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

Jeanne Bliss | Mar 8, 2017 88 views No Comments

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AARP Bliss

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. We’re compiling that and will add it all to this post.

“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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Republished with author's permission from original post.


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