Monday, June 20, 2011

ING Direct Cafe: A Breath of Fresh Air

How often do you sit around with friends, lamenting ignorant, disinterested service reps, punitive service conditions, stranglehold contracts, confusing interfaces, or misleading entry prices with surprise surcharges?  If you're like me, it makes you appreciate those companies that deal with you competently, fairly and transparently.  I can get excited about companies as diverse as the company that so smoothly rents out our cottage or the arborists who took down our diseased tree so proficiently.

But one company consistently blows me away and that's ING Direct Bank*.  Their products are simple and work as advertised.  The web site is intuitive and easy to navigate.  Their communications are clear and understandable.  Their client reps know their stuff and are unfailingly pleasant.  (In fact, at the 2011 Contact Center World North American Finals in May, they won best mid-sized contact centre in North America).  As an innovation specialist, I respect their passion to change the way banking is done: without traditional branches, they deliver superb products over the Internet and the phone.

ING Direct has now found a new way to surprise and delight me as a customer - the new ING Direct cafe in downtown Toronto.  They've transformed a heritage building at 221 Yonge with heritage brick walls, and lots of natural wood and light, and there's only one word for the result: gorgeous.  It's a place where ING Direct wants to interact their customers in a new way, to be a vibrant part of the Toronto community, and to manifest their commitment to sustainability.

Main floor of the ING Direct Toronto Cafe
 As you can see, the main floor of the ING Direct Cafe really has a cafe, where you can make your own coffee from fair trade coffee from Haiti in a fancy machine, or, if like me you don't drink coffee, you can juice your own oranges in an equally fancy juicer or make some tea.  The coffee and juice, and organic pastries, are not free, and neither are the other 'orange' ING items; all the profits are donated to charity.  There's free WiFi (of course), and a bank of lovely iPads to try out ING's industry-leading mobile apps.  The ING staff are there to answer your questions, not to pitch ING products.  Or you can just gravitate to the comfortable seating to just hang out in this space and read some magazines, as I saw folks doing the day I was there.

On the main floor ING features companies whose principles coincide with ING's, dubbed Saver's Friends.  There was bike from Curbside Cycle on display the day I was there.  The $650 bike was being sold for $400 - again with all the money being used to build cycling education and mechanics facilities in St. Jamestown as well as purchsing bicycle helmets and locks for kids.  The bright orange bike embodied many messages - saving your money, saving the environment, community partnerships, and of course the link with the Netherlands famous for biking (ING's parent is Dutch and the bike was the Batavus brand from the Netherlands).

ING Direct Cafe's Green Wall
As you walk up to the second story, you pass by the gorgeous Green Wall as you enter the co-working space.  (See this article in Globe and Mail for an interesting perspective on the growing trend toward co-working). A modest working area, access to great meeting rooms and top-of-the-line technology - great big LED screens, facilities for webcasting, digital whiteboards - everything an independent entrepreneur would dream of, all available for a modest fee (also donated to charity).  The informal 40-person meeting room can be booked free by nonprofit or community groups and is already becoming a favourite venue for many.

The third floor is a satellite office for ING Direct staff - a place of experimentation and innovation.  It's a coveted place for ING employees to work.  Once you've experienced this fresh and friendly space, it might just become a coveted space for you too.

* full disclosure:  I am on the board of ING Direct Bank.  However I was a delighted customer long before I was a director, and this post is written form the point of view of a customer.


Peter Aceto said...

Thank you for your coverage of our space. We think this is so important for Canadians and for ING Direct. Banking should be easy, transparent, fast and why not even a bit fun. A bank should be part of it's community, where it's customers, employees live and work. Expect more from this and our other cafes over the months and years ahead. These places are transformational for all of us.

Anonymous said...

Ing direct bank?

Lib Gibson said...

Yes, Anonymous, as mentioned, this cafe is ING Direct Bank's. Great that a bank is trying something different, and expanding on their already stellar customer service.
If this surprises you and you live in Toronto, come in and take a look!

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