SSA 2021 CX Profile

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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.     

Service Overview

The Social Security Administration provides benefits to support the financial security of more than 70 million people in this country. The agency’s largest program is the Old Age and Survivors Insurance program, which provides retirement benefits to more than 55 million qualified workers and their families.

Primary customers

Qualified workers who receive or apply for social security benefits, and their families, as well as people planning for their retirement.

Key services provided to customers

  • Processing and adjudication of applications for Social Security retirement benefits and, in partnership with the Medicare program, processing of enrollment in Medicare Parts A and B.
  • Assistance for people completing retirement applications online, over the phone or at local Social Security field offices.
  • Monthly delivery of benefit payments.
  • Issuance of benefit verification letters and status updates on benefit claims and, in partnership with the Medicare program, replacement Medicare cards.
  • Online access to Social Security accounts, so recipients can view their Social Security statements, check their earnings and estimate retirement benefits.

Service Snapshot (all data for fiscal year 2020)

  • More than 55 million retirement beneficiaries who received about $944 billion in fiscal year 2020.
  • 291.5 million visits to SSA.gov. (all agency programs)
  • 72 million field office phone calls received. (all agency programs)
  • 79 million 800 number phone calls received. (all agency programs)
    • Average wait time for 800 number calls: 16.1 minutes in fiscal year 2020.
  • 20.6 million visits to SSA field offices. (down from 40 million in previous year)
    • This includes 20.2 million visits between October 2019 and March 13, 2020, when SSA began limiting in-person services, and 109,191 dire need visits between March 13 and the end of fiscal 2020.
  • 61.6 million users registered for “my Social Security” accounts that enable delivery of personalized online services. (all agency programs)


Data Highlights

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

Personalized social security statements and retirement calculators are enabling people to more effectively plan for their retirement.

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.

Most customers are satisfied with SSA’s online services and tools.

An improved system for tracking claim status is making it easier for people to get updates on retirement benefit claims.

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.

When calling or visiting an SSA office, people expect speedier service.
  • 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.

People would like it to be easier to complete their business on their first call or visit.
  • 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.

Delivering Retirement Services Equitably

Virtually everyone in America interacts with the Social Security Administration at some point. Many of the people facing barriers rely on the agency’s financial support for their income, making it essential that the agency serves people from all backgrounds and circumstances equitably.

While focusing on making convenient online self-service options available, the agency also maintains a strong field office presence, recognizing that some people have limited internet access or have a hard time completing important financial transactions online. For example, Spanish speakers tend to use SSA’s online services less frequently than English speakers and give lower ratings to the services. This is related to the fact that many of the agency’s online services are available only in English—an issue that SSA staff said they plan to tackle in the future.

SSA is working on eliminating barriers some groups of their customers face in accessing services and information. For example, the agency learned through customer research that people without credit history had difficulty verifying their identity and hence could not access their My Social Security account. This challenge was disproportionately affecting lower-income people and people of color, who are less likely to have a credit history. To make it easier to verify one’s identity, SSA instituted a new process that was less reliant on credit reports. This included partnering with the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators to allow people to upload a copy of their driver’s license or ID card instead. People without those items can also verify their identity by going into an office. With these and other improvements, the percent of successful attempts at logging into a My Social Security account rose to 74% in May 2021 from 44% in December 2020.

SSA has a strong focus on outreach to older people, which is done through organizations that specialize in work with these populations. The agency also contacts potential beneficiaries directly by sending mailers to people who may be eligible for additional Supplemental Security Income to increase awareness and understanding of the program. According to the information shared by the agency’s representatives during their interview with the Partnership for Public Service, between December 2020 and November 2021 SSA will have released close to 1.5M letters to individuals potentially eligible for SSI, with a focus on the aged and Limited English Proficiency population.

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. 

Organizational Commitment

Organizational Commitment

A strong commitment and plan from agency leaders to prioritize customer experience is essential for sustained progress.

The agency:

1. Includes high-quality customer experience in its strategic goals.   

Yes

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.

Yes

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.

Yes

SSA’s chief business officer leads customer experience strategy and efforts for the agency.

Ease of Customer Interactions

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.  

Yes

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. 

Yes

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.

Yes

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.

Partially

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

Listening to Customers and Acting on Feedback

To understand and prioritize customer needs, agencies should collect, publish, analyze and act on feedback.

The agency:

1. Collects meaningful customer experience data across interactions and service delivery channels and shares it with the public.

Yes

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.

Yes

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.

Partially

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.

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Footnotes and Methodology

Footnotes

  1. https://content.verint.com/vxi-egov-july-december-2020; Average for July to December 2020.
  2. Data from customer satisfaction survey on SSA’s website. Response options used a five-point Likert scale ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.” The percentages for each question represent the percentage of customers who responded “agree” and “strongly agree” for Q1 and Q2 of fiscal 2021.

Customer experience indicators methodology

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 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.

Organizational Commitment

A strong commitment and plan from agency leaders to prioritize customer experience is essential for sustained progress.

The agency:

  1. Includes high-quality customer experience in its strategic goals.
    • Criteria: a) customer experience with the agency’s services is listed in the strategic plan as one of the organization’s top priorities, or a supporting goal of one of the priorities b) the strategic plan provides specific actions the agency will take to improve customer experience 
  2. Specifies customer feedback as a key measure of the organization’s performance.
    • Criteria: There is a performance measure included in the agency’s strategic plan, annual performance report or agency priority goals that is based on feedback directly from customers. 
  3. Has a senior executive with the responsibility and authority to lead efforts to improve the customer experience across the organization.
    • Criteria: Based on a review of the agency’s organizational chart and online descriptions of leadership positions, the agency has an executive who meets the following criteria: a) customer experience is that executive’s primary responsibility b) the executive reports to the head of the organization or a deputy c) the executive’s work spans all major service delivery channels (e.g., online services, contact centers, face-to-face services).

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.
    • Criteria: Based on a review of the agency’s website, customers have multiple options to complete common transactions including going online, calling, using webchat and visiting field offices or other physical locations. 
  2. Obtain status updates through online self-service.
    • Criteria: customers can get real-time updates through an online self-service channel that provides estimated timelines.
  3. Receive a response to feedback or answers to questions over social media.
    • Criteria: Does the agency respond to questions through the direct message feature on Facebook and Twitter, or in the comment section of posts? To assess this, we examined social media posts on the service’s primary account across a three-month period. “No” indicates the agency never or rarely responds to comments; “partially” indicates the agency responds sometimes, but not consistently; and “yes” indicates the agency responds to comments on a frequent and consistent basis.
  4. Access online information and support in languages other than English.
    • Criteria: “No” indicates content is available only in English and translation features are not available on the website; “partially” indicates that some content or services are available in English and Spanish; “yes” indicates that content or services are available in English and Spanish and additional languages.

Listening to Customers and Acting on Feedback

To understand and prioritize customer needs, agencies should collect, publish, analyze and act on feedback.

The agency:

  1. Collects meaningful customer experience data across interactions and service delivery channels and shares it with the public.
    • Criteria: In alignment with the Office of Management and Budget’s guidance on customer experience measurement, the agency shares customer feedback with the public and that: a) represents multiple service delivery channels b) provides details into different aspects of the experience (i.e., beyond overall customer satisfaction)
  2. Collects and analyzes first-hand customer feedback to understand customers’ experiences, based on their own words.
    • Criteria: In alignment with Office of Management and Budget’s guidance on customer experience measurement, in customer or user research such as interviews, focus groups, surveys and other feedback mechanisms, customers can describe their experiences in their own words, and the agency has automated analytic capabilities to identify and act on insights that emerge from customer feedback data.
  3. Aggregates and analyzes customer feedback across channels and programs, and shares feedback with relevant staff members so they can act on it.
    • Criteria: Agency has an automated system to collect feedback across multiple channels and programs into a centralized location, analyze it for insights, and share those insights with relevant agency business owners or other appropriate colleagues responsible for taking action. The agency also tracks the impact of actions taken in response to customer feedback.

This customer experience profile was produced in collaboration with Accenture Federal Services.