In the late 1950s, Allen Zwerdling and Ira Eaker, two veterans of New York’s theater scene, had an idea: a publication that would connect actors to producers casting their plays. After being turned down by The Village Voice, the pair launched Backstage magazine in 1960 as a dedicated space for casting notices. It grew quickly, expanding from theater to film and from New York and Los Angeles to across the United States.
More than 50 years later, Backstage has outlived both its founders and evolved into much more than a magazine (though that still exists!). It’s a SaaS tech platform where thousands of projects make use of a robust set of casting tools to find cast and crew all over the world. It’s used by members of the entertainment industry to manage film and television productions, but also by new media producers to cast things like commercials, online video projects, podcasts, and more.
Through development and acquisition, Backstage now offers a suite of products that help producers manage entertainment projects from end-to-end. That growing product suite, and expansion into new worldwide markets, has created challenges for Backstage in the areas of support and content moderation.
As more filmmakers, actors, casting directors, and advertising executives joined Backstage from around the world, international expansion began to put a strain on their ability to deliver high level support.
“The site, of course, was operational 24/7,” says Backstage Vice President, Luke Crowe. But serving the needs of worldwide customers in a timely fashion was a challenge for a team based mostly in New York and Los Angeles. “If a project was casting in Australia or if somebody needed talent on the weekend and needed help, a lot of times they would have to wait until those US business hours.”
Adding to the challenge, Backstage was also growing through acquisition. They had welcomed a number of new brands to their portfolio, each of which had a unique audience with differing support needs. The company had to find a way to scale support internationally, as well as across multiple sub-brands. Because Backstage deals with user generated content—community members post casting calls—they also have significant content moderation needs. Here, too, international expansion caused issues. Vetting casting calls to weed out scams was easy for a magazine operating in one or two cities, but for an always-on digital platform operating across the globe, it became a lot trickier. A delay caused by a false-positive from Backstage’s automated fraud detection systems could wreak havoc on a tight commercial schedule. Commercial casting directors often need to get projects shot and completed in as little as two days. “Items that came in overnight and got flagged as potential fraud could get held up for as much as 12 or 14 hours,” says Luke, and that could be devastating to a project with no margin for delays. On the flip side, items that didn’t get flagged by the automated systems could cause real harm if they were published and left up for hours.
Luke began searching for a solution to extend their support capabilities. Backstage didn’t just want warm bodies to answer emails. They wanted a true partner who could help them solve their problems and improve the quality of their support through improved processes and documentation, all while fitting into their existing customer service and success culture.
“We were looking for a more modern solution that could provide real team members,” says Luke. “We spent a lot of time trying to find a partner that would be the opposite of the old school call center model.”
In PartnerHero, they found a partner to help them expand their support capabilities who was not only focused on quality, but also matched well with their own values. Backstage teamed up with PartnerHero to provide timely, 24/7 global support using a hybrid model where PartnerHero associates became a true extension of the existing team. Because we have high retention rates, Luke felt confident that any time invested in training new associates would be time well spent.
“It's really worth the investment to spend time training up additional support staff because we know they're going to be with us on a long term basis,” says Luke. “PartnerHero also had a lot of company values that we felt were a good match. Policies around following the sun, making sure there are benefits and time off, and that they offered levels of progression for their team.”
But while PartnerHero’s commitment to our people made Backstage want to work with us, it was our commitment to quality that really drew their attention.
“We have a very specialized audience, and very specialized software and technology that we're providing to this audience,” says Luke. “We wanted teammates who could understand our audience and really learn the software and be able to provide next level support. With PartnerHero, we were able to start accomplishing that much more efficiently where we could add in outstanding support for additional days, additional hours, additional countries, additional languages, and really expand our team to meet the needs of the audience.”
Since launching with just a couple of associates, Backstage has grown to over 30 in half a dozen countries, supporting six brands.
“Initially, we were only planning on building out a small team—five or six people—to help give us a little bit more support on these international hours overnight, and weekend hours,” says Luke. “But it worked out so well that we've quickly scaled up to far more and far greater coverage.”
It all boils down to improving the customer experience. On the fraud detection front, turnaround times are down to minutes instead of hours, which has a real business impact. Not only does reducing turnaround times keep harmful (and reputation killing) scams off the site, but it ensures false positives get fixed earlier, which means creatives don’t have to wait to begin casting their projects. On the more general customer support side, customers are now able to get service quickly no matter where in the world they are.
Adding additional support solved the response time issues for international customers, and working with PartnerHero has helped domestic customers of Backstage, too.
“Creatives tend to work on irregular hours,” says Luke. “Just getting responses a little bit quicker than they could before gives the user a better experience. You're going to continue hiring through our site rather than going to a competitive product. That’s a win for everybody.”
Working with PartnerHero has given Luke’s team the ability to take on high priority work that was falling to the wayside and focus on improving the overall customer experience.
“PartnerHero is not coming in to replace anybody,” says Luke. “It's about enabling our internal teams to scale. They can focus more on the real-time communications with clients rather than always having to do catch-up on the backlog.”
Perhaps most importantly, though, PartnerHero provides peace of mind to Backstage. PartnerHero associates fit seamlessly into the internal Backstage team, which allows Backstage to leverage our CX expertise and global reach to achieve their customer service and success goals.
“They've really become integrated with each of our groups and have been great cultural fits within our teams,” says Luke. “We're able to trust them to run independently as needed across these expanded hours when our domestic teams aren't available. I think that is a real rarity compared to traditional solutions.”