Senior VP of AARP Customer Experience, With Jim Pendergast- CB41

Episode Overview

I’ve known Jim for many years and regularly cross paths with him, like many in our space. I truly believe those doing customer experience and customer-driven growth work are a community, and Jim and I represent that in this podcast. We share fearlessly with each other.

Across a wide variety of customer-facing roles, Jim has now come to head up customer experience for the 38 million member organization AARP.

About Jim

jim-pendergrast-jeanne-blissLeading the AARP Experience to create a seamless, high value, personalized experience that is adopted across the AARP enterprise and supported by a culture that puts the needs and interests of AARP members, prospects and supporters first. Champion a holistic vision for a best-in-class experience for all AARP members, volunteers, donors, prospects and supporters.

Build out the AARP Experience Voice of the Customer program to create a key listening function, which incorporates customer feedback from across all business units and touch points. Develop a single understanding of the customer, by segment, across all touch points, business units, platforms and processes by synthesizing complex data/analytics/intangible factors/customer trends and providing clear translation for various enterprise audiences.

The Overall AARP Ecosystem

Jim built out 3-4 key teams to help with the work that needed to be done:

  1. A strategy group worked on governance and culture.
  2. An experience design group led human-centered design methodology.
  3. There was also an implementation team.
  4. Finally, he established a Voice of the Customer competency where there previously hadn’t been one.

Break-Fix To Breakthrough

In the early stages of his work with AARP, Jim focused on 9-12 week spurts of “break-fix” activities. This is a tactic I’ve seen from other CX leaders, and it makes a lot of sense: it’s easy to see cost reduction from break-fix, so it gets the attention of other leaders as a cost-cutting measure. It’s a good way to prove you can get things done, and quickly.

However, it can’t all be break-fix. You need some breakthrough work as well. This had to begin with 1-1 socialization of key stakeholders. While most long-term strategic breakthrough work needs to start that way, it was especially important at AARP. Jim’s colleagues had been in their roles for a while and had a great sense of ownership over their work. He pulled cross-functional teams together and walked them through customer experience. This included personas, play calls, and putting them into the customer’s life.

By Month 4, he was able to embed customer experience into overall C-Suite priorities (unifying the leadership levels). He also established a net promoter-based “North Star” metric to report out on.

Resources From Jim

Jim agreed to share a number of his CX resources, including voice of the customer work and journey mapping, with us.

The AARP Frontline App

“AARP Frontline” is a mobile app designed for AARP employees and volunteers to capture and submit real-world feedback from AARP events, local and state offices, and in everyday life. The goal is both bolstered engagement and better communication around initiatives. With so many members, this tool has proven crucial.

As you can see in the attached screenshot, there are options for reporting on “Members in Need” as well as feedback and word of mouth features. This is crucial as a quick method of fostering transparency in a massive organization.

Grinder Prioritization tool – example finding from software firm

  • Each brand promise and CX/Corporate attribute is scored 1/3/5, 5 being the highest negative impact, 1 being the lowest.
  • All scores are rolled up, weighed in an algorithmic CX table, and the result is overall scores from 0 – 100, with the embedded legend showing the call to action based on priority. (Critical Recommendation, strong recommendation, etc.)
  • Click on the screenshot to the right to see the full size image.

AARP Grinder Tool


AARPx Experience Guide

The AARPx Experience Guide – This is an experience tool aimed at effectively gathering voice of the customer data.  The guide runs through consumer experience principles, then goes into specific AARP principles. That’s in the second screenshot at the right. You’ll notice that the Overview section begins with “What does consumer experience mean?”and “Why does consumer experience matter?” Those are two crucial questions in any experience guide. The third screenshot looks at one tool in the playbook; in this case it’s “Experience Project Framing.” Each tool is described around where, when, and why you’d use such a tool.

  • Click on the each screenshot  to preview larger versions of the guide pages

“What Do You Know Now That You Wish You Knew Then?”

  • “Their baby is ugly” feedback: You will come into situations where you have to tell someone that, based on customer experience information, their core product/service is not well-liked. This is a super hard conversation because oftentimes, people derive a good deal of self-worth/pride from work. These conversations require a mix of IQ and EQ. It’s about being respectful and engaging.
  • Jargon: People get turned off easily by this. Make the language relevant to the level and role you’re engaging with, and always include financials.
  • CX as OS: Customer experience must be seen as your company’s “operating system,” or else it feels like work layered on top of “real work,” and people can become resentful of it.

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