As a group of customer-centric brand enthusiasts, we always keep an eye out for new and exciting ways local companies are strengthening their customer experiences. One such globally-recognizable company has its headquarters right in our backyard, and we have been learning a lot by following its forward-thinking team of CX innovators.
We are fortunate to have caught up with one of these customer experience innovators and she agreed to be our Thought Leader for this month. It’s our pleasure to introduce one of the most dedicated, hard working women in business; the Senior Group Manager of Customer Experience Strategy and Support for Hyundai Motor North America – Tiffany Stroupe.
Your resume shows extensive experience in the automotive industry working on projects with Cadillac, holding different positions with the Automobile Club of Southern California, and spending over 10 years with your current employer Hyundai Motor North America. Was a career in the auto industry always a goal of yours? Or was it a path that revealed itself along the way?
My entry into the automotive industry was not intentional. From before I started my career, back when I was working at my first job at 16 at Sears and then later working as a food server all the way to today in my current role, my interest has always been on the customer experience. I’ve never really been concerned about a specific industry. I came into the automotive industry from a research angle. My first exposure to Automotive was through Cadillac, as you mentioned. They were a client of mine for a few months when I was at Diagnostic Research. But my main clients were phone service providers. I moved to a role at the Automobile Club of Southern California (or AAA) running their customer satisfaction survey programs in nine different areas of the organization. My role there was really about the customer experience in every way that the customer connected with the Auto Club. As far as Hyundai, my decision to work here was about being in the automotive space. It was about working in the area that impacted the customer experience. And, it didn’t hurt that I had the best interview of my life with Hyundai. Then I got the job. Its 11 years now and I still feel really lucky to be at Hyundai. I love that I have had a number of different roles and each one allows me to see another aspect of the business. And, I’m focused on the customer each time.
What life experience(s) do you feel best prepared you for the leadership position you are in today?
There were several things that happened simultaneously that prepared me for where I am today.
First, I didn’t get a job I was going after at the time and the hiring manager was very open with me about the reason. I felt a bit of sadness but decided that instead I would make some changes.
The second thing was that I was beginning a class in my MBA program that had to do with leadership. We were required to read four books (Discover Your True North, On Becoming a Leader, The Courageous Follower, and Emotional Intelligence 2.0) and take a number of self-evaluations (VIA, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and StregthFinders). It was pretty intense and amazing. I was able to see myself in a totally different way, identify strengths and opportunities, and put a plan together for how I wanted to approach it differently. And, I did. Looking back… I didn’t really change a ton of things. It was small things like taking the time to talk to others and making a point to follow-up with people about personal things. These small things do mean a lot to others and allowed me to be seen differently. And, I enjoyed it and its become a part of who I am now. I feel more connected with others now versus how I felt then. The big change though was that I was much more self-aware.
Third, right after finding out that I didn’t get that job, I got a new role as a lateral transfer. It was more strategic and completely spoke to me. It allowed me to see things more broadly and understand why things were the way they were in the division I was in.
Last but not least, the fourth thing was that I learned about saying “yes” to everything. This has changed my life and I will elaborate on it more later.
Who has had the biggest impact on you throughout your career – in regards to professional development?
There are two people have had the most impact on my career.
One is my former manager, Barry Ratzlaff (Chief Customer Officer at Hyundai). He has always been direct and straightforward with his feedback. While that can be hard to take for some people, I appreciate it. Just rip off the band-aide / tell me the truth. If no one tells the truth, how can we change? I can count on him to tell me what he thinks.
The second person would be a professor in my MBA program, Liz Stein. I had two classes with her and I was a teaching assistant for her for another class. It was in that class that I watched her with our students and saw that she didn’t point out what they were doing wrong. Instead she only encouraged them on what they were doing right. It was such a different way of thinking about things and they were far more inclined to listen to her and believe her if she focused on their positivs, even if they did the assignment wrong or didn’t do the assignment at all. Then, once she got their buy-in, she could talk to them about ways to improve. It was such an eye opener for me.
In summary, they reinforced for me to be honest and be encouraging and supportive.
The emergence of data has certainly influenced auto manufacturing processes and product performance. Throughout your career, how have you seen data impact the auto industry in regard to your world of customer experience management and strategic decision making?
Data has been important to me since I started in my career. My first role was in Planning & Research at an advertising agency. We used data to help make stronger pitches to potential clients and to support existing clients. Throughout my roles, whether it’s been in research, operations, or strategy, data has been and still is incredibly important. As far as the industry, data has always been important but now the automotive industry and many other industries are learning to use data in more holistic ways. They’re marrying data points, allowing them to be more predictive and preventative when it comes to the customer experience, which leads to better strategic decisions. It’s very exciting. And, it’s a little bit creepy too. A lot of companies have a lot of data on a lot of people. Big data. And, I hope their intentions are for good and not evil. I have to admit that it’s sort of my nerdy dream come true. Ever since I saw the movie Minority Report, I had hoped whatever company I was working at would have the ability to help positively influence the customer experience in that same way. I think of big data as being both creepy and cool at the same time – creepy cool.
Looking forward into 2020, are there any customer experience trends or opportunities that have captured your attention?
Absolutely! I’m really excited to see where digital takes us. I’ve wanted to affect the length of the customer experience in buying a car since I bought my first one years ago. 4-6 hours in F&I is not cool. OEMs and dealers are trying to get it down to 1-2 hours. But, there’s an opportunity to cut it down to nearly nothing and drop the car off at the customer’s house with a product expert who can help the customer get really familiar with their new car. That’s going to take the dealers changing the way they do business and it will take them wanting to change the laws that have been in place for years. But, it would be worth it. I’m also really interested in alternative store fronts and brand experience centers. I was in South Korea five months ago and got to go to Goyang. It’s a brand experience center for Hyundai that is so entertaining. It’s also a service center. I can imagine that customers are so mesmerized by the visual stimulation there that they forget all about servicing their vehicle and instead engage with the brand in a totally different way. A sort of equivalent in the US might be the Porsche Experience.
Do you have any advice for someone looking to establish a career focused on customer experience?
My advice to someone looking to establish a career focused on customer experience would be to go where your instincts take you. We’re all customers. We know what a good and a bad experience looks, feels, and sounds like. If you’re interested in helping customers, then look for opportunities to do that. Customers can be defined in many different way.
And, I strongly encourage everyone to say “yes” to every opportunity that comes there way. So many amazing opportunities, like this one talking with you, have come my way because I said yes to a conversation. I’ve met interesting people and found great solutions in business just by saying “yes” to chatting with someone. Just say “yes”.
What is your favorite quote?
I don’t have a favorite quote. There are a lot of quotes that make me happy when I see them. Inspirational ones. But, nothing has stuck with me. I didn’t want to end the Q&A on a down note, so I Googled top quotes and I like this one… “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” And, these made me happy too… “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door”, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it”, and “If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.”