Pump up the Volume

    Wokingham-based Volume has transformed from a B2B marketing agency to a specialist in experiential artificial intelligence (AI) over the past three years. Chief operating officer Gemma Hood explains why people as well as technology are at the heart of the company.

    Volume’s experiential AI comprises conversational AI platforms that turn searches into asks, enabling a website to respond to how you interact with it, as well as physical interactions using humanoid AI robots and virtual reality experiences. Volume’s robot, Pepper, cheerfully greets visitors when they arrive at its office.

    “We are continuing to develop our ‘experiential’ AI capabilities,” explained Volume’s new chief operating officer Gemma Hood. “Our aim is to support our clients in providing next level customer experiences.”

    In addition to delivering digital content-based marketing campaigns, the company works with clients sharing what it is learning about how experiential AI can improve efficiency and customer experiences. “Clients see us as a trusted thought leader in experiential AI, who can help guide them through their technology transformation,” said Hood.

    Power to the people

    Volume’s ascendancy in terms of pioneering technology is powered by its people. Company founder Chris Sykes, who is shortlisted for CEO of the Year in the PwC-sponsored UK Private Business Awards, underlined the importance of getting employees fully behind the pivotal switch to AI.

    To help achieve this, Hood moved from running Volume’s creative team to being chief people officer (CPO) and, in June, was appointed COO. Her joint focus on people and commercial activity demonstrates Sykes’ vision in action. A number of awards illustrate the success of the company’s people-focused approach.

    Volume is the Thames Valley Business Magazine Awards 2017 Best Company to Work For and the Thames Valley Tech Awards 2018 Tech Employer of the Year. This year for the first time it entered The Sunday Times Best 100 Small Companies to Work For.

    “Being 53rd in The Sunday Times listing is a massive achievement for us and a testament to how engaged and loyal our employees are,” said Hood.

    The company employs around 100 people, mainly at its head office in Wokingham. It has offices in Plymouth, Sri Lanka, and a newly opened office in San Jose, California.

    Understanding clients

    “In my CPO role, I set up our people, culture and community function, so I have a good feel for how we can build an environment where employees thrive and we can attract talent to join us. The more engaged employees are, the more loyal they will be to our brand and the more they’ll enjoy working here and feel we are recognising their effort,” she said.

    As COO, she is taking on a more commercially focused role. “I started in client services, so also understand our clients’ priorities. I’ll be using what I’ve learned as CPO about motivating and engaging our teams to ensure we fully engage with clients,” she said.

    STEM passion

    Volume has a workforce balance of 54% men and 46% women. Hood’s promotion underlines the company’s commitment to encouraging more women to look at careers in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) sector.

    “I’m really passionate about getting more girls thinking about STEM subjects,” said Hood. “I take Pepper with me to local primary and secondary schools, as well as to university recruitment fairs, to showcase what Volume does and inspire curiosity in technology.”

    Students who participate in the Volume Academy work on placements at the company for anything from a week to a year. Volume regards them as a valuable pipeline of talent who may become future employees. The Academy also gives employees the opportunity to mentor young people.

    “We try to make sure every touch point with Volume conveys our values and culture and that everyone who experiences Volume comes away with a positive experience,” said Hood.

    Of course, if you work hard you usually get to play hard. Volume people are fun loving and passionate about what they do. They volunteer in fundraising for community projects and charities. TFI Thursdays and other social events bring everyone together. “We enjoy a good craic.” laughed Hood.