May 1, 2013

Why Is It Acceptable For People Calling Social Security To Wait Eight Minutes For Someone To Answer The Phone?

     I thought it would be a good idea to take another look at the White House proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2014, which begins on October 1, 2013. Take a look at these numbers:
Average Speed of Answer (ASA) [on Social Security's 800 number] (seconds) 
FY 2012 294
FY 2013 455
FY 2014 482 [projected]
      It was taking an average of five minutes to get to a real person when you called Social Security last year. Of course, sometimes it didn't take nearly that long but other times it took longer. That average is up to seven and a half minutes this year and is supposed to go up to about eight minutes next year.
     The U.S. government requires cable television providers to provide an ASA (average speed of answer) of 30 seconds. Apparently, a 30 second ASA is a basic standard for adequate service in the call center business. Private business thinks 30 seconds is reasonable service. Social Security will be offering eight minutes. Why is this acceptable?
     The FY 2014 numbers are just what the White House proposes. It isn't a proposal that would make things better at Social Security. It's a proposal that accepts a significant degradation in service. Republicans termed the President's budget dead on arrival. Can they realistically propose a budget that would cause a greater degradation in call center service than the President's?
     There are many important Social Security matters that can't be handled over the internet now. Many people who need to deal with Social Security cannot use the internet. Thinking internet service delivery is going to take care of Social Security's service delivery problem is a "Let them eat cake" solution. I'd like for my firm to do most of its business with Social Security over the internet but it's just not possible. We have to spend a lot of time dealing with the agency over the telephone and it's hard. Unrepresented claimants are far less able to use Social Security's internet systems that people like myself and my firm's employees.
      And by the way, at last week's House Social Security Subcommittee hearing, one member was urging Social Security to emulate Disney World! I've never had occasion to call Disney World but I'll bet they answer their phones in a lot less than eight minutes. That's because they don't expect fairies or elves to do the work. Disney knows that service costs money and they pony up the money.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

if you think you can reach a live person when calling your cable company in 30 seconds or less, you clearly have never tried it...

I dont think any big business/utility lets you have access anywhere near that fast. it sucks but, to call out SSA as being sometype of outlier when compared the level of customer service you receive pretty much every where, is quite a stretch.

Anonymous said...

Can you link directly to the source of those numbers? The "proposed budget" link goes to a 2 pg brief. Thank you

Anonymous said...

The answer seems fairly straight forward. You have SSA's benefit rolls increasing significantly on one side and on the other, you have a hiring freeze, a pay freeze and people who are retiring being replaced 1 for 3 last I heard. I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound like a recipe for wait times to be reduced.

Anonymous said...

The question becomes how much taxes need to be raised to get any result. Of course, include costs for government inefficiency and inflexibility and the "rights" and job benefits of government employees vs. private sector employees to get any job done in this calculation. Competitive businesses work hard to meet customer needs to prosper, but those areas where competition is not as strong or missing (like government, cable companies, those businesses too big to fail) their customer focus is different. Have you tried calling your US Senator in Washington DC? When I call mine, the automated message says I will be disconnected after 2 minutes if no one answers, and to call back latter or email my question to their office. I am always disconnected! There are times when the number of calls are higher and waits longer and people still find a way to get help. For those of you who want phone waiting times to be less than x number of seconds or minutes, will you allow the government to have the tools (including flexibility in setting pay and rewarding the best employees) and the hiring/firing authority allowed in private businesses to improve government service?

Anonymous said...

Medicare functions without having any office for people to visit. Perhaps SSA can do something like that and just have the Card Stations for those applying for a new SSA Card.

Not likely, but works.

I know I cant talk to a human with my cable provider, insurnace provider, health insurnace provider, Co-Op utilities in under 8 minutes. Seems good. Guess they could outsource it to India. Would that be better?

Anonymous said...

You can't compare SSA to a "real world business" model. The agency doesn't have too please or accommodate its "customers" because it's not a profit driven model. The Disney reference is a bad analogy.

Anonymous said...

The public should demand better service and that the agency should be properly staffed. Many SSA employees will retire within the next five years and service will get far worse in the future. Welcome to the new DMV at SSA.

Anonymous said...

@ 11:05pm: And Repubs in Congress will cry that there's massive waste and fraud in SSA without any proof just like nimbys will do to stop a new development that they don't like...

Repubs like to preach and they don't like anyone elses questions, their line is shut up, listen and do as you're told...

Anonymous said...

I've worked at several SSA field offices and I have seen (and reported) waste and fraud. Many others in these offices and what I hear from SSA employees elsewhere is the same. The simple fact is that it is tolerated and ignored in almost all cases. It is much larger than we suspect. We consider it a "win" if we can just stop it from continuing. This is not a red or a blue issue, and those arguing as such may as well debate if the sun will rise tomorrow. Hint: it will.

Anonymous said...

SSA could absolutely outsource the 800# to India, or anywhere else.. The level of service provided by the 800# currently is so poor that you could pay anyone $ 10.00/hr to provide basic T2 information, using FAQ's, cheat sheets, or whatever. SSI has to be referred to FO's anyway, because all the 800# does is screw up any SSI action that they get.

Anonymous said...

They shouldn't allow SSI recipients to make changes at all via the 800#. That would help a gray deal.

Anonymous said...

FANTASY >> It is always possible to do more and more with less and less. Of, course, it would be possible to simplify the ever increasing complexity of law and regulation governing SS programs. But that is about as likely as hiring sufficient staff to deal with the work loads. Probably something could be done to reduce 'crazy check' problems for both children and adults. (The gene pool seems to be degenerating, 'family' structure and public 'education,' and other factors create a burgeoning population of 'disabled' people. It seems doubtful that paying the parents of children who have 'raised' 'oppositional defiant' kids; adults who are 'disabled' because the 'don't like to be around people,' or 'can't get along. . . . Well, it just doesn't seem to be of benefit to society. Of course, bankers and corporations 'steal' far more than these little people are able to manage.

Anonymous said...

I am a SSA employee (CR) and I was waiting on the phone today for a colleague at PC1 for over 30 minutes. I just hung up and emailed them. We are understaffed and overworked. Budget savings sound nice but be careful what you wish for...

Anonymous said...

just saying. i'm on hold trying to get someone with social security right now and i have been on hold for over 45 minutes.

Anonymous said...

8 minutes what? I just waited exactly an hour on hold for a change of address for my disabled mother and it finally rang, went silent like I was put on mute, and then the call was dumped to the exit survey. Mfer's.

Anonymous said...

8 minutes? This person who wrote this article must be calling another country. The average wait time is well over an hour! 8 minutes? Right...maybe 40 years ago!

Anonymous said...

90 minutes so far!!!!