A glimpse into your product's future

Act before anyone else does.

If you don’t know the Kano model, you should read The Kano model in a nutshell first before reading this post.

“As if I can’t read a map”

There was a time when car navigation systems were rare. “As if I can’t read a map!”, my dad used to say whenever the technology was discussed.

But that changed quickly. He soon saw the value of car navigation systems. They became an attractive quality of cars to many people. And soon after, as more and more cars were fitted with navigation systems, performance expectations increased (more colours! voice control! auto-updating maps!).

Today, a navigation system is an expected feature of any car. (“As if I’d buy a car without a navigation system!”, my dad says today). But that can soon change, with smartphones taking over the role of navigating the driver.

Instagram’s photo filters went the same route. In 2010, when more and more people started sharing pictures online, Instagram launched its photo filters. “Real” photographers turned up their noses: “Who would want their photo’s to look old?”

But the value of the filters soon became clear to Instagram users. The filters made your crappy pictures look good and touched up pictures got more social traction from your friends.

As other apps started integrating photo editing features, the sophistication of these editing tools became a driver of user satisfaction. Photo editing as a feature had moved to the “the more, the better”-category.

And by now, as photo filters have become an expected feature of any photo app, customer satisfaction no longer increases with the editing tools’ performances.

You’re starting to see a pattern here, aren’t you?

The life cycle of successful product features

In 2001, Dr Noriaki Kano hypothesized that successful new product features move across the different Kano categories like this:

Indifferent → Attract → One-Dimensional → Must-Be

  • A new feature is met with indifference. Users don’t know what to do with it;

  • Once users start realizing its value (through use, seeing other people use it or through advertising), the feature can become an attractive quality of the product;

  • Expectations rise as competition kicks in: the feature must increase its value to the user to maintain satisfaction levels;

  • The feature plateaus and becomes an expected feature. Increased performance no longer contributes to higher satisfaction.

Later research (Löfgren, 2011) confirmed Kano’s hypothesis. It’s not hard to think of products and features that have followed this path.

Using the life cycle to better manage products

Successful features follow a predictable pattern across Kano model categories. This means that you can use this to your advantage. If you know if and how a feature will start impacting customer satisfaction differently, you can plan ahead and optimize for user satisfaction.

Depending on the category a new feature is currently in, these are the actions you should take:

Regularly surveying users will help you see whether and what features are following this life cycle of successful features.

With this knowledge, you can act quicker than anyone else, stay ahead of the competition and keep your customers happier for longer.

Coming up later:

  • Other lifecycles;

  • Splitting up a product feature into its must-be and one-dimensional subfeatures;

  • Other strategies than surveying over time to detect the evolution of a feature.

There’s more in the chapter on “Changing customer attitudes” that I’m working on. Be warned though, it’s an incoherent mess right now.