Oliver Falk: Navigating Customer Success Challenges
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Vienna, Austria.
I still live near Vienna, but in more countryside.
Your career path
I got in contact with computers and IT very early in my childhood - in the 80s, when computers were somewhat exotic at home.
Then with the Internet in the 90s.
And from there on, I knew IT was going to be what I wanted to do for a living.
I can proudly look back to 25+ years of IT experience with only being slightly over 40 today.
I spent most of my time as a Systems Administrator / Engineer and DevOps person at times the terminology Dev(Sec)Ops wasn’t even coined yet.
A quick note here: For those who are not familiar with it, DevOps combines and automates Software Development (Dev) with IT Operations (Ops). It makes systems development more efficient, quicker, and better.
DevSecOps extends this, making the entire process more secure.
Half a decade ago, I was formally introduced to Customer Success and that’s where I found my absolute passion.
I’m happy that I recently joined GitLab as a people manager in Customer Success.
Gitlab is the leading platform that helps companies automate software delivery, boost productivity, and secure their end-to-end software supply chain.
It combines so many of my strengths, values, passion, and beliefs.
How did you join Customer Success?
I’ve seen Customer Success being introduced in many companies in the past decade.
I strongly believe I always had a strong customer success mindset, even if for many years my customers were “only” internal.
Reflecting on this makes me realize I always strived to understand the business outcomes that were attached to my actions.
“Love The CS Cafe! It’s my source of inspiration.”
—Shannon, Premium subscriber.
What are some of the biggest mistakes you've made in your customer success career and what did you learn from them?
Believing Customer Success can be driven by a single department/group in the company was probably the worst expectation.
Meanwhile, I learned that Customer Success is a team effort.
And that every department in a company can positively contribute to Customer Success, even if it’s sometimes less obvious.
Can you share a story about a particularly challenging situation you faced and how you overcame it?
A very technical issue that was difficult to debug in a production environment.
Layer after layer, we discovered new issues.
In the end, we sorted out the problems.
But for many months, keeping the customer confident they made the right choice and that we're dedicated to their success was exhausting.
What do you think are the most important qualities for someone in customer success to possess?
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You need to be multifaceted.
Of course, you need to have technical skills.
But more important are human skills, like strong communication skills.
Staying curious and being a lifelong learner, including surrounding yourself not only with like-minded people.
Beyond your comfort zone are many growth opportunities.
How do you see CS evolving in the upcoming years?
We’ll see more companies embracing Customer Success in one or the other way.
We may see more standardization but never forget: outstanding companies often strive to make a difference.
Just be absolutely conscious when not following the standard.
I also hope that we’re seeing stronger collaboration across company borders.
In many cases, up to 90% of the company's technology stack and processes are the same and not the key differentiating factors for the customers.
What's your top challenge at the moment?
A key challenge that keeps following me is verticalization.
Of course, you need to segment your customers in some way.
Segmenting them by verticals (ie. automotive, retail, etc.) seems to be one of the most commonly chosen ones, but many companies dismiss the opportunity to leverage it efficiently.
If there was one thing you would love to stop doing at work, what would it be?
I hope AI is going to help us eliminate repetitive tasks to free us up for creative tasks and more human interaction.
What are you most passionate about?
Working with people and helping them learn, grow, and find their passion, aligned with their core values.
Where do you see yourself in 1 year? 5, 10 years?
I hope I’ll be a better version of myself.
In 10 years better than in 5 years.
And in 5, better than in 1.
I hope I’m surrounded by people helping me to advance towards my goals.
What are your top 3 priorities at the moment from a professional and personal perspective?
Help to advance Customer Success,
Share my knowledge and experience, while still staying curious,
Learn and grow, and keep a healthy work-life balance.
Why did you join my newsletter?
Your messages absolutely resonated with me right from the beginning.
And I’m happy to see how your audience grows.
I hope I added a bit to your success by sharing one or the other messages on my social feeds.
Other interesting facts about you?
People are often surprised about my tattoos.
If you’re searching for a conversation starter: I have 3 at the moment and each one has - of course - a story.
Sometimes people are surprised that I became a father in my mid-20s.
And lastly, I’m the lead developer of Libravatar, a service that delivers your avatar (profile picture) to other websites.
It’s a free alternative to Gravatar.
So yes, I still code and I’m pretty fluent in Python and all things DevSecOps.
Any book(s) you'd recommend the CS Café audience to read?
It can be any book you love.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Reading more would be great or listening to inspiring podcasts.
Don’t waste your time on binge-watching series.
Better invest your time in binge-watching videos from some of the greatest voices of our times, like Simon Sinek, Adam Grant, Brené Brown, Steven Bartlett, and many more.
Where can people find you?
Here’s my LinkedIn.
It’s my preferred platform and I’m trying to stay very responsive there.
Thank you, Oliver, for this awesome interview and your ongoing support from the very beginning!
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