customer gets out of your effort.”

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.

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