Joy at Indigo: Reisman’s Brand Reciprocity

[Cache #239]

By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

All too often, customer service sucks.  Especially in Canada.  Recently I was reacquainted with this conviction after a particular restaurant experience – but instead of deciding to write on this topic again (see If You Don’t Like Customers…), I became determined to think of an organization that delivers a stellar customer experience, and write about them.

I did not have to ponder very long.  For when I think about brilliant customer experience, there is a name that comes to mind instantly, and it is Indigo.

In truth, I have not marvelled very long at how remark-ably friendly and courteous and helpful the staff are at Indigo, which positions itself as Canada’s largest book, gift and specialty toy retailer.  Or at how incredibly consistently this is the case (I cannot think of a single instance over my many years of going to their stores in which I felt let down).  Only in the past few years has the full quality of the experience truly registered with me, because the experience has always been so good:  the experience of being a customer at Indigo is like being a fish in water.

How do they do it, when so many others – most others – fail?  It’s because of this reciprocal relationship:  “Our commitment to adding joy to our customers’ lives makes Indigo a phenomenal place to work for our employees, as well.”  These are the words last week of Indigo Founder and CEO Heather Reisman, as she accepted recognition for her company from Randstad Canada as this year’s top employer brand in Canadian retail, and also as first in offering “a pleasant working atmosphere for employees.”

Note the phrase “adding joy to our customers’ lives” in Ms. Reisman’s remarks.  These words weren’t hastily cobbled together for the purposes of a press release.  They come directly from the Indigo Customer Promise, which you may recognize as being very much like a core purpose or why statement:  “We exist to add a little joy to our customers’ lives, each time they interact with us or our products.”

The Customer Promise is one element among four main brand foundation components – the others being a mission, vision and beliefs – found on the Indigo website.  Anyone can slap together some convincing language and paste it online, but it’s an entirely different thing to, like Indigo, actually live your brand day after day, year after year, by embedding it into the way you do business.

Three months ago I had the pleasure of a chat with Colleen Logan, the manager of Indigo’s flagship store at Bay and Bloor in downtown Toronto.  Colleen confirmed that great customer experience is absolutely no accident.  In her hiring process, she looks strictly for people who fit the brand foundation.  And – in a strong sign that Ms. Reisman has self-appointed as CBO and perpetuated brand discipline throughout the organization – especially for people who can deliver on customer joy.  Colleen says she can tell in the first couple of minutes.

Potential hires are run through a group audition process that includes a roleplay.  What specifically is she watching for?  “I look for people who are passionate and energetic.  And that truly want to be with people.  If you want to be in retail then you need to love the customer experience.  Without the customer, we wouldn’t have jobs.”

Obvious?  To most organizations, apparently not.  Making Reisman’s realization – that to receive, one must give – a great gift to branders everywhere.

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