Customer experience, often abbreviated as CX, refers to the entire experience of the customer, from the moment you want to buy something to customer support, said Heather Casey, president and COO of PartnerHero. “It’s the whole interaction, the followup, and how you walked away feeling,” she said.
That includes e-commerce, financial institutions, and educational organizations such as Udemy and Khan Academy. “We have teams that really focus on the entire experience, and others that just focus on certain parts,” Casey said. “Everyone plays a role to ensure that our partners and their workflows are helping our partners create their best customer experience.”
Of course, a number of these functions are ones that some companies are looking to automate using generative artificial intelligence (AI), like ChatGPT. “It’s an important part of our future,” said Casey. “We’re not walking away from it.” PartnerHero is working on a report with its perspective on the technology, she said. “What we really believe is AI is around to stay, there is a way it can help our partners do their work and save some money, and we think there’s a way we can ensure we’re still helping on the pieces that require human interaction.”
In fact, PartnerHero recently initiated what it calls the CX Innovator Fund program, to help improve the customer experience industry. “Our clients, our customers, our associates, are all CX professionals,” Casey said. “We really believe CX professionals have a lot of great ideas because they work with customers every day. We want to support our community by allowing one or two of those ideas to come to fruition.”
Consequently, the company intends to make a $50,000 investment to a global CX business it feels could have the biggest impact, including mentorship, guidance, and help, Casey said.
CX is a field that’s led to a lot of growth for PartnerHero. Just a few years ago, the company numbered a couple of dozen people in Boise, in an office in BoDo, along with a few satellite offices worldwide.
Now, in the U.S. alone, there are 200 to 300 employees, and the Boise team moved in October 2020 to a new office – the storied former Paylocity office in the C.W. Moore building. “I was about to sign the lease on March 16, and I decided, ‘I’m going to wait a couple days,’” Casey recalled. “Everyone shut down and we had mandatory work from home. But we always wanted that office. In October we started to feel like, okay, let’s make some movement. We really wanted that office. We felt like it was meant for us.”
Altogether, the company has about 200 customers, and about 2,700 employees worldwide, among 11 countries, including Honduras, Bucharest Romania, Canada, South Africa, Brazil, Berlin, Canada, and Manila in the Philippines, as well as in multiple locations in the U.S., Casey said.
“We want to set our teams up so we’re in places where we can have a strong impact in the community,” Casey said. “Communities are important to us. We want associates tied to the mission in the community, not just work and go home.” Other factors around office locations include language capabilities, time zones, and skills. “Sometimes we’re happy to go into a region and invest in a skill set,” she said. “I have a strong aspiration to open up in Nepal,” which might take a few years of what she called “development lift.”
That growth extends to what PartnerHero does as well. “Our bread and butter is still customer support and customer experience,” Casey said. But the company now works in other areas including software quality assurance and professional services, workforce management, and finance and accounting, as well. In addition, the company is involved in CX transformation, or helping clients sets up resources and their CX support.
PartnerHero is also developing CX operations software, which it hasn’t yet released. “We hired our chief digital office in October last year,” Casey said. “We were starting to build it before he came on, but we were waiting for his leadership to launch it. The goal is to make CX operations really easy for anyone from a mom and dad selling homemade blankets in Iowa to someone launching an e-commerce store in San Francisco. We want an easy CX experience for anyone who needs one. Good customer support and CX make a huge difference for the consumer and the company.”
Casey doesn’t rule out PartnerHero ever taking outside funding, but so far it hasn’t had to, she said. “We’re still completely 100% bootstrapped,” she said. “We’ve created all this without taking a penny of outside capital. If we want to take money, we can, but we don’t have to.”
That doesn’t mean it never will. “We’re so strong on our mission about this being a positive work experience for our associates and partners,” Casey said. “We want to make sure, if we ever do, we can use it in a way that helps us deliver back on our values and mission and why we feel we’re here, not because we’re in a hole and we need someone to dig us out. I personally believe profit can be created not just by looking at the bottom line, but by the people and culture.”
Without taking outside funding, there’s also less emphasis on an exit strategy. “We certainly talk about it,” Casey said. “All of us are really clear that we’re open to whatever options are the best to achieve the goals of the business. We want to be a business that gives back, not just takes.”
Casey also doesn’t rule out PartnerHero becoming a B corporation, or a public benefit corporation, which means they are intended to serve a public good as well as making money. “We’ve had a lot of discussions about it,” she said. “It comes up about once a year. We’ve strongly considered it.” In a number of ways, such as all the employees participating in a shared ownership program, the company has already taken several steps in that direction. “We don’t want to do something just to show the world we’re doing something,” she said. “One of our core values is to be humble.” That said, it’s possible to be too humble. “Sometimes it does bite us in the butt a bit – we do the things, and don’t talk about it, and people don’t know.”
In the meantime, PartnerHero is pursuing several other certifications around privacy, security, and sustainability, and continues to put its focus on giving back to its associates and partners, Casey said.
Toward that end, the company has been named several times to various “best place to work” lists, including most recently coming in the top 10 in Newsweek’s most loved workplace award. “It’s an incredible honor,” Casey said, noting that the company is judged by an independent process, the details of which she said she doesn’t even know.
What it means, though, is that what associates really feel from leadership and PartnerHero is an authentic experience that allows them to be themselves, Casey said. The human resources or “people operations” team, out of North Carolina, spends a lot of time listening to associates to see what they want. “Maybe we say, ‘another time,’ or ‘no,’ but do we have an opportunity to impact their experience in a positive way?” she said. The company has been setting up “safe spaces” where employees in identity groups can come together and have their voices heard, she said.
For example, the company now offers benefits to help with the political landscape, such as travel for pregnant associates seeking voluntary termination and for transgender associates to still have access to their benefits. “We’re a huge safe haven for LGBTQ+ employees, not just in the U.S. but globally,” Casey said.
Moreover, PartnerHero is always looking to increase its diversity, Casey said, noting that 30% of senior executive leadership is female. This year, the company is focusing on director and above positions in geographies with the greatest headcounts. “There’s a lot of listening and learning from associates to understand how we make business decisions to impact their world,” she said. “They’re doing the work, they’re helping us build the business, their experience matters. The Newsweek placement is reflective of that.”
As time has gone on, PartnerHero has had fewer of its employees in Idaho, with the Boise office having more managers and above, due to the cost of housing, Casey said. “The rate of growth of housing prices, over COVID, meant we got priced out for entry-level roles,” she said. “The office is definitely underutilized,” though the company uses it for events, partner meetings, and so on, she said.
It’s possible, in fact, that when the lease is up for renewal, PartnerHero may move its headquarters to a location with more of its associates, such as North Carolina. “We wouldn’t leave Boise,” Casey said. “But we may downsize the office, and open a larger office in a place with more people coming to the office.”