Build-A-Bear Workshop and Infusion: creating great customer experiences

OnWindows: Speak Magazine, Autumn 2014

Speak provides its readers with a quarterly digest of features, commentary and case studies focusing on the role of Microsoft technology in the retail, hospitality and consumer industries.

When you think about a great customer experience, the words that come to mind are engaged, surprising and, most of all, fun. Microsoft has had a great relationship with a business partner called Infusion. They have a unique approach that unites insight, creativity and technology to help our clients transform their businesses with amazing digital experiences.

Most of the time I work in and write about the retail industry, and that’s where Infusion first came to my attention. But Infusion’s clients come from a wide range of industries including retail, financial services, oil and gas, health and life sciences, entertainment, hospitality, education, and the public sector. That’s a pretty broad portfolio and you might ask what do these have in common and how can one agency bring value to each of them? This is where the magic of Infusion comes in. They create a wonderful fusion of technology and creative skills that speak to the individual experience. Across most of these industries we’re talking about a customer experience. The public sector speaks to a citizen experience. In the case of hospitals and life sciences it’s a patient experience. The common denominator is the human experience.

Let's get back to that fun part though. One of the things that drew me into retail in the first place was the amount of fun and excitement that came with the business. I’ve always thought that shopping was entertaining and that the best place to experience that, other than show business, was in a store. That’s where Infusion and Microsoft have a great story to share. The store Build-A-Bear Workshop is known and loved by many. It’s a place where you and your child can go and actually create a bear that represents the things your child enjoys. If your daughter loves the ballet, her beautiful bear can come home complete with a tutu. If your son dreams of being a fireman, he can create a heroic bear that wears a red helmet. For the most part, this has been an analogue process where the child’s involvement has been pretty limited. They pick a costume for the bear and watch it get filled with stuffing inside of a large machine that might have come from Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. It was fun to watch, but kids want to do more than watch, they want to be involved (anyone who’s done finger painting knows that).

Consider as well that the current generation of children is very tech friendly. They are growing up in a world where touch screens are very commonplace and the key word relating to fun technology is interactive. How do you do that when you’re putting together a toy bear? To achieve a consistent quality and make sure that more stuffing ends up in the bear than on the floor, you do need that big machine to do the work, (rather than having kids actually fill the bears themselves). That’s where Infusion’s creative team and Microsoft technology come together. Rather than just choosing a costume to dress the bear, children were invited to use a touch-sensitive table with a display screen built into the surface. Each kid has the opportunity to infuse their bear with attributes. They can make them athletic, polite, happy – anything that the child wants to instil in their new plush friend. The table is used to draw these characteristics into a heart shaped token that rests on and activates the table. Once the child has created their bear’s pawsonality, the child hands the heart over to the store associate who inserts the heart into the toy bear. They are then able to move through a series of self-guided digital experiences that allow the child to name, dress, create customised sounds and bathe their bear before leaving the store. All of the information is collected, in part, to generate a certificate that accompanies the bear to their new home.

On the back end, Build-A-Bear Workshop now has access to a source of information on the child that was previously unavailable. They can use this to make business decisions based on the customer information collected during the store visit. The creation of digital experiences by Infusion, which are powered by Microsoft technologies, delivered a fresh approach to the in-store experience without compromising or overwhelming the Build-A-Bear brand.

Does it make a difference? Build-A-Bear stores are seeing much higher customer traffic and those who have implemented the new format are seeing a 30% increase in sales. The company now plans to roll it out to another 40 to 50 stores over the next two years. Kids and their parents see this as a bit of an adventure and a way to create a story that they can remember and share together. It’s an amazing way to create a customer experience that engages a new audience and grows the business. Check out the newly imagined Build a Bear Store here.