by Dr. Gordon D. Booth
Too often, we feel that if our product is of good quality, our customers will be satisfied and will buy that product. This is not always true. Many companies have invested huge amounts of money in product imporvement only to find that their potential customers still did not buy the product. Of course, there can be several reasons for this, but one of the most common is that the customers define quality differently than does the company.
Quality usually means more to the customer than just a "quality product." When a customer buys a product, they also buy a relationship (or lack of relationship) with the company that makes the product. This relationship can make or break the company. Even an excellent product cannot overcome the negative feelings that arise when every contact with the company is a frustration. On the other hand, customers are very forgiving of a product with a few weaknesses--if the company is genuinely trying to correct the problems and treats the customers with concern and respect.
Dr. Noriaki Kano helps us understand customer perception of a product by defining three categories into which every product characteristic can be classified. The three categories are:
Absolutely Essential If this characteristic is absent, the customer is disappointed. The failure of a company to meet customer expectations of this characteristic destroys the company's reputation. An example would be a product that simply will not do the job for which it was intended.
The More the Merrier A characteristic in this category pleases the customer when it is present, and the more of the characteristic the better. An example of a characteristic of this type is a greater volume or weight of the product.
A Delighter This characteristic is unexpected but enjoyed by the customer. It exceeds the expectations of the customer. An example of this type of characteristic is a product that goes beyond what is advertised and expected and solves a problem for the customer before the customer even asks for the solution.
In the customer's mind, the perceptions are not static. They change continually. Suppose a company includes a "delighter" in their product. Further, suppose that the competition later includes the same characteristic. Then that characteristic can move from the "Delighter" category to the "Absolutely Essential" category as the expectations of the customer change.
Satisfying the customer is a dynamic process. The companies that succeed are those that provide every characteristic that the customer considers "absolutely essential," provides more of the characteristics in the "more the merrier" category than does the competition, and is constantly creating new "delighters."