Why Customer Experience Starts with Employee Experience: Discussing AARP’s Digital Transformation with CDO Sami Hassanyeh

Episode 112

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Sami Hassanyeh is the chief digital officer for AARP and throughout the last 18 years with the company, he’s helped lead a vast digital transformation. From the launch of an app to getting into voice technology, AARP has moved leaps and bounds forward when it comes to technology.

But there are a ton of challenges when you are working with a customer population that uses every kind of channel imaginable. Whether its a laptop, desktop, mobile app, in person or talking through the voice app or using automation tools, AARP has to deliver a seamless experience and answer customer questions quickly and efficiently every time. But how? Sami explains on this episode of IT Visionaries.

 Best Advice: Think expansively. You have to impact the whole organization and be that consumer advocate that ensures that your organization is delivering on the expectations of your customers. Our job as chief digital officers is to ensure that culturally, technologically and strategically, we are living up to the ever-changing demands of the consumer. It’s a journey, there is no destination.”

Key Takeaways:

  • How technology adds to AARP’s value proposition
  • Launching new technology including apps and voice recognition software
  • Creating a customer feedback loop
  • How employee experience feeds customer experience
  • AR, VR, automation and more emerging technology to be excited about

Getting started and joining AARP

Sami was a programmer looking for a job out of college. He wound up working at a telecom company in London for a few years perfecting his skills. When he returned to the United States, and the opportunity came up to join AARP, it was one he couldn’t pass up. This was the chance to revamp and modernize a platform that sorely needed it, and that was work that excited Sami. He has been at AARP ever since.

Putting technology into the value proposition of an AARP membership 

Every company, especially the ones who have been in business for a few decades, are figuring out a way to adapt their value proposition in order to include new technologies. For AARP, that means knowing who its customers are and recognizing the need to offer a seamless multi-channel experience. Doing that includes implementing technology where it’s needed both in the hands of customers and employees so that everyone can explore their capabilities and achieve whatever they need to depending on what they are tasked with.

“We’ve got to make sure that there is an understanding of value across channels and that we’re continuously upgrading our value and that the delivery of that value is seamless across multiple channels.”

“How do we provide the right technology capabilities to make sure that transformation takes place in the organization? I think a lot of that is cultural. It’s understanding what business you’re in and then marrying the right kind of technology to that. But value and experience in the delivery I feel like they’re the same thing to me sometimes because if you’re delivering great value in a horrible experience, you’re going to pay the price for that with your customers. And if you’re delivering a great experience with no value, that isn’t going to sustain or grow your business. So making sure the technology elements really allow you to do those things is what’s most critical for us.”

Building and launching the AARP mobile app

Sami and his team decided to launch a mobile app more than 10 years ago, so it has seen a great deal of evolution since then. The original app was rudimentary and the idea was to figure out how people were interacting with AARP differently on their laptop versus on their phones. What they found was that on the phone, your experience is focused on utility and completing specific tasks. Whether that’s registering for an event or finding a specific product or service, Sami says his app team aims to make sure you can accomplish those tasks easily.  Additionally, Sami is looking at ways to create value and ease across channels and with various types of technology. How do we move value to voice, AR or VR in the future? The value can’t be locked into a specific channel. Understand your behavior between the app and the website is correlated.

“What is it that [our customers] need to know today? We look at those kinds of elements and make sure we have the right kind of value delivery so that we can deliver that kind of information and content tools and services to our audience through that mobile device so that it becomes valuable to them.”

Building the Voice app

Recently AARP moved its digital transformation a step farther with the launch of a smart speaker app. Voice technology adoption is so wide-ranging, Sami says, and he reports that about one in seven Americans owns a voice assistant software in one form or another. Sami believes that voice technology is actually a more natural interface, it’s easy to pick up, and it’s easy to distribute across multiple channels. For those reasons, it made sense to enter the space. The Raise Your Voice app helps people in their homes know more about the issues AARP is working on for them.

“We see [voice] more as a distribution channel and it’s something that the audience is gravitating toward. But how do we find the right differentiated opportunity for us? So for us, it was building Raise Your Voice, which really helps people in their homes and understands the issues that AARP is fighting for on their behalf. Whether that’s prescription drugs or social security or Medicare and delivering that value in an environment that you don’t expect.”

Buy vs. Build

The buy or build conversation needs to be built into your overall strategy. Sami says you need to use partnerships to build a lot of the components you need within your infrastructure. There are still a lot of things that AARP owns, but a lot of building you need to do is a commodity you can get on the marketplace. At AARP, Sami says they have an appropriate mix and balance when looking at what should be owned internally versus what can be sourced from a partner.

Member feedback

Interacting with and responding to customer feedback is a bedrock of the strategy AARP employs. With the high adoption rate of smartphones and the multichannel nature of how customers interact with AARP, the company built an experience group and a social response team to quickly and effectively respond to customer feedback wherever and however it comes through. There is also a separate app for employees and volunteers so that the employee experience in responding to customers is seamless. Sami’s team then uses data and analytics to measure how the customer feedback loop is working, areas they are succeeding in and where they are falling short. Then they implement changes based on the feedback and measure how those changes are adopted and received. The team also put in place safeguards and triggers to measure performance so they can easily spot before something breaks down or becomes a problem. There are so many tools you can use to do that, but success comes down to how you implement them and architect them into the platform. Consumer success, Sami says, has to be the most important metric.

“We built a lot of feedback mechanisms and the voice of the customer is something that we look at continuously. We’ve made significant progress across numerous issues that used to potentially be pain points in the past that have become delighters for our members because we really tried to listen to what they’re telling us and then adjust our roadmaps and our products to appropriately not just meet their expectations, but try to exceed their expectations.”

Employee Experience

Sami is adamant that customer experience starts with employee experience. In order to have excellent customer experience, you have to build an organization in which employees are thinking about the customer first before they put any process in place. It’s important to know who and what you are to the customer, and build an experience for your employees that helps them achieve that role and work in it successfully.

“Your culture where your employees think about the customer first when they’re putting processes in place, that is a mindset that has to be infused in the whole organization….We work really hard on infusing the right kind of culture, whether it’s through innovation or empowerment. It’s having your team feels so empowered to represent your customers and deliver the right kind of experience in the framework that you’ve decided this is what your brand means and represents. And for us, it’s about being that wise friend who can go on the journey with you and give you the right kind of content and information. But we’re also that fierce defender that would advocate on your behalf in the marketplace to ensure that you have the things that you need to choose.”

New and emerging tech Sami is excited about

AARP has an innovation arm piloting things in the AR and VR space. There is huge potential for AR to have an impact on AARP’s audience. Whether that’s in caregiving or livability, travel, entertainment, etc., AR can change the game in every one of those areas. Wearables are also something AARP is looking into as a way to “reward” members for healthy behavior. For example, if you’re using a fitness tracker, you can get achievements for certain behaviors and AARP can use that idea as a way to encourage people to live a healthy life.

There is one technology Sami doesn’t view as emerging or new, though. Sami says that voice can no longer be considered “emerging.” It’s early in its lifecycle, but it’s here already, and he’s excited about the ways AARP is already implementing the technology.

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Sami Hassanyeh, the CDO of AARP, discusses digital transformation, employee experience and how to implement new and emerging technology across multiple channels.

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