Keeping ahead of the game

Melissa Hamilton has taken business process outsourcer Stellar in bold new directions.

In a fragmented industry that is facing constant disruption, Stellar is forging a new path – one that its clients have fully embraced.

“We have built long-term lasting relationships with our clients,” Melissa says. “We invest heavily in listening to our clients’ customers and share this intelligence to drive new ways of interacting.

We innovate and trial new technologies, new locations, new training methodologies and new processes with our clients.

“We build partnerships focused on delivering win-win outcomes.”

Melissa has over 20 years’ experience working with clients on customer contact strategy across multiple industries including telecommunications, utilities, travel & transportation and government.

She joined Stellar in 1999 and has the third longest tenure in the company.

As CEO of Stellar Asia Pacific, Melissa oversees Australia, Philippines and the USA, which means two things: her inbox is constantly full and she’s always on the road. An aeroplane for Melissa is her second home.

Her working life is dictated in part due to technology transforming the industry. Melissa is making sure that Stellar is ahead of the game.

“Digital change is already widespread, thanks to low-cost access to digital technology and social media. Businesses need to embrace this, as it comes with many positive opportunities to gain a competitive advantage.”

Stellar manages digital channels for many of its clients along with the traditional methods, and has its eye on the near future in order to be ready for the next wave of emerging technology and demands.

“We need to be ready for what’s around the corner; with projects looking into virtual reality and artificial intelligence in their early stages,” she says.

“Seeing something go from an idea we come up with through to implementation is very rewarding. We’re excited about the rate of change in technology and in our industry, as it means we’re going to get that innovation buzz more and more.”

The result: a company growing faster than the industry average. Over the last two years, Stellar has been growing at 15 per cent versus the industry average of 2 to 3 per cent, and is continually piloting new technologies with clients to maintain this strong growth.

Stellar is a trusted partner with leading organisations across most industry sectors.

With offices in Australia, Europe, USA and the Philippines, it has forged strong relationships with telcos such as Vodafone, utilities such as Simply Energy and travel companies such as Jetstar.  Stellar also partners with government organisations and private organisations in healthcare, aged care, pharmaceuticals, entertainment, tourism and education as well as not-for-profit entities.

Through this growth, the customer experience evolution, for both Stellar and its clients, has been a shared learning.

“When Stellar started, the offering was pretty simple,” Melissa says. “Clients engaged us to drive efficiency and reduce costs; starting with an Australian call centre, moving to offshoring in the

Philippines. But now, our clients are asking us for guidance on the end-to-end customer journey across multiple channels. We’re taking our clients through an evolution process of how they talk to their customers.

“We take a collaborative approach with our clients, working in partnership to discover what is best for their business. We then work with suppliers to plan, design, and deliver services and solutions. We aim to exceed the expectations of our clients and their customers. We don’t believe in selling a product we can’t deliver. We tend to be a little humble when we’re selling to a client, honest to a fault about what they can expect and when we can deliver it.”

Melissa is passionate about innovation in a fast-moving industry and is looking for clients who want a trusted partner who will challenge the company to discover new ways of doing things. Much of Stellar’s mission is to innovate and be the first to try something new, often taking the financial risk on itself.

“We have strong and long-lasting relationships with most of our client-base, and we get great value out of seeing the evolution of our ideas. We want to build a solid foundation with a new client, learn their business inside out, to help  realise even greater rewards.”

She says the pace of change is now the big challenge for business.

“I think businesses are even more aware of their customers today but in many cases are challenged with the pace of change and the changed customer expectations as a result. Sometimes they getdistracted and end up too inwardly focused” she says.

“Today, businesses need to do everything faster and more efficiently if they want to remain competitive in crowded markets.”

Advancements in technology now mean Stellar’s customers are better informed and have higher expectations. They are also constantly connected – smartphones only arrived in 2007, but as Melissa says, her kids can’t imagine life without a smartphone (let alone without texting or the internet).

Of customers, she says, “They have greater access to businesses, and they aren’t bound by 9 to 5 opening hours. They have a variety of channels they can use to get in touch with a company.  They expect answers from the same channel they reached out through – Twitter then Twitter, email then email, webchat then webchat.

“Most people research brands. They make purchase decisions online and take feedback from other customers on board.”

She says businesses now find it harder to carve out the time and resources to discover the best way to communicate with their customers. The sheer number of channels and knowing how to ensure communication is seamless across them is very challenging; with businesses needing separate strategies across phone, mail, email, social media, text and live chat.

“People know they can tweet at a company and get a quick response – or if the company fumbles it, they know they have a very wide audience to share the failure with. Some brands are not engaging across social channels, unaware of the potential brand impact of not engaging, let alone the lost opportunities to create promoters.

“This has obvious ramifications for a brand, far beyond the damage that complaints mechanisms in the past would bring.”

And businesses are struggling with it. In fact, Melissa says many businesses will be using the same systems for communication as they always have, unaware of changes in technology and industry that would save them money while improving their customer relationships.

This is a problem. Accenture found that poor customer experience is costing Australian businesses $122 billion.

At the same time, there are some basics about customer service that have not changed.

“Life is becoming increasingly digitised, but at the centre of it, it’s still about people. In that way, good customer service hasn’t changed at all. It’s just the methods around the support that have evolved,” she says.

“People are pushing too heavily towards digital when 81 per cent of people prefer to deal with human beings on service issues. You have to be careful about the balance and continue listening to your customers.”

For Melissa it all comes down to the fundamentals of good customer service. Organisations need to remember customers and their preferences – know them and get better at anticipating when they need their suppliers – before they do. Melissa says that digital will be everywhere, but human touch will retain value. People will always be at the core.

And this is where Stellar comes in.

“This is what Stellar is all about,” Melissa says. “Our passion and our knowledge is all focused on our clients’ communication channels. We do this through figuring out the best mix for each client to use, and use our 18 years of experience to optimise the implementation and then the day-to-day process. We take care of our clients’ customers over the phone, social media, web chat – as well as providing self-service options and back-of-house processes.

“For the clients who want to keep things in-house, we developed our consulting branch, Stellar Evolve. We realised that we’ve built this incredible bank of knowledge across the end-to-end customer journey; and we should combine this with our consultants’ global experience to offer our clients a truly valuable product.”

Melissa has made sure that Stellar has the right culture for this. In 2016, she received the Women in Leadership Award as part of the Australian Growth Company Awards.

“At the core, we’re about people, and that will never change. I’m proud to be leading a company made up of a diverse and wonderful group of people who are all passionate about our clients’ goals,” she says. BFM

Business First is a peer-to-peer magazine: written by CEOs and other high level executives, with interviews with some of the country’s best leaders.

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