Analyzing Customer Needs

03.10.2017 |

Episode #6 of the course Becoming a more strategic product manager by Todd Birzer


Welcome back to our course on strategic product management.

In our last lesson, we spoke about researching customer needs. Let’s continue with this theme, and talk through an approach for analyzing all those customer needs you discovered from your research.

Your customers (or potential customers) are trying to solve an issue or realize an opportunity. They are trying to satisfy their needs.

However, not all needs are equal. Customers have different priorities and meanings attached to these needs, and as a product manager, you need to understand this.

The Kano model can help. This approach was developed by Japanese professor Noriaki Kano in the 1980s to help categorize and prioritize customer needs, to guide new product development, and to enhance customer satisfaction. It’s a very useful tool for us product managers.

Let’s start with the model’s axes. On the x axis, we can plot how well a need was met: poorly (or not met at all) or met very well. On the y-axis, we can chart how we feel about this: disgusted or delighted. Using this simple graph, we can start separating and analyzing customer needs.

To understand the model, I’m simply going to use a personal example of flying from San Diego (where we live) to Tokyo (where our son lives). When we travel, we sometimes check luggage, and our need is to not only get ourselves to Japan but also our bags. If our luggage shows up on the carousel in Tokyo, we pick it up and leave. We aren’t thrilled that our luggage made it, and we don’t jump for joy or give each other high-fives; we just expected this. However, if it didn’t show up, we wouldn’t be happy—or to use the model’s language, we’d be disgusted. This is an example of a basic need. These are “must-be” requirements for any product or service.

We also want the flight to be comfortable, convenient, and affordable. These are all performance needs—and companies compete to best satisfy these needs. On the flight from San Diego to Tokyo, Japan Airlines has direct flights, pleasant service, a good movie selection, and my favorite Yebisu beer. From a customer standpoint, more is typically better with performance needs (except for price).

If my wife and I are very lucky, we might get upgraded to business class. If this doesn’t happen, I don’t feel negative about it—I wasn’t expecting it in the first place. However, if it happens, I’m delighted. This is a good example of an attractive need.

After ethnographic research with your target customers, you’ll come back with a mess of notes, especially about all their various needs. Using the Kano model is an easy way to separate these needs into three categories and draw additional insight.

We’ll talk about new product development later, but this model also helps guide feature and functionality choices. For any product or service, you have to meet the basic needs or customers won’t consider you. No real choice here. For the performance needs, choose the right set at the right level to ensure an attractive, competitive product. And pick one or two attractive needs for competitive differentiation and customer delight.

When you use this model, give a mental “thanks” to Professor Kano. He did good work.

Next on the playlist: creating a product strategy.

Talk to you then.

Todd Birzer


Recommended reading

Using the Kano Model to Prioritize Product Development


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