KEEP­ING AHEAD OF THE GAME

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

Business First - - PROFILE -

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 lon­glast­ing 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 get dis­tracted 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 dayto-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.

Melissa Hamil­ton

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