Outsourcing Loyalty, and other Oxymorons

I am on vacation this week, and will be going back to the vault for some ‘oldies but goodies’ posts.  I hope you enjoy them: I’ll be back in a week or so with new material.

Outsourcing loyalty. Think about the absurdity in that phrase.

Oh, we know what it means, all right. There are businesses whose specialty is executing frequent-customer programs. They handle strategy, research, program design, even fulfillment. It’s no different from any other outsourced business process.

But still. Think about the contortion of language implicit in combining those two words. Loyalty—that emotional quality that binds one person to another, to a clan, a country, or a set of ideals—can be mechanically crafted by a third party for hire. And we still call it loyalty.

Googling “outsource loyalty” turns up a few entries, like Ernex, which offers "a complete real-time points management solution for loyalty program or member-based loyalty databases." Cap Gemini, a major global IT firm, has a website that advertises its “loyalty factory.

Hey, why not? You can outsource confidants (they’re called shrinks). You can outsource sex (the oldest profession). You can outsource phone calls (“your call means a lot to us…please hang on the line”). Why not loyalty?

But in our rush to turn business functions into business processes, then modularize and outsource them, we occasionally overdo it. A major casualty is the faux language of relationships. “Loyalty” programs are but one example.

Another oxymoron is “human capital.” Note which word became the adjective, and which stayed the noun.

“Relationship capital,” its close cousin, goes it one better. It isn’t just people that are financially fungible. Ditto for the relationships between people. Long live love. If it pays, that is.

“Customer focus,” as a practical matter, is often oxymoronic. It amounts to “inspect, dissect and reject” so that you maximize customer profitability per unit of financial investment. Customer profitabilty to the seller, that is; not the customer’s own profitability. Vultures are focused in that sort of way. If you’re a customer, "customer focus" can feel like you’re in the crosshairs of somebody else’s scope.

How about you? Can you add to the list? Got any oxymorons about the human dimension in business? Share them here; enquiring minds want to know!



3 replies
  1. Shaula
    Shaula says:

    Charlie, I would suggest that in many circles "customer service" might qualify for the oxymoron list.

    I find a lot of people deploy the term in the "oldest profession" sense: do the deed and grab the cash.

    I am extremely impressed when I meet people who understand the importance of "serve" in "service."

  2. Michael Holt
    Michael Holt says:

    Hello.. yes, I have another oxymoronic term for you… and its even been turned into a popular acronym recognised the world over… HR.. Human Resources… think about it, its hardly a warm term expressing the view from the perspective of why people choose to work with one organisation or another.

    So, I’ve determined a better term, and we are starting to use it in our company.

    CM… Career Management.

    Surely the reasons to prefer this are self-evident?


    Very kind regards and respect,

    Michael Holt

    New Zealand

  3. Charlie (Green)
    Charlie (Green) says:

    Michael and Shaula,

    Great entries both.  HR depersonalizes the ultimate personal by objectifying them, turning them into fodder for a "greater" corporate good.  Companies should serve people, not vice versa.

    And "customer service."  The idea that we have forgotten the "serve" root of that concept goes to the heart of mixing up means and ends.  Is service about serving people?  Or is it about getting them to give us good "service" ratings so that we can get our scores up and get a bigger piece of the pie, whether at the individual or corporate level?  Too often, and too transparently, it’s simply the latter.

    Thanks both.



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