Customer service in the Social Security Administration

The Foreign OfficeEven the President of the United States gets involved with improving customer service. Barack Obama issued an executive order directing government agencies to improve their customer service, and Social Security Administration (SSA) Inspector General Patrick O’Carroll Jr. contends better customer service will be the result of going self-service online during the next ten years.

By next year the SSA hopes to handle 50 percent of new retirement applications and claims online and 38 percent of disability claims. A new portal called MySSA will be introduced for the fiscal year of 2012, and people will be able to access their personal social security statements, verify their benefits, change their address and access direct deposit services. In the future MySSA will stretch services to Spanish, disability applications and even Medicare.

Now here is where it gets complicated. According to the survey from Fierce Government which is a contractor who receives telephone numbers of callers to randomly selected field offices and conducts structured interviews, most people weren’t interested in using their computers or their mobile devices for the SSA. Of course, my research also revealed the Fierce Government survey results took forever to squeeze out of the government, and it finally came through via the Freedom of Information Act. Never more than a quarter of the population surveyed wanted the SSA to go Internet or stated as “very interested” while most answers were “somewhat” to “not interested” to switching to online service.

Most telephone complaints, as concluded by Fierce Government centered around callers being annoyed with busy signals, automated recordings, or leaving voice mails and never receiving return calls, however 80 percent of those who did get call backs, gave positive feedback.

Now I’m no online guru, nor do I ever imagine myself to have the answers to make the federal government run smoothly. I have not had to deal with the SSA yet except to change my name to my married name after a considerable amount of years married, but that was a pretty positive, and painless experience; just had to present the proper paperwork. And that is part of what confuses not only me, but people who are actually thinking of retiring. How much of customer service is needed to fill out forms? Are there going to be online forms to apply for more online forms?

I really think customer service for the SSA is going to need telephone access customer service to run concurrently with online service, otherwise we are going to need more customer service agents and probably more forms to fill out. Who knows however – if the government thinks Social Security benefits might run out in fifteen years, all of this pondering might just be moot.

photo credit: stevecadman