We first met the Zoo Society team back in 2017 at the TLCC conference in San Diego, where we discussed their needs to facilitate their diverse and technically challenging offerings online. The Zoo Society had signed up for Tessitura’s TNEW product and were looking for a partner to help build upon their existing website.

The Zoological Society of Milwaukee was established in 1910 and supports one of the USA's finest Zoological attractions, The Milwaukee County Zoo. The zoo itself is home to over 3,100 mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles in specialised habitats that span 190 wooded acres.

With 1.3 million annual visitors to the zoo, we were keen to explore how digital could assist in automating much of the work required by both customers and the organisation; by allowing users to purchase, manage and renew all of the Zoological Society’s offerings online.

Zoos are somewhat unique when it comes to ticketing. The choice of membership and donations for customers go way above and beyond the regular admission and one-off events typically seen in arts organisations. The Zoological Society offers a wide range of more intimate, long-term options to visitors wishing to be involved with the zoo; including memberships, corporate memberships, educational classes and animal sponsorships.


Our first challenge came from the restrictions on integration with the current site. A legacy site which is no longer a true reflection of the organisation (and is currently under review). This was overcome by utilising our T-Bridge facility to blend in with an existing site while remaining a separate application. To achieve this, we imported the main site's header and footer, including any stylesheets and scripts and injected the T-Bridge templates in between. This keeps a consistent look and feel across the whole customer journey.

Secondly, in this instance we were only acting as a middle ground between the marketing site and the TNEW purchase pathway (i.e. the basket and checkout functionality). This presented several technical challenges, such as keeping a valid session synchronized between the platforms, and making sure that all necessary actions are taken before passing the baton over to TNEW. Leveraging the flexibility of T-Bridge, we were able to create a range of additional programmatic hooks, which enabled us to run large batches of procedures and data at the handoff points.

Find out more about T-Bridge.

Preliminary Work

The Zoological Society of Milwaukee caters to a wide range of audiences, each a loyal customer base with a strong interest in wildlife and its preservation.

Before undertaking any work, it was important to get a better understanding of who these audiences are and understand which facets of the zoo they engage with. We kicked off by having regular remote workshops with the team at Milwaukee, identifying frequent user groups and understanding their needs and goals. It soon became clear that the zoo engaged with a diverse range of audiences, young and old, individuals and groups, and even businesses.

Having sight of these groups and their specific needs ensured any solution we created would be solving real challenges faced by real customers. We then began to map out what customers' engagements with the zoo should look like, and how we could improve efficiencies across the board by creating User Journeys. We covered all aspects of the Zoological Society’s offering for both new and existing customers; enabling users to purchase products online, such as memberships through to classes and animal sponsorships, and even the ability to purchase any of these as gifts for others.

use journey examples for the zoological society

Service offerings

Class search and calendar

The Zoological Society runs a large number of children's classes and camps every year as part of their education program. With approximately 300,000 encounters with guests in this area alone, the education program at ZSM is one of the largest zoo educational programmes in the country.

Classes and camps run for almost 7 days a week and all year round, with a variety of themes available, spanning ages 2 - 14. Classes and camps can last anything from an afternoon, through to several days. Given the flexibility of times and range of dates available, classes are often booked as a form of daycare by parents with multiple children during holidays. This put a high level of responsibility on the Zoological Society, which meant getting the details right about each child and class a requirement of the highest priority.

We worked with the Zoological Society to understand how classes were structured and how parents would book classes for their children. A high volume of those booking classes were members/repeat customers, so we wanted to try and reduce as much manual input/repetition as possible.

Children need to be registered when booking a class; which can be time-consuming and repetitive when you have many classes, on many visits and with many children. We therefore created a management area, which would let parents add constituency records where parents could input their children’s details and save them for future usage.

From our Discovery phase, we learned how parents would try and fit classes alongside their own timetable/school holidays. It became clear we should emulate this timetable approach, so parents could quickly see classes and their availability at a glance and compare this to their own schedules.

With hundreds of events for a range of ages running concurrently 7 days a week, this view became quickly saturated with too many results to be useful. Given we had the ages and details of each child saved, we investigated how we could use these as a filter; centring the classes around each child, rather than trying to assign children to events that weren’t relevant. This, alongside filters for types of class and the ability to select 7-day date ranges, meant users could view all the available classes in a digestible format.

This was achieved using modern interface building tools, such as Vue.js, to create an intuitive, single-page application. This allowed the customer to build up their list of classes without any jarring page reloads or needing to jump back-and-forth between the list of available classes and their ‘basket’.

The result was a weekly 'schedule' view of classes, broken down day-by-day, with details such as price, times, description and key information showing which children the class would be suitable for. As we already had all the details required for each child, it meant classes could be booked in just a matter of clicks, enabling parents to bulk-book multiple classes for each week. This format also helped to flag to parents where multiple children could attend classes simultaneously and be picked up/dropped off together at the zoo.

example of the booking system for zoological society classses example of the journey taken when booking classes at the zoological society

Zoo Pass Memberships

The Zoo Pass memberships are one of the Zoological Society's most popular offerings, generating nearly half of the Zoological Society's income last year. It’s also been rated one of the best of its kind in the country in terms of value and engagement. After 2 visits, it proves cost-effective for many visitors to become a member, with many opting to return time and time again. With a shift in consumers preferring to complete bookings/purchases online across all industries, the Zoological Society was no exception.

There are 11 tiers of Zoo Pass available to customers, all with upgrade options to include extras, such as parking. This range of Zoo Passes is intended to be flexible enough to account for individuals, couples, families with children and those with occasional guests too. In total, this equates to 168 different types of membership.

With a wide range of options, depending on customers circumstances that were difficult to digest at once, we built a step-by-step configurator to help identify which Zoo Passes were most suitable for them.

We also worked to streamline the renewal and upgrade experience, ensuring customers could follow the same journey online without the need to re-enter their details again.

The Zoo also offers corporate memberships to larger organisations, many of whom have been loyal supporters of the Zoo Society for a number of years – some over 25 years! From our initial Discovery sessions, it was clear this offering shared many of the same considerations around the information and approach of the Zoo Pass. We worked with the Zoological Society to create a variation of the Zoo Pass journey that would facilitate the needs of businesses too, also allowing for business customers to enter manual donation amounts and functionality to customise which tax-deductible benefits they wanted to receive.

We are thrilled to be continuing our work with The Zoological Society of Milwaukee, now in our 2nd year of partnership and 4th phase of incremental design and development, currently working on refining areas of the user experience in Zoo Pass purchases that have been identified through data collection of how real users are interacting with the journey. As with all our clients, we're excited to see what the future holds for the Zoo Society! If you're interested in working with us on a similar project, or any of our other services, get in touch via the form below.

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