I like helping people. I’m sure my therapist would suggest that my willingness to do stuff for others, is a function of some deep-seated psychological issues related to my parents, my extended thumb-sucking or the star sign under which I was born. They’d probably suggest (actually, on this one I kind of agree) that this desire to do stuff for others stems from an unhealthy desire to gain a degree of immortality. Whatever the reason, I enjoy my voluntary roles and will continue to do them no matter what my (or anyone else’s for that matter) therapist says.

One thing I’ve noticed as I go around the traps is how large corporations are often talking about how much they do to help others. One would have thought that big companies are in fact that corporate reincarnation of Mother Theresa and Mahatma Ghandi given how loudly they proclaim their general goodness. Quietly doing the “right thing” would not seem to be the modus operandi for these crews.

Which kind of makes me think. What is there motivation for being good corporate citizens, and how genuine is this desire to help?

The latest example I had of this was a recent foray I had back into the cloud accounting world. I spent 15 years or so as an industry analyst and one of the areas I covered was cloud-based accounting solutions. This was during the rise and rise of Xero and hence it was an incredibly exciting time with huge shifts int he way businesses did their accounting.

Since then, however, the scene has changed. There’s not so many little scrappy companies trying to disrupt the big incumbents and in the arena within which the small business accounting vendors do battle, there are really only three vendors globally – Xero, Intuit and MYOB. These vendors are all huge corporations with thousand of staff, billions of dollars worth of capitalisation and similar billions in revenue.

They are dominant players who can throw that dominance around. And so it was no surprise to see that over the ditch in Australia, Xero has hiked its prices significantly. For the second time in a year, Xero’s prices were increasing. And the customers are howling, some claiming it is the “final straw” which is pushing them to move to competitive products. One piqued customer went so far as to say:

This is ridiculous, another price rise, not even twelve months in from the last one … you’ve added no features, no value and nothing in the last two years that makes doing business easier, other than the STP which by all means was something the ATO required. [my] accountant is “sick” of constantly amending contracts for disappointed clients.

While another said that:

I’m completely appalled by this latest price hike; it’s completely outrageous and profoundly disappointing. I’ve been a loyal user of Xero since 2014, but I’ve seen minimal, if any, enhancements to the platform. How on earth can you rationalize another increase in price?

But this article isn’t about Xero’s price rises per se. Rather it is one about corporate culture and the thin veneer of “being nice”  that these sort of organisations create to offset the reality of their focus. Indeed, Xero’s Chief executive Sukhinder Singh Cassidy suggested a recent fillip in the company’s share price was down to her:

…ongoing focus on balancing growth and profitability

But at the same time as doing all this and, most likely as a way to offset some of the opprobrium these changes cause, Xero is running at pace to seem like the “girl next door” of software vendors. Free access to business advisory services, grants for small business marketing, flashy videos about just how much they do to empower businesses and make things better for their customers.

When, in all honesty, perhaps the most impactful thing they could do across the board would be to simply avoid putting their prices up so much or so often. Instead of flashy campaigns that cost lots of money and actually only benefit a select few, how about doing something real for all customers and saving them a few tens of dollars a month.

It’s totally naïve, and perhaps Xero is just doing a corporate version of my striving for immortality. But all this “we’re the good guys” stuff is just a little too trite, a little too polished, and a little lacking in authenticity for me. But then again, I don’t run a multi billion dollar international software company with public market shareholders to satisfy. Maybe within that construct lies the underlying problem.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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