- Addressing fundamentals. Prioritizing must-have product or service attributes establishes a solid foundation for customer experience management.
- Delighters evolve. Over time, attributes that initially delight customers can become expected and eventually transform into must-haves.
- Focus on basics. Concentrating on making transactions effortless and improving service experience details can have a greater impact on customer loyalty than attempting to constantly delight customers.
When I was growing up, my mother had a refrigerator magnet that said, “Housework is something that’s never noticed until it’s not done.” It was a reminder to her, and to us as well, that some of the most mundane tasks are also the ones that we often take for granted. And doesn’t it often seem that in sharing with someone the nice flower arrangement we have set on the counter, they immediately notice not the beauty of the flowers, but the water you spilled on the floor beside? Such encounters reveal that, at the very foundation of all we do, it’s attention to detail in the little things that often matters most.
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Build a Solid CX Foundation, and They Will Come
It’s no different with the discipline of customer experience management, yet for years, many brands have expended a great deal of effort to go the extra mile to “wow” customers while still witnessing stagnation in customer engagement and loyalty. Why is that? Common sense would almost seem to dictate that the more “extras” a brand offers on the customer journey, the happier their customers will be. Sometimes. But if the fundamentals aren’t adequately addressed first, none of the extras matter. And there is historical research to prove it.
In the 1980s, a Japanese quality consultant named Noriaki Kano set out to try and understand why some changes to the parameters of a customer experience had greater impact on overall satisfaction than changes to others. What he found was that product or service attributes affecting satisfaction fell into three major distinguishable categories (along with two-to-three other less significant groups).
The first category is the simplest and is sometimes called “satisfiers” or “performance,” but I simply call it “more is better.” Say, for instance, I am going on a cruise, and I have a 220 square foot cabin. I’d probably be neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, but neutral on that product attribute. However, if the cabin size were to grow to, say, 240 square feet, I would be a bit more satisfied, and even more so if the room were 260 square feet. Conversely, if the size were to decrease from 220 square feet, I would drift into dissatisfaction. You can see how this is depicted by the blue line in figure 1.
Continuing with our entry into the cabin, let’s imagine I notice a small fruit basket with a personalized note welcoming me aboard. Wow! I am immediately delighted by this unexpected gift and experience an immediate surge in satisfaction. Not surprisingly, this category is often called “delighters,” and is depicted by the green curve in figure 1.
Here’s what is key to understand about delighters: The absence of a delighter does not lead to any level of dissatisfaction because it wasn’t expected — note the curve never drops below a level of neutral satisfaction. Rather, a delighter attribute will only raise satisfaction. Great! Then we should invest all our efforts on creating delighters. Not so fast.
Taking another step into the cabin, we notice the carpeting is torn and the wastebasket is overflowing with trash. There is a puddle of water on the bathroom floor. My elation now turns to disgust as we face the reality of the “must-haves” category. As the name suggests, must-haves are those things that are fundamentally expected — the attention to detail in the little things that we mentioned earlier. Notice that the must-haves curve in figure 1 never crosses above neutral satisfaction. The presence of a must-have attribute does nothing to raise satisfaction, but its absence will plunge the entire experience into the depths of dissatisfaction. As the category name implies, if the “must-haves” are not present, the other categories are rendered almost irrelevant.
Customer Experience Starts With Must-Haves
It then becomes clear that prioritization of service or product attributes needs to start with the must-have category and then, once solidly established, brands can give attention to the other categories. And while that is true, the challenge doesn’t end there. Positive attributes that today are unexpected and delight us tend to evolve over time to become expected.
Today’s delighters become tomorrow’s must-haves, as depicted by the pink directional arrow on Figure 1. Believe it or not, there was a time when a mobile phone was primarily used to — wait for it — make phone calls. Then, around the turn of the 21st century, Samsung did something different. They built a camera into the device. Unexpected. A delighter. Over time, the “more is better” category grew in importance as brands competed on pixels and features for ever more capable cameras. Today, cell phone cameras are ubiquitous. They have evolved to the must-have category.
Kano’s 1980s work has been corroborated more recently by Matt Dixon who, in his 2013 book, “The Effortless Experience,” researched even more deeply to find the impacts to a company’s operating costs from both trying to delight customers and from simply making it easier for customers to complete basic transactions. For example, he found that brands on average delight customers only 16% of the time, but that delight adds approximately 10%-to-20% more to the company’s operating costs. Dixon advocates for focusing instead on those elements that make it easier for a customer to do business with a brand — attention to detail on the basics of the service experience.
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In the End It’s the Fundamentals That Matter in CX
Marketing professionals have for years debated the weightings of price, brand recognition and product/service design in the overall equation for driving customer loyalty. Price and brand recognition are fairly easily quantified for comparison among brands, but the impacts of the product design and service experience have sometimes been more elusive.
Ultimately, all other things being equal, of course the experience is a key differentiator, and that’s where the debate ends. With Kano’s research, it is clear that focusing on the fundamentals — the must-haves — in the overall experience will maximize that differentiating capability. Brands likely won’t get accolades from customers when they take this approach, though.
After all, the fundamentals aren’t noticed until they aren’t done.
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