How to Find the Core Features of Your Product Using a Kano Survey

Your entire success will be based on one or two features, no more.Fred Lalonde, Hopper Co-Founder and CEO

Not all product features hold the same value in the eyes of customers. Some features create higher levels of customer loyalty and have a greater potential for impacting customer satisfaction than others; these are the ones that your startup should focus on.

In the late 1970s, Japanese professor Noriaki Kano established that there are three main types of features required to develop a product people want to use.

  • Mandatory features are the must-haves of a new product like a login or a user profile. These features are not perceived as adding any value to the product, but they’re expected to be there. They’re the features your product needs.
  • Linear features are the core features of your product. They’re the two or three features that your customers really pay for. These features are the main value you provide and what you write your marketing collateral around. This is where software companies typically compete.
  • Exciter features are those that are not expected by customers, but are perceived as adding value. For example, an accounting solution might have automatic tax calculation or local tax rules and exemptions. These small details help delight the customer, create differentiation, and push the solution over the top.

Out of the Kano model came the Kano Analysis, a customer discovery questionnaire designed to help product owners and entrepreneurs categorize features by perceived value to increase a solution’s impact.

The Kano Survey

A Kano survey can be done online, face to face, or with a paper survey. With 20 to 30 respondents in homogeneous segments, you can usually determine 90% of all possible product requirements.

To perform a Kano survey, you have to list all possible requirements. Then, for each requirement, the objective is to test both the positive and negative forms of the question, trying to capture a respondent’s perception of the feature.

Kano Survey – Question Pairs

The question pairs allow you to validate how your prospect would feel if a feature were present or absent in the product. For example, a prospect may like that your product has a responsive layout, but they may be able to live without it, making this feature a nice-to-have.

Collecting every respondent’s positive- and negative-form answers allows you to use the following Kano evaluation table to understand individual perceptions of the features.

Kano Survey – Evaluation Table

Mandatory (M), linear (L) and exciter (E) features quickly stand out, but the survey also provides insight into three other types of answers:

  • Indifferent (I): The customer is neither satisfied nor dissatisfied about whether the product has this feature.
  • Reversed (R): The customer does not want this product feature. The prospect would prefer if it were not included.
  • Questionable (Q): There is a contradiction in the customer’s answers to the questions. This typically signifies that the question was phrased incorrectly or that the customer misunderstood the question.

How to Use Data from the Kano model

Features can be re-prioritized with a Kano survey, with mandatory features typically coming first followed by linear and exciter features. A compelling product would try to balance these three types with an emphasis on “killer features,” those that are so useful that the product becomes essential for the user.

Depending on the answer set, some Indifferent features might be good to include if they fulfill the needs of your ideal customer profile. For that reason, it might be interesting to look at the correlations between the answers received and your target profile. Which segment do you want to please the most?

Remember that your feature categorization will evolve over time. In the same way that free Wi-Fi in coffee shops was once an exciter, it has now become a key part of the coffee shop experience. Exciter features eventually become regular parts of the product as the market matures.

More on the Kano survey

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