Health firm bets cash on quality of service

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The Independent Online
CUSTOMER service is a phrase on everybody's lips these days. Sadly, though, few companies manage consistently to live up to the hype. They include appropriate slogans in their logos and mottoes, but are often found wanting when it comes to delivering the goods.

CIGNA Employee Benefits, the UK division of the US- owned CIGNA Corporation, claims to be the first in its industry to put its money where its mouth is and offer to pay fines to its clients if it does not meet the high service standards it has set.

From 1 January about 60,000 people covered by its corporate medical and managed-care health programmes will be able to expect high service standards and - more significantly - penalty payments if they are not met.

The escalating range of fixed penalties stretches from pounds 5 for delays in issuing settlement cheques to pounds 100 for failing to maintain regular contact with clients about their specific schemes.

The company acknowledges that it is operating in an increasingly competitive field. Last month, for example, the financial services group MacIntyre Hudson entered a market that is worth more than pounds 1bn a year in the UK by acquiring Smith Law Health. And CIGNA sees a commitment to service as giving it a significant competitive edge in a field where clients are keen to have matters run smoothly.

The company has recently established a new administrative headquarters away from its London base at Greenock, Scotland in an effort to provide a 'quality service at the right price'. All managed-care and corporate medical plan clients have been assigned members of the customer-service team based there as their main point of contact.

Stewart Robinson, customer-services manager, said of the scheme: 'Members of staff are given responsibility for the whole of the client relationship - not just for processing bits of paper.'

In addition, customer-service team members are encouraged to go out and meet clients, while some big companies and brokers have been invited to Greenock to see how the system works.

The policy has been in place for two years, but CIGNA has only now gone public with it because it is confident it can measure up. If all goes well it may offer what it says amounts to a client charter to its more than 13,000 clients.

(Photograph omitted)

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