Having a career history with an airline has almost become a prerequisite of taking charge of a private healthcare company. Philippa Dickson, the new managing director of CIGNA Healthcare & Group Life, is no exception. Prior to joining CIGNA in November 1998, Dickson was a director at BUPA International. But before that she worked for British Airways (BA), with responsibilities including strategic and operational planning and aircraft scheduling.
Dickson believes there is much she can bring from her experiences at BA to her role at CIGNA. She comments: “British Airways has a huge amount of service experience which is something insurance companies are looking for. Additionally it went from being nationalised to becoming a highly profitable company.”
Service is already regarded as highly important at CIGNA. Back in January 1994 it introduced a system of penalties, whereby, if a customer didn’t get an agreed level of service, they could claim compensation. Other companies have subsequently introduced similar systems, but CIGNA is proud of being the first.
And Dickson is determined that this commitment to customer service will continue to evolve as customer needs change. Already the concept of customer service has changed from being one based around factors such as the time it takes for a telephone call to be answered, to one based on the customer’s perception of the company and level of satisfaction.
Dickson believes that such a system has a two-fold benefit, as she sees continual evolution as important for employees too. She comments: “I want to keep people energised and excited about their lives. I’m very keen to make the business grow. It’s so much more energising for everyone involved.”
Product innovation also plays an important part in Dickson’s vision. And with its parent company in the United States, CIGNA is in an ideal position to move ahead in this area. Although a relative newcomer to the UK market, its roots give it more than 200 years of experience in the American market. So while many other health insurance companies can only watch from afar, CIGNA has the benefit of first hand experience.
But it doesn’t simply copy American examples. Dickson explains: “CIGNA has a huge amount of experience in the US, but it is very important that we understand the UK market has differences. Some things we do better here: we’re often visited by other parts of CIGNA from around the world.”
Differences in the ways the two markets have to be addressed when translating products can be seen in absence management. This will be introduced to the UK in the autumn. “Absence management will enable employers to manage the workforce by helping employees get back to work,” says Dickson. “The UK market doesn’t have quite the same focus on this as the US, but we will tailor the service to suit these differences.”
Another advantage of having this American presence is that it can be used as a test ground for new products and initiatives which Dickson believes can be an invaluable short-cut when introducing new concepts to the UK market. This was the case with managed care. She explains: “We broke new ground in the UK with the introduction of managed care in September 1990. At the time it caused quite a rumpus but has since been followed and mimicked.”
The concept of managed care was nothing new to the American market, but a UK-based insurer could face difficulties introducing it. And while CIGNA could fall back on the systems developed by its parent, others would not have this advantage. Dickson comments: “The systems we used were already quite robust. For anyone wishing to self develop there would be a lead time involved.”
And Dickson is not shy about her plans for the company. “We want to bring new innovative products to the markets. It is important to me that CIGNA employees see that we are leading in terms of innovation with unique services and products.”
With this clearly defined flight path in place and Dickson at the controls, CIGNA Healthcare and Group Life seems certain to achieve this target.