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Why Corporate Karma has no direct benefit – but is still the right thing to do


One of our staff was recently nice to a customer’s customer. An elderly gent called up PMP Distribution to say he wasn’t getting his newspaper. All of our systems showed a delivery took place based on GPS tracking. Of course, our experienced Customer Service Reps know that plenty of things can wrong despite the reporting mechanisms. Neighbours nick things, kids destroy things, dogs maul newspapers when they’re not eating homework.

Our CSR investigated and couldn’t work it out. So, he delivered the papers himself. The old fella told everyone in his neighbourhood. Someone in his neighbourhood was CEO of a global corporation who was so impressed we got a deal worth $1 billion. Dividends were returned to happy shareholders, bonuses distributed for hitting targets, promotions were given. All from just being nice to an old bloke.

It shows the power of Corporate Karma – that even though our CSR is predominantly dealing with B2B, he went out of the way to be nice and boom, the skies opened up and rained cash. Then a rainbow appeared and landed on his face. Doctors say that every cell in his body became 30 years younger and his brain cells quadrupled.

That would all be a great story. And the start of it was true. Our CSR was nice to a customer’s customer. But everyone comes to expect that the pay off for being nice is a fat reward of riches. But that’s not how Corporate Karma works. Incredibly, that’s not how any kind of Karma works.

See, I could wax lyrical about the Kantian theory of Duty over end-goals. Or expound upon Tim Scanlon’s Contractualism theory that explains why you’re not Good if you only do good to get a reward.

Except I couldn’t. Truth is, I just binge watched The Good Place, and it dropped some knowledge bombs about the nature of doing Good.

Every business considers itself to be “customer-centric”. This driving philosophy is often marketed as a point of difference rooted in a grand sense of altruism. “Look at us, we go the extra mile and make customer’s happy.”

Is that doing the right thing, or just a tactic to create loyalty so you can get more money from the customer over the long term?

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Capitalism, free market, rah-rah yay. Love the money-talk game.

Would a business go out of its way for a customer if the customer was a third party in the transaction, with no possible gains flowing to your business for helping them?

It’s easy enough to justify doing the minimum. All your boxes have been ticked. It costs money to devote resources sorting out a customer problem, which in our case is ultimately the problem of a contractor. And what about the serious suit person who asks “What is the ROI of Corporate Karma, and where is the cost to be allocated as a line item?” Just asking that question gives you a Ninja Level money-talk game, so rah-rah yay.

This line of business thinking needs to be reconsidered.

Our CSR at PMP Distribution had nothing to gain. He wasn’t driven by the concept of Moral Dessert where acting with virtue entitles you to a reward. His KPIs are not to hand deliver missing newspapers. But he did, why?

I’ll let The Good Place’s fictional philosophy professor, Chidi Anagonye explain:

Why choose to be good every day if there is no guaranteed reward? We choose to be good because of our bonds with other people and our innate desire to treat them with dignity.

Simply put, we are not in this alone.

And in some way, the actions of our CSR are an extension of the Corporate Karma that we should all strive for, and one that PMP salutes.

It’s good to be nice, and nice to be good.

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