The secret to customer centricity


When most businesses try to be customer centred, they focus on fixing their internal processes. Cigna took a deeper approach and discovered a way to differentiate itself from its competitors.

As CEO of Cigna’s £100m a year personal expat healthcare business, Toor’s ambition was to build a unique competitive advantage for Cigna by turning it into a company that understands and serves its customers better than anyone else – what Toor calls ‘five star customer service.’

But Toor could see that there was a difference between trying to be customer centric and actually achieving it.

Looking at customers from the inside

For Cigna, there were plenty of customer problems to solve, but it was hard to see the right way forward. Different teams saw the challenge differently; priorities were unclear, cause and effect seemed muddled.

As Lorna Clarkson, Cigna’s Customer Experience Manager, puts it: ‘Everyone looked at things in silos. They saw a problem and said: this is about claims, or this is about sales.’

Cigna had already had internal teams look at its problems, and its partners had spoken to stakeholders and identified a long list of issues.

But Toor points out that these approaches looked at the problem in fragmentary ways, saw the problem through the lens of Cigna’s process, and relied on what the business already knew about its customers. It was about what Cigna thought its customers wanted. The fixes felt more like ‘sticking plasters’, rather than genuine solutions.

And that’s what’s wrong with most approaches to ‘being customer-centric.’ What Cigna needed was a way to see the problem from the outside in.

The real customer journey

Alison Meckiffe, Cigna’s Chief Marketing Officer, said, ‘We need to understand the entire customer journey from the customer’s point of view.’ She’d seen the work cxpartners had done at AXA and asked us to take the lead.

So cxpartners began moving the focus from the processes to the customer. We spent weeks talking to customers, listening to telephone calls, and working with front-line staff. And we took staff from Cigna along with us.

For instance, we saw customers’ treatment delayed while they tried to figure out if it was covered. Customer service thought this must be a problem with sales. Sales staff pointed out that they’d sent all the right documentation. But the customer experience was quite different. The clear conversations they had with salespeople were translated into documents that didn’t make sense when they came to claim.

Bit by bit, we built up a comprehensive map of the customer experience covering every point of the journey and every process that customers touched.

We showed that the customer’s journey to private medical insurance didn’t begin when they picked up the phone to call Cigna, it began long before – when a loved one fell ill, when retirement was approaching, when they were planning a move overseas for a new job.

This was the real customer journey.

From customer insight to action

There’s nothing more motivating for an organisation than discovering how it touches the lives of its customers, but that newfound energy needs to be focussed. So the next step was to turn the customer experience map into a road map for business change.

We worked through the experience map with Cigna’s teams to identify where Cigna was performing well (we coloured these squares green) and where things needed to improve (red squares).

cxpartners were able to see us through the customer’s eyes. The true value they bring is a scientific, end to end approach.
Arjan Toor, CEO Cigna IPMI

We looked at how serious each issue was for the customer, the cost to the business, the regulatory issues it touched, and how expensive and difficult it would be to fix – covering everything from quick wins to major programmes of innovation.

What emerged was a prioritised roadmap that showed how to stage change in a measured, sustainable way that combined business-as-usual improvements, and more radical innovation.

Bridging the innovation gap

If an organisation is to achieve meaningful change, its people need to understand why. Our customer experience map engaged Cigna’s teams emotionally by showing them the real human needs and problems behind each initiative. It showed them how and why they would need to collaborate across silos. And because cxpartners brought staff along to meet users and watch interviews, we’d build a cohort of advocates who could tell first-hand stories about the need for change.

A framework for innovation

For Cigna, truly understanding its customers has changed everything.

‘The feedback from the team has been fantastic,’ says Lorna Clarkson. ‘Sales managers said this was what they’d been looking for for ages. Previously, they lacked insight into what the customers went through or what their needs were. This is one of the most pivotal things we’ve done as a business.’

‘It’s been eye opening to see the end result and acknowledge how difficult we sometimes make things for our customers,’ says Toor. ‘I’m talking about how many steps, how many interactions it takes for customers to get things done. Seeing that in one place creates a sense of urgency in our need to simplify things for our customers.’

The effect goes beyond improvements to ‘business as usual' activities. cxpartners and Cigna have identified opportunities for true innovation – innovation that is helping Cigna differentiate from its competitors. Now cxpartners is building prototypes and testing concepts for the future.

The roadmap has become Cigna’s central planning tool for achieving that unique competitive advantage.

Alison Meckiffe sums it up simply: ‘There is universal acceptance within the business that this work represents our new bible.’ It's the first step on the journey to organisational transformation.

Key points

Most companies say they’re customer-centric but they fail. Problems look very different when you see them through the customer’s eyes.
The customer experience map fostered a sense of shared mission and enabled collaboration across the organisation.
Customer centricity drives two kinds of innovation: improvements to existing services, and new services. Both are valuable because they solve customer problems.
Stu Charlton

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