Is your customer experience program suffering bright shiny object syndrome?


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You may have heard of ‘bright shiny object syndrome’. The term is used to describe new initiatives undertaken by organisations that either lack a strategic approach, or suffer from a failure to effectively implement.

Delivering a superior customer experience has become the latest ‘must have’. The result is that organisations are ending up with a bright shiny object they are calling a customer experience program.

The expectations from such initiatives are increased customer value, superior competitive advantage and accelerated growth. McKinsey & Company’s Executive Briefing research confirms customer experience excellence leads to revenue gains of 5-10 per cent and cost reductions of 15-25 per cent within 2-3 years.

However, chasing a bright shiny object without a customer-first purpose, strategy and competency to implement often proves to be ineffective at delivering any of this value.

While intentions are good, what’s missing is the fundamental element in leading and governing a successful customer experience program.

Ultimately, customer centricity starts at the top of the business with the belief that ‘what’s good for the customer is good for business’. This belief informs a set of behaviours that are developed as disciplines and weaved into the cultural fabric of the organisation.

Importantly, from the executive team down, the leadership must commit to serving as role models by demonstrating customer-first behaviours for the rest of the business to follow.

Their responsibility is to champion the customer across the business with the imperatives of delivering the customer experience goals, employee and customer metrics and employee recognition programs to align siloed business units to work together for the good of the customer.

More often than not, the new customer custodian role is the responsibility of the marketing team, which traditionally doesn’t have a seat at the boardroom table.

Today, the chief customer role needs to be influential cross-functionally in all departments including IT, finance and customer service. A failure to engage functional areas and align siloed business units causes customer experience program paralysis, making delivery effectively impossible.

The symptoms of ‘bright shiny object syndrome’ become apparent when there’s more posturing on customer experience efforts than investment into business-shifting activity. Such symptoms include customer experience efforts driven by assumptions and from a business viewpoint rather than from the customer’s perspective.

Econsultancy’s research paper, Customer Experience Maturity in Australia and New Zealand, shows only 23 per cent of businesses in this market are using journey mapping and only 19 per cent are utilising user experience analysis to improve their customers’ experience.

Organisations suffering the syndrome also tend to focus on single touchpoint innovation rather than the end-to-end journey. Leading customer-centric organisations focus instead on improving customers’ painpoints in their end-to-end journey rather than individual interactions.

Other symptoms may include: Little to no cross-functional collaboration in the planning process, no real understanding of the business’s high value customers, a lack of clarity on the journeys that matter, which metrics to utilise and how teams should be rewarded to shift behaviour and deliver customer experience excellence.

Chasing the ‘bright shiny object’ also affects employee engagement – through competing priorities, incongruent organisational behaviour, lack of cross-functional alignment and inconsistent communications. Leading customer-centric brands recognise the fundamental relationship between customer and employee engagement. Simply put, happy, engaged employees create happy, engaged customers.

Engaged employees understand their company’s customer experience aspirations, their customers’ needs, and the role they play in delivering the promise. Importantly, their voice is valued and contributes to a process of collaboration to improve the experience.

Essentially, when a customer has a great experience this not only impacts their current and future purchasing, but positively influences purchasing decisions of their friends and peers too.

In contrast, a bright shiny object masked as customer centricity only serves to disenfranchise your employees and your customers even further.

First published in CMO Australia.

Alex Allwood
My focus is connecting customer and culture to empower customer-centric growth; fostering a culture of customer centricity, building team capability and helping transform customer experiences. With a 20 year track record in leadership, operations and marketing, my strength is developing customer experience strategy: customer understanding and empathy, experience vision and guiding principles and the customer narrative. I am the principal of the CX consultancy, All Work Together; authored the books, Customer Empathy (2019) and Customer Experience is the Brand (2015).


  1. Many companies pursue experience initiatives focused on the tangible, rational, and functional components of customer value. Expectations are that this is experience ‘low-hanging fruit’, aka the ‘bright shiny object’ which they think will drive customer behavior. They neglect, or minimally incorporate, the human, emotional elements of value that decommoditize their proposition, or render it incomplete. Whether b2b or b2c product/service, it is emotions and memory that principally drive customer behavior. As a result, their customer experience may rise from fair to reach (and plateau at) good, but it can never achieve world-class excellence.

  2. The operative word is “program.” Too many organizations focus on programs to shift a culture. It implies something added, not something integrated. Do you want a diversity program or do you want diversity? A mentoring program or mentoring. The same with customer experience. If it is to be a feature of the culture (not just an ornament), it requires a change management effort that starts with leaders whose actions are congruent with the change goals and consistent over time.

    It takes broad based participation to bolster ownership and thus commitment. It requires extraordinary communication to quell rumors and myths about the change. It involves helping everyone from top to bottom see the “What’s in it for me.” And, it entails hardwiring the change effort into the permanent foundations of the enterprise (like performance management, incentives, selection, training, on boarding, standards, etc.).

    Many organizations want a quick fix that yields bragging rights for senior leaders on the golf course. True culture change means altering the beliefs, habits, and practices of people who have invested in old ways. That alteration requires a long-term commitment to stay the course and do the hard, disciplined work that extends beyond the shiny, happy launch of a new initiatives. Dreams and visions are easy; discipline and change are hard.

  3. There’s an old song, “Everybody wants to get to heaven but nobody wants to die.” That is very much the syndrome you’re describing.

    Most everybody understands the importance of customer-focused cultures and outstanding customer experience, and most everybody would like to get there. It is, however, a lot of work. It’s not an ‘add-on’ kind of thing, but part of an overall organizational strategic plan. And, as you pointed out, it needs to involve everyone at every level.

    Most companies don’t have the patience, and would prefer a magic wand waving approach instead. Needless to say, magic wands, like unicorns, are in short supply.


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