Building Customer-Led Businesses

Paul Allen Of Comotion On Building Customer-Led Businesses

This is a quote from Paul Allen of the London-based consulting agency Comotion when asked about what they do and why Comotion exists.

The name Comotion comes from putting the words "commerce" and "emotion" together - a useful simile of what Comotion does and a good representation of today's business world.

It's no longer enough to just be business or tech savvy. The two sides of the brain - logic and emotion - must come together for ultimate customer loyalty and satisfaction.

We talked with Paul Allen about the necessity of these worlds coming together, as well as combining soft skills and hard data. We also asked for some advice on how to foster next-level customer loyalty from your own clientele.

First of all, can you introduce us to Comotion? Where are you based out of? When was your company founded? What inspired you to start Comotion in the first place?

We're a London-based cogency (consulting / agency) founded in 2013. The firm is comprised of five directors and a small team of permanent staff and associates. Our revenues for the most recent financial year FY14/15 were approx. $4mUSD.

We were inspired to start the firm because we saw, within the professional services arena, an increasing "meshing and merging" of two key worlds: i) the world of "left-brained" consultancy firms (think Accenture, Capgemini, Deloitte) and ii) the world of "right brained" creative agencies (focusing more on activities such as Integrated Marketing, PR, Digital, Brand and Social). We believe these two worlds are colliding, and rightly so as clients demand more and more of these skillsets to be delivered together. Once we had this clear in our minds, we set about creating a proposition to take to the market, and we settled on supporting clients in building customer-led businesses. Why? Because we hold the view that, more than ever in today's world, if organisations are not truly customer-led, they are probably not long for this world. And so this is where clients need most support right now.

Who are some of the main industries that Comotion has done work for? What are some issues that are specific for each industry? Anything that's universal?

We primarily work with clients who come to us with a growth problem (this may be wishing to double size of the business, enter a new market, deliver a new proposition, increase EBITDA by x% and so forth). In these situations, we work with c-suite level leaders or the board to define a customer-led strategy which helps them get there. This is often a highly collaborative and creative process (as opposed to some of the more spreadsheet-driven activities you would see from a more classic strategy house) and lets us move clients then into a more design-focused phase around two key areas: i) who, in detail, are you customers and what is the experience you want them to have? and ii) what is the architecture - from a business perspective - that you need to deliver this? Finally, we work with clients to plan these journeys and deliver these via massive engagement and collaboration both internally within the organisation and externally.

Your motto is "Business is built on logic, but driven by emotion." Can you elaborate on this idea for us a little bit, and talk about why this is important in today's business climate?

This is a reflection of our belief which I have alluded to above: that we believe you need to unite the rational, logical and practical arguments of business (which we would typically see a consulting firm work on) with more of the hearts and minds argument(s) to change (which we would typically see an agency focus on). Ultimately, organisations are collections of human beings coming together to achieve a common goal wrapped around sets of systems and processes. Too often, consulting firms focus on the former; too often, agencies focus on the latter. The focus needs to be on both. Commerce and Emotion = Comotion.

What are some methods that Comotion uses to unite logic and emotions?

We focus heavily here at Comotion on engagement throughout all our work with clients - not just in terms of between us and the client, but more specifically within the client organisation itself. Really, we are looking and working to support the client across both internal engagement, within teams of employees, functions, departments and across geographies; and externally, in terms of how the client organisation engages with its vendors, third-party joint ventures, government, local companies, NGO's, etc. in terms of the changes it's making. Throughout all this, we work with clients to make change really compelling and engaging. A newsletter and a townhall will no longer do.

So, today we're looking at a number of areas, including how an organisation's brand is used and positioned both externally and internally to drive change; the use of enterprise social media in engagements with a workforce; the use of rapid-prototyping to ideate and curate ideas across employee bases; crowd-sourcing of ideas from employees during periods of change and other engagement activities.

The first step of Comotion's process is customer-led strategies. Can you talk a little bit about some of the methods you use to figure out what your customers want? What are some metrics you analyze, and how do you convert that data into usable insights?

Our approach is not just about metrics; rather, it's about looking at a number of key areas including metrics. We blend the work a strategy consultancy would do with the work of an integrated marketing agency - and this means we focus usually on four key areas: i) What markets do you wish, as an organisation, to enter and have a presence in and why? ii) Who are the customers you are targeting? iii) What is the proposition you are trying to sell? and iv) Does your brand give you "permission" to do that?

Once we have that clear, we then work with clients to determine their multi-channel approach to going out and delivering their proposition and the infrastructure they need to do this. In support of this, the approach is then is part metrics, part science and part data. We will run activities ranging from classic market and customer analysis through to brand strategy activities; service safaris (ethnographic research); surveys; customer "vox pops" and rapid prototyping of ideas (often in geographic test areas) to get propositions from ideation to reality in super-quick time.

The second step of your process is "engagement-led design," where you talk about "people aren't resistant to change, they're resistant to being changed." Can you talk a little bit about what you mean by engagement-led design and why it's important?

When we talk about engagement-led design, we are really talking about a couple of key things here: how do you involve customers in creating and shaping both i) the proposition you take to market, and ii) the experience they have when accessing the proposition? So, engagement-driven design is about how do I engage the customer base to really "nail" the proposition and deliver what customers need. But it's also about how do I use that process internally within the organisation in a better way, such that it drives great internal employee engagement. So, we look to use techniques such as customer journey mapping, customer insight (voice of customer/voice of employee) and qualitative and quantitative insight to do this. We then also look at, organisationally, what does the client need in place to deliver this; i.e., what is the operating model (people, process, technology) they need to deliver the experience and proposition? And we try where possible to involve employees in that whole process. So, it's design - but it's engagement-led design.

In your opinion and experience, do you feel that data analysis is a growing field, especially with all the buzz about Big Data? Is this something people might want to look into if they're thinking about changing careers?

Big data is like teenage sex - everyone says they are doing it, and doing it well; but when you really get down to it, no one really knows what it is and no one is doing it well. And I guess that would be the first observation which we see in clients: the consistent question as to "What is it?" and "How do I exploit it?" It's a broad topic and one which we would better define with clients as a challenge around how they utilize the masses of data bubbles/trails to drive stronger customer insight and experiences. The opportunities here are huge - from connected journeys in travel & transport to more comprehensive and joined up experiences across, say, a number of complimentary retailers. So, it certainly impacts us in terms of the customer agenda. It's a growing field, no doubt;- and we see the emergence of clients who need data scientists, analytics and insight experts, and those who can really work across four key areas: i) analysis ii) data acquisition iii) data mining and iv) structures/data models.

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