Interview with Sami Hassanyeh, SVP of Digital Strategy & Membership at AARP

In this interview, Sami Hassanyeh, SVP of Digital Strategy & Membership at AARP speaks about the importance of delivering value in the moment and stresses the need for brands to adopt a multi-channel focused strategy

Thank you so much for taking our questions!  Tell us a little about your business and your specific role?

Hi there. I’m Sami Hassanyeh, SVP Digital Strat & Membership, at AARP. At AARP, our purpose is to empower people to choose how they live as they age. We do this through our social impact agenda that focuses on growing health security, financial resilience and personal fulfillment for people 50-plus and their families.

My role at AARP is focused on growing and communicating value to our membership, ensuring we are focused on meeting the needs of our members, volunteers, advocates and the people we serve, in the channel of their choice. We must think beyond just digital, since a digital strategy alone does not create the right experience for consumers. It is important to be multi-channel focused, to create value that can be delivered and improved upon, with every interaction that your customers have with the enterprise.

When did you first realize that you had an issue that needed a digital solution? What was the nature of the problem you set out to solve?

It is not a specific issue, this is a journey. The world is evolving at a high rate of change. Whether you are a for-profit or a nonprofit, the reality is that the customer is in charge of the experience. It used to be that brands were in charge of the experience, but now power is in the hands of the customer. Brands and for profits have to continue to evolve to deliver value and be able to answer the questions: Are you updating your value proposition on an ongoing basis? Do you clearly communicate your value proposition and do you have the right experience to deliver that value? Companies need to know what is their customer experience and what is their value proposition. Are they using technology to deliver both of those elements for their customers in the right moment that fulfills the vision of their organization?

As to why a multi-channel approach is so important, we know that people of all ages are embracing digital and yet they also read, stream, attend in-person events, and watch TV. So you have to have a multi-channel approach to reach them in the all the ways they want to be reached. In fact more than 50% of our customers come to our website on mobile devices. And AARP research tells us that over 90% of adults over 50 own a computer or laptop, 70% have a smartphone, and over 40% own a tablet.

What were the challenges you faced at the time as you began the process of evaluating solutions?

The challenge we must ask ourselves is simple: are we fulfilling our mission and are we delivering value? That will always be a guiding strategy for us. It isn’t implementing a specific piece of technology, whether that is an ERP or CRM system, or a customer experience system, or a targeting/modelling system. It all comes down to the question of can we fulfill our mission by delivering the right value in the right experience at the right time.

One specific solution is our roll out of the AARP mobile app, AARP Now. What we aim to do is provide the right utility and right value and the best possible experience on your smartphone.

The AARP Now mobile app has been downloaded over 3.3 million times since its launch in 2016 and is used nationwide in over 150 cities in all 50 states.

What did the final solution look like and what were the broad benefits that it delivered?

The AARP Now app brings your AARP membership into your hands. It is digitally available, demonstrates value in the moment, in terms of what’s happening in your world from a content perspective, and also provides access to all your membership benefits. It is designed to manage your relationship with AARP, to share events and activities including and beyond the AARP world, to show what’s happening in your community. Our strategy with the AARP Now app is we are trying to deliver value in the moment and working to immediately address your specific need and to help provide responses to whatever challenge you might be trying to solve.

What were some of the key elements that were responsible for the project’s success? What processes have you found useful for implementing digital technologies?

It is critical that organizations keep the focus on the customer. You need to build digital technologies that are form agnostic.

The challenge is: can you build your content and assets and capability so it is extendable to phone, voice, to other channels and other apps. You don’t want to lock yourself into a specific form factor. For example, you don’t want to build capability on an app that you can’t get on your website. You want your capabilities to be as portable as possible in order to be successful. The ultimate measure of success is “does your customer care?”

One way we measure our success is by customer feedback. We have a four-star rated app, that is a great measure of success for us. We listen and respond to our customers and their service needs. Our customer care strategy means that we respond whether the feedback is positive or negative. The goal is always to work to add value so our customers have a fantastic experience with us.

What’s next for you on your digital roadmap?

As part of AARP’s digital roadmap, we continue to extend our capabilities on mobile, connected devices, voice, augmented reality. We continue to build value that can be delivered on multiple channels. We constantly seek to improve our multi-channel marketing capabilities so that the channels amplify each other and react appropriately to customer interactions and needs.

So if you come to us via email and take a specific action do we know that when you come back to our website? Do we know and understand your activities, whether you called a congressman or attended an event? We want to make those channels amplify each other and work together in concert. We don’t want to just share the same message on different channels. Our goal is to personalize your interactions with us but go beyond that to create a community where we know each other and are aware of preferences, etc. This is a high touch approach that makes people feel welcomed and recognized.

I also see us expanding the work we are already doing, rolling out Alexa skills for our app and deploying augmented reality solutions that help our members learn new skills, be entertained and stay connected to friends and family.

What’s your go to resource – websites, newsletters, any other – that you use to stay in touch with the explosive changes happening in the digital space?

I follow a range of publications and media outlets. My go to resources are Forrester and Gartner for research. For news and trends, I follow tech blogs including TechCrunch, Mashable, BGR, Forbes and Fortune.

Read a good book lately on digital transformation that you’d like to recommend to us?

Yes, I recommend The Four by Scott Galloway.

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