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Like many others in the industry, Walter Zepeda didn’t start out in customer success by design.

In fact, he told UpdateAI’s Josh Schachter it was “kind of accidental, but once I was there it was something that I really liked.” His career had started in sales, but he quickly switched over to being a CS lifer when he saw the key aspect that he liked about his former job – helping customers – was the bedrock of CS. 

Now, Walter Zepeda is the founder of Scalefront, a startup focused on helping companies add remote employees to the fold, from talent recruitment to hiring to support. Before starting Scalefront last year, he was the director of customer success and chief operating officer at Actimo America, an IT services and consulting company. 

Walter, during a video conversation with Josh on LinkedIn, shared his two cents on the attributes needed to be successful in CS, as well as the one main thing he looks for when hiring a new employee. You can watch the full interview by clicking here, and you can read the 3 key takeaways from the conversation below.

Be Curious and Willing to Learn

When it comes to building a successful CS career, Walter said there are two essential attributes. The first, he said, is curiosity – having ample desire to know more about people or things you don’t fully understand. 

And the second attribute goes hand-in-hand with it: having “a willingness to learn.” If you can bring both of those to the table, you’ve set yourself up nicely for success. 

Walter said he learned this firsthand. 

Early in his CS career, he listened to a number of CS-focused podcasts and seminars; instead of being informative, though, they often focused on how the interview subject had a thriving business – with little background on how they reached this point or the challenges they faced along the way. 

Walter told Josh this left him “very frustrated” at first, because it sounded as if CS was a cakewalk for everyone else – and that wasn’t the experience he was having. But after thinking about it some more, Walter had a “shift in mindset,” he said, where he understood “it can’t be [that] everyone has it made.” There had to be more to the story for these flourishing businesses.

So Walter leaned into his natural curiosity and started reaching out to other CS professionals on LinkedIn, asking if they’d jump on a 30 minute call to talk about their careers. 

“I really want to learn from you, I heard you on this podcast,” Walter would say in his reach out messages. 

“That was the first change [for me] because in the beginning, when I started listening to these podcasts, I’m like, these people they’re gods, like they have it made. They’re running these successful customer success departments and they probably have zero churn or their net churn is negative,” Walter told Josh. “So then when we have these one-on-one conversations, it was like, you know, they’re just like me – they’re learning. They’re trying to get through this day and they all have these problems, but it’s just not what you hear on the podcast or on the webinars.” 

Walter then looked to learn as much as he could from those who were already successful in the business and try and apply their methods back to his CS career. That combination – of curiosity and a willingness to learn – helped him get over the initial roadblocks he was running into in CS.

The 30 Minute Phone Call Test

When Walter is hiring for CS Managers, there’s one “very important filter” he considers first and foremost: would he, if he was the customer, like to spend 30 minutes talking to this person on the phone?

If the answer is “yes,” they’ve started the game with a leadoff double. Communication is key, especially in CS. 

Being “someone who the other person feels comfortable talking to” is “one of the most important factors,” Walter said, because it helps put the customer at ease and allows them to share their thoughts freely. 

At the same time, Walter considers whether the applicant has “the ability to influence” – not in a manipulative way, he said, but in a way that helps transmit ideas; by doing so, you are able to cut through the noise and reach a solution quicker. 

Sure, previous CS experience is “nice to have,” Walter said, but it’s not a “must have.” If you’re comfortable talking with customers – and again, leveraging your curiosity to learn about the challenges they’re facing – then you’ve already passed the first test. 

The Remote Revolution Comes to CS

Is there an intriguing CS job opening that caught your eye – but it’s in a different market (or even a different country), so you’re not sure if you should go for it? Walter says don’t let that stop you, because the remote revolution, spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic, has also hit CS. 

Don’t look at the distance between where you live and a company’s headquarters as a hindrance, he said. Instead, that can often be beneficial, as companies expand into new markets. That’s where “nuances to those [particular] cultures” – nuances you understand better as someone who lives there – come in handy. That’s been especially true for Latin America in the last few years, Walter said, as companies from the U.S. and Europe move into more LatAm markets.   

Without an understanding of those cultural nuances, it’s “very hard to retain customers,” Walter told Josh. In other words – use your local knowledge to your advantage, because it’s more important than ever now.