Social Security Retirement Services
Social Security Administration
People rely on the Social Security Administration’s retirement services for financial security.
Customer experience improvements such as easier tracking of claim status and a better online self-service retirement calculator are making it simpler for people to plan and manage their retirement. The agency provides online retirement planning tools that exceed federal customer satisfaction benchmarks for online services and has made it easier for people to understand the status of their retirement claims—previously a major source of customer frustration.
Despite these successes, customers expect faster service when scheduling appointments or calling the contact center, and they would like it to be easier to complete their business the first time they contact the agency. SSA is tackling these challenges by improving communication to customers and standardizing service across channels to encourage wider use of online self-service options.
out of 100: Overall customer satisfaction score for SSA online services. (note: Refers to all online services offered by SSA, not only those associated with retirement services.)
of SSA customers said they expect to speak to someone within five minutes of calling. On average it takes more than 16 minutes.
of customers cannot complete their business on their first call or office visit.
Customer Experience Insights
Improvement from last year
Room for improvement
In 2020, SSA introduced a modernized online Social Security statement—a personalized document detailing earnings and projected retirement benefits that everyone with earnings receives annually, and whose features had not been updated in decades. Based on customer feedback the agency shortened the document, eliminated extraneous details and focused on what people need most—understanding how their retirement benefits will change depending on when they retire. The new statement offers better estimates of how benefits would be affected by retiring at different times, providing a dollar estimate for every potential retirement year as opposed to only a few sample years. This gives customers more information to help them plan their retirement. The statements are also now available for people to download at any time in their “my Social Security” accounts.
The agency also improved its online self-service retirement calculator to help people with their financial planning, enabling people to add the retirement benefits of a spouse to calculations to provide a full picture of their finances. This helps customers better plan for retirement by providing more financial information in one place, ensuring they have the context needed to make retirement decisions.
Checking the status of a claim was one of the most frequent reasons people contacted SSA, so the agency prioritized making this information more easily available in customers’ online accounts. Previously, people could access only broad status updates indicating that an application had been received and was being processed. The new system provides more details, such as bar graphs explaining what steps were completed and what would happen next. Timeframes for processing are more precise and personalized and are based on the type of claim submitted and where someone lives—specifics that affect processing times.
Simplifying claim status updates
In addition to getting input from customers about what would help them track their claim status, the SSA digital service team sought information from agency call center representatives about how they typically provide status updates to customers. These representatives generally have deep knowledge of the internal claims process and are adept at interpreting internal systems and databases to explain to customers the status of their claims. The call center agents helped the team boil down what can be complex information into something easy for customers to digest and helped ensure that the status updates customers access online are consistent with those they receive when calling the agency. The simplified update is useful for giving customers confidence that their claim is moving, and an understanding of when to expect a decision.
- 86% of respondents to an SSA survey said they expected to be able to speak to someone within five minutes when calling, but it takes more than 16 minutes, on average.
- Customers expect to be able to schedule an appointment at an SSA field office within two or three days, but wait almost a month in many cases.
When customers are not initially able to get service quickly enough to meet their needs, they seek out other options that may result in a suboptimal experience. For example, people who are unable to secure a field office appointment often chose to “walk in,” but this limits the agency’s ability to review customers’ files and make sure they understand ahead of time what documentation to bring. This can result in the customer having to come back another time so the agency can resolve the issue.
SSA is working to address these customer expectations by standardizing service across delivery channels to encourage wider use of online self-service, and by enabling more customers to reach an agent when calling the agency’s 800 number.
Tips for providing quicker service
While delivering speedier service may require more staff and funding, SSA is also addressing this issue by coordinating more effectively across service delivery channels. The idea is to ensure people get the same quality of service no matter which channel they use, which will encourage them to use the fastest options—usually online self-service.
For example, SSA provides people with benefit verification letters, which they may need to share with other parties to verify their income to qualify for benefits and other important needs. Previously, people would go to field offices to obtain these letters, since they had a different look and feel from the letter they could access online—customers indicated they thought the online one felt less “official.” In 2020, SSA standardized these letters so that regardless of whether someone goes into an office, gets it online or calls to request one, they all look the same. The agency expects this will lead to more people accessing the letter online and is collecting data to measure the impact.
- About 20% to 30% of both callers and visitors to field offices are unable to complete their business during their first call or visit.
A common reason people are unable to complete their business in their first call or visit is they do not have the required documentation—for example, proof of a life event such as a marriage or divorce that would affect their benefits. People may not be aware of these requirements. And laws and policies often require people to show original documents.
SSA seeks to address this issue by improving online guidance and communication ahead of calls and visits to explain what documentation is needed so that customers can better prepare ahead of time.
The agency is also exploring new customer relationship management systems that would give agents a full view of a customer’s past interactions, making it more likely that agents would be able to immediately address customers’ needs and not have to rehash ground covered in previous calls or visits.
Leading Customer Experience Practices
The Partnership and Accenture developed the following list of practices to understand how agencies prioritize the customer experience, and steps they can take to improve. The list is based on research about effective customer experience practices in both government and the private sector, and aligns with practices in a customer experience maturity self-assessment for agencies developed by the Office of Management and Budget.
A strong commitment and plan from agency leaders to prioritize customer experience is essential for sustained progress.
1. Includes high-quality customer experience in its strategic goals.
The agency’s strategic plan includes a goal to optimize customer experience and specifies some of the areas it plans to improve under this goal.
2. Specifies customer feedback as a key measure of the organization’s performance.
The customer satisfaction scores for the agency website and SSA online services are key performance measures.
3. Has a senior executive with the responsibility and authority to lead efforts to improve the customer experience across the organization.
SSA’s chief business officer leads customer experience strategy and efforts for the agency.
Ease of Customer Interactions
Interactions with the federal government should be easy, transparent and designed around user needs.
For the most common services provided, customers can:
1. Complete common transactions using the service delivery channel of their choice.
Customers can complete most common SSA transactions—including applying for retirement and post-entitlement services—online, via phone, or in a Social Security field office, although field office appointments are currently only available in limited circumstances due to the pandemic.
2. Obtain status updates through online self-service.
Customers with online accounts can access detailed information on the status of their claim, and an estimated processing timeline, through a claim status tracker.
3. Receive a response to feedback or answers to questions over social media.
Social Security frequently responds to customers’ comments and questions on Facebook and Twitter, with either specific responses or directions on where to find relevant information.
4. Access online information and support in languages other than English.
Social Security’s website is available in both English and Spanish, and some information is available in 12 additional languages. However, many of SSA’s online services and applications are available only in English.
Listening to Customers and Acting on Feedback
To understand and prioritize customer needs, agencies should collect, publish, analyze and act on feedback.
1. Collects meaningful customer experience data across interactions and service delivery channels and shares it with the public.
Social Security collects and publicly shares customer experience data for its online services, in line with OMB guidance.
2. Collects and analyzes first-hand customer feedback to understand customers’ experiences, based on their own words.
The agency recently launched a new feedback survey that enables customers to share feedback on their interaction with SSA in their own words. The survey is located on the agency’s website, but is designed to capture feedback from any interaction and customers calling the agency are encouraged to complete it.
3. Aggregates and analyzes customer feedback across channels and programs, and shares feedback with relevant staff members so they can act on it.
SSA recently put into place a customer feedback management platform that will allow it to collect and analyze feedback across service channels. The agency is now working on formalizing and implementing processes for sharing that feedback.