The Ever Changing Voice of the Customer

July 15th, 2011

In Six Sigma, we are very focused on the Voice of the Customer and creating Value for the customer. But getting our arms around this thing value is not real easy. In fact, I believe that it is this constant changing of what is of value that keeps all Quality folks employed. You see, over time, customers change and what they think is of value changes as well.

Thirty years ago, if you wanted to send someone a message most of the time you would mail them a letter. If it was really important, you could fax or telegram them. But today we have Email, Twitter, and Face book. I am not sure anyone really writes letter today. So here, you see a change in what is of value to “customer” (at least customers of the post office). In today’s market, the Post office continues to raise rates to cover costs. There is a think called the Kano Model that explains this very well.

The Kano Model:

The Kano model is a chart with that has two axis and three levels of quality or characteristics.

The two axis are Customer Satisfaction (this is their perception of satisfaction) and Customer Expectation (this is the reality of how well the expectation was met [usually in a percentage]). Some have labeled Customer Satisfaction as Quality.

Customer Satisfaction – This axis runs vertical with the top end of the axis (scale) being extremely satisfied and the bottom of the axis being extremely dissatisfied.

Customer Expectation – This axis runs horizontal with the left end of the axis (scale) being 0% expectations met and the right end of the axis being 100% of the expectations being met.

Note: the two axis cross dead center of each line.

The three levels of quality or characteristics are Must (Basic Quality), Wants (Expected Quality) and WOW (Exciting Quality)

Must (Basic Quality; Dissatisfiers) – These are characteristics do not sale a product but the customer assumes they are there. These are things like brakes, windows and tires on a car. Customers expect them to be there and will walk if they are not. But they are not on the list of things (specifications) customer walk in looking for in a product. You will note that in the Kano Model (fig. 1 below) the MUST curve lies totally below the Customer Expectation axis line representing dissatisfaction. This means providing must characteristics alone will not satisfy the customer.

Wants (Expected Quality; Satisfiers) – These characteristics are what the customer wants to see. Here the customer has come in specifically looking for these. With items that are more complex the customer has a list, specification, or drawing that includes all of these characteristics. Examples of these are a particular color, and multi-year warranty, or a short wait time. Customer usually will use these to decide to buy or not. In the Kano Model, these characteristics (Wants) are a straight line. Where it shows the customer is dissatisfied if there Wants are not met. But their satisfaction increases as more of these characteristics are met.

WOW (Exciting Quality; Delighters) – These characteristics are sale the product if all the others are met. These are characteristics that are above and beyond the customers expectations. Here the customer receives more than they expected. Examples of these characteristics are: collision avoidance systems, life time warranties, and free upgrades for life.  In the Kano Model, the curve for the WOW characteristics is completed above the customer expectation axis.


Figure 1: Kano Model

You will notice another line in this model in the upper right hand corner labeled “Competitive Push”.  This is what represents the “ever changing customer voice”.  You see things that WOW, delight and are unexpected today will be wanted and expected tomorrow (in the near future) and become must have and basic requirements further into the future. Things never stand still. Having a Desktop Computer instead of a mainframe terminal was a WOW in the eighties. In the nineties Desktops were wanted/expected and the Laptop was a WOW. Now Desktops are Musts with Laptops a Want and the IPAD the WOW. Who no’s what is next, but I can bet someone is coming up with that next WOW that will push the Desktop off the chart just like the wire dialup phone and the pay phone booth.

This model gives us an idea of how customer’s expectation (value) is constantly changing. One they see something they like most likely someone will make it affordable for that customer and soon. Who know some day we will all have a spacecraft in our garages and there will no longer be a need for streets. What a confusing airspace we will have. Oh well expectations will keep changing and those in the quality profession will constantly be watching for those shifts in customer expectations.

Well there you have my thoughts on the ever changing voice of the customer and the Kano Model. I hope this helps you with your projects’ focus on customer value and where it might have moved.

Oh, think what would happen if where you worked moved its product focus to a different industry, group or customer set. What happens to the model now?? Most likely, all the characteristics would still exist, but the customers expectation of each may change dramatically. Wow’s, What’s and Must’s could be totally reshuffled.

If, you have questions or comments please feel free to contact me by leaving a comment below, emailing me, calling me, or leaving a comment on my website.

Bersbach Consulting
Peter Bersbach
Six Sigma Master Black Belt


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