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Today's Generation Is Living Longer - How Does It Affect the Customer Journey?

AARP's Nataki Edwards on how to serve an ageing population

Kindra Cooper

AARP customer experience

As life expectancies rise across developing nations, special interest groups like AARP, the country’s largest membership organization for the 50-plus community, are becoming an increasingly vital resource.

Generational trends in delaying marriage, child-rearing and ultimately, retirement, have shaken up the customer journey, meaning that when members first join the community shortly after turning 50, their main concern might be saving for their first-born’s college fund instead of window shopping for retirement homes.

Nataki Edwards AARP“People are living longer than ever,” Nataki Edwards, SVP of digital at AARP, said at Verint Engage 2019 in Orlando, Florida. “In fact, a 10-year-old today is likely to live to a hundred.”

While AARP might be colloquially known as “Groupon for seniors,” the company has broadened its offerings beyond insurance, Medicare plans and retail and travel discounts for elders to cater to a health-conscious contingent that prioritizes staying active both physically and mentally.

On Wednesday, it opened the first of 53 fitness parks in St. Petersburg, featuring exercise equipment for cardio and strength training in an effort to create more intergenerational living spaces.

Advocacy, experiential and real-time data

While AARP itself conducts consumer insight research to anticipate the needs of the ageing population and advocate on their behalf against issues like age discrimination and the rising cost of prescription drugs, Edwards’ team focuses squarely on intuiting new customer needs based on their behavior on the platform.

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“The approach is really about hearing what customers are saying to us, empowering teams to act – also focusing on the right-for-the-customer versus right-for-us metrics,” said Edwards, who has developed award-winning campaigns for top brands like Yahoo!, AOL, Estée Lauder, and American Express.  

Educating ageing consumers on health and finance is also one of its top priorities, ensuring members are retirement savings-literate and equipped with tools to exercise their brains and social skills as they age.

Growing customer engagement through gamification

In 2015, Edwards designed a gamified loyalty program, Rewards for Good, to drive online engagement by doling out rewards points for certain online activities based on their perceived educational value.

For instance, using the retirement calculator earns you 300 points, while taking a quiz called ‘Can You Spot Investment Fraud?’ nets 600. Playing a brain game like Scramble Words or Mahjongg bags the highest number of points because it requires high engagement.

More important than incentivizing members to redeem points is making mental stimulation a habit. In an interview with AARP, Harvard brain scientist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor said it’s important for the young and old to periodically break away from routine.

“As we get older, we routinize ourself, so we have this lovely little routine that fits in a box. So what you’re saying to your brain is ‘it’s okay, you only have to be the size of the box.’”

The Staying Sharp program allows members to take a Brain Health Assessment and play free memory games that test their ability to recall colors, phrases and objects, as well as providing access to videos, recipes and articles.

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With content being a linchpin of AARP’s offerings, Edwards’ team closely scrutinizes customer data in real-time to make sure the product is resonating – observing article readership, video playback, game engagement levels and points redemption as well as customer feedback.  

“We believe in democratizing data - it’s not my data, it’s not the business unit’s data - it’s AARP’s information and it’s what the customer has given to us and we need to share that widely,” she said.

This means adapting metrics in real-time, and also making a clear delineation between what Edwards dubs “clarity metrics” (those that are important to the customer) and “vanity metrics,” which organizations often use as a self-serving, pat-on-the-back reinforcement loop that aren't truly reflective of the customer experience. 

At 3pm everyday, AARP announces a new Daily Deal – such as a hotel stay, magazine subscription, travel package – but the site would crash because so many members tried to login at the same time.

Edwards and her team invented a new metric to scrutinize: login rates between 2-3pm, which even took precedence over new member acquisition.

“Everyone on my division was focused on that number to the point where we didn’t care how many new earners and redeemers we were getting in loyalty; it became about that one-hour uptime and our focus on that uptime and solving for that actually showed an increase in all of our metrics.”

However, many companies fall into the trap of using data simply to watch for CS shortfalls and swoop in with a remedy each time one occurs, but this quick-fix, Band Aid approach doesn’t really amount to a CX strategy. Edwards said it’s important to “surprise and delight,” not just fix what goes wrong.

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“I used to get calls all the time - someone’s called and they’re complaining about the loyalty program, can I send them a $5 gift card? Or can I do XYZ for Mrs. Smith who’s been an AARP member for 40 years? And eventually I said, how much money do I need to give to you so you do not call me to ask me can you make it right for Mrs. Smith? Make it right, because at the end of the day, that 40-year membership is worth so many more gift cards or anything else.”