How to Develop and Offer Products That Delight Customers

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VennliWhen developing new products, businesses typically ask their customers a single question. They provide a long list of features and ask, “For this product, which of these features do you most prefer?”

This seems like a straightforward question. Many product development teams would take these results and immediately begin developing whatever features were selected most frequently.

Some teams dig deeper. Rather than accepting the results at face value, they question if their customers selected features they’ve come to expect from the product category or if they selected more distinctive features that could represent opportunities to provide unique value to customers—i.e., features that really differentiate competing products from one another.

It’s vital to understand unmet customer needs (the “sexy” data product development folks love to get because it sparks cool innovation ideas) AND understand basic customer expectations (the “table stakes” needed just to play in the game). Customers develop expectations about products before they even become customers. Once they are your customer, these expectations impact their level of satisfaction with your product.

In other words, product developers need to know what features customers view as “standard” and what is still perceived as “exotic”—what features differentiate competitors from one another because not every product delivers it.

Noriaki Kano of the Tokyo University of Science developed a theory of product development in the 1980s that helps provide clarity. His model has a more sophisticated categorization scheme than “standard” vs. “exotic.”

Kano plots feature on a grid with “feature presence” and “happiness” forming the two axes.

Five product feature categories fall along this grid. Consider them with the example of a car–

  • Satisfiers are those features that produce more satisfaction the more they are present and vice versa. Think ‘leg room’ in a car: more is better, less is worse.
  • Delighters produce satisfaction when present, but do not disappoint when they are gone. Think about cutting edge technology: self-driving ability is sure to be a Delighter in the near future, but no one dings current cars that don’t have this feature.
  • Disappointers do not produce satisfaction when they are present, but they certainly disappoint when they are omitted. For example, cup holders are an expected feature of cars—while they don’t excite anyone, they’re an expected feature.
  • Indifferent features don’t appear to have any effect on satisfaction. Retractable radio antennas are a prime example. Did anyone actually care that the antenna retracted into the hood of the car? Did it impact a consumer’s car purchase decision in any way? Probably not.
  • Reverse features cause dissatisfaction when they are present. These could just be called “bad ideas.” For example, in this digital age, few people want analog dashboard clocks in their cars.

Clearly, it doesn’t really matter what product developers think—only the customer perception is important. Therefore, savvy product developers have an intimate relationship with their target customers.

To make matters more complicated, the categorization of product features is in a constant state of flux. The Delighters of yesterday are the Disappointers or Indifferent features of today. They become table stakes. Just think: cup holders may have been Delighters when they first came out. Now, who doesn’t have cup holders? Most car shoppers get cranky when there aren’t multiple cup holders to choose from!

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Identifying Delighters is key to grabbing market share. Not only because these features differentiate you in positive ways from your competition, but also because a powerful Delighter can make up for less positive things elsewhere. For example, the iPhone’s touchscreen was a Delighter that, for many customers, compensated for its lack of durability.

Alas, Delighters don’t last forever, so it’s essential to have a plan for constant product development. When competitors all developed touchscreen capability, turning Apple’s Delighter into a Dissapointer, Apple reacted by fixing its durability issue and striving to develop other Delighters for smartphone consumers.

It is critical for product development and marketing teams to look at product benefits and features in a similar way in order to get real actionable insights into how to deliver unique value to your customers. Ask customers about the importance of various factors on their purchase decision, and then ask them to rate competing options on these features. Use those results to drive more in-depth research into the drivers of customers’ choice—it helps to place these choice factors in the competitive context of the market in order to drive product development decisions and ultimately determine your go-to-market strategy.

Most importantly, continue this conversation with your customers. The landscape of customer perceptions is constantly evolving. No one can depend on current Delighters to provide competitive advantage forever—you must constantly develop your product and messaging to maintain your advantage in the market.

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