Comcast Brands to Xfinity (and Beyond)

Flexible media and a new customer engagement model make Comcast’s prototype service center an entirely new brand experience.

When media giant Comcast decided to retool its XFINITY customer service centers, the idea was to move away from the purely transactional model of the past and create an entirely new way to engage with customers.

What if instead of the traditional service experience—slogging equipment to the store or standing in line to pay a bill—you walked into an immersive, interactive media environment that invites you to play games, test-drive new tablets and phones, and watch high-definition media?

STUDIO XFINITY, the reimagined prototype store designed by ESI Design (New York), is a metaphor for the XFINITY system itself, says Joe Karadin, ESI’s director of physical design: “A flexible, expandable media experience that you can take with you anywhere and watch any time.”

“Comcast wanted to innovate and do something completely different than what is out there in the marketplace right now,” Karadin explains. “Our Big Question was: How do we make a connection between brand and customer on a human level?”

Comcast and the ESI team knew the best way to relate to customers and show off the XFINITY line of products and services was to show them how the video, high-speed Internet, and phone offerings work and the connectivity they can bring to life. So the new store was designed to accommodate flexible media displays, demonstration areas, and small classes, showcasing the company’s rich trove of media assets (Comcast owns NBC, Universal, and Telemundo).

“We knew we needed to engage customers in an exciting way and teach them what they don’t even know they can do with this system,” says Karadin. The 9,000-sq.-ft. space in Chicago’s tony Fremont neighborhood “was designed to allow customers to engage with everything Xfinity connectivity can bring into their lives-- fantastic media, incredible games, and exciting communication tools.”

From the get-go, media draws customers into the store. It incorporates more than 800 feet of LED screens and large-scale media installations, including a 107-foot-long LED media band wrapping the upper walls. Close to 50 tablets and touchscreen surfaces invite customers to get actively engaged with the product.

“We had to design a physical space for a company that delivers a digital product,” notes Karadin. “So we used media as the portal and as the primary building block.” 

Just inside the doors, “guests” learn that the old ways of doing business have changed. As soon as they arrive, they get dedicated service support via a tablet-based app that allows staff access to customer information, from the services they have to trouble-shooting histories. ESI Design worked with technology design firm Control Group (New York) on the technical development of the app.

At the heart of the store, three flexible, multi-purpose studios are outfitted with 12- by 7-foot LED screens and theater-style seating, allowing customers to interact with each other as well as with the studio screens while playing single- or multi-player games (custom designed by ESI Design with BumbleBear). They can also participate in live demos or test-drive new or existing Xfinity products. The screens can be focused on a unique activity or coordinated for hosting store-wide events, launches, movie premieres, or larger-scale games.

State-of-the-art demonstration towers show guests what they can do with XFINITY products. The tall, two-sided totems with integrated 2.5mm LED screens can show guests, for example, how to program their DVR or get content from the cloud. Virtual call bells on the towers ensure that if customers need help, a staff person can be summoned right away.

Non-digital amenities, such as low transaction tables and casual seating, reinforce the transition from a bank teller-type experience to a more relaxed way of doing business. A coffee bar offers refreshments and a merchandising area in the back of the store offers third-party products that complement the XFINITY lineup. “We wanted to put Comcast in the position of being technology curators,” says Karadin, “So we’ll be exploring third-party partnerships moving forward.”

Comcast will spend the next year tracking how customers are using the prototype, what’s working, and what isn’t so they can roll out the new store design to more of its customer service centers.

Karadin says integrating flexible, updatable media was the key to the project’s success and they are doing similar projects for many types of clients, not just tech companies.

“The idea is that an immersive media environment is flexible, updatable, and adaptable,” he notes. “It can be updated hourly, weekly, monthly, yearly, or whatever—and guests can take over all these digital canvases.”

His team’s mission, he adds, is to integrate media into the environment rather than slap screens all over the place. “We’re always trying to break out of that 16:9 box. We’re always trying to think of new ways to use technology to make the experience more immersive and unique.” 

One example is the sculptural ceiling installation the ESI team designed for the XFINITY store. It runs video content and coordinates ambiently with whatever colors are on the store’s other screens. Custom-designed by ESI, the dimensional treatment uses a new LED product, a long linear strip of LEDs that fit inside a metal channel and shoot light up into the ceiling. “It’s really a stunning feature,” notes Karadin. “It adds a dimensionality and sculptural element to the space.” 

Comcast is happy with the new store. “With STUDIO XFINITY, ESI Design has brought Xfinity’s mission to life by creating an entirely new type of customer experience,” said David Williams, Comcast vice president, regional sales & marketing. “Our collaboration has resulted in an environment that offers the best in customer service, while showcasing our products and services in an engaging, interactive, and exciting way.”

STUDIO XFINITY RETAIL ENVIRONMENT

Client: Comcast

Location: Chicago

Design: ESI Design

Design Team: Edwin Schlossberg (principal designer), Joe Karadin (design lead), Chris Tebbutt (project manager), Tricia Vesey (account director), Alexandra Alfaro (senior project manager), Emily Conrad (interactive designer), Jessica Fiorini (activity designer), Emily Webster (hardware systems designer), Matt Weisgerber (senior physical designer), Maria Rizzoli (physical designer), Jonathan Grimm (visual designer), Elizabeth Ward (graphic designer), Debra Everett-Lane (content designer/writer), Trip Kyle (production manager), Cara Buckley (executive media producer) 

Collaborators: Sparks (fabrication), Control Group (software producer), DMG (hardware systems integrator), BumbleBear (activities producer)

Photos: Andy Ryan

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