Recent Criticism of the SSA Targets Online Customer Service Plans

Submitted by Shane on

It is no secret that many American citizens become frustrated with the help they try to receive from the Social Security Administration. In a world where customer service used to be a priority, finding good service is becoming less and less common. This is even truer when dealing with state and federal agencies.

The Social Security Administration is no exception to this rule, and over the summer even the SSA Inspector General stated that the lack of customer service is completely unacceptable and that there needs to be long-term plans for better service to Social Security customers in the future.

The question is: are the issues cited by the Inspector General really the most important and pressing faced by the SSA today?

While the Social Security Administration has been taking strides to address customer service concerns, it still appears, according to the SSA Inspector General at least, that there is a lack of comprehensive planning for better online service to the citizens that the Social Security Administration serves and will serve in the future.

Where is this coming from? President Barack Obama recently gave an executive order requiring agencies to improve customer service. According to the SSA Inspector General, the Social Security Administration is failing to adhere to this order and is lacking long-term plans to do so.

The Social Security Administration has recognized the fact that more and more people are trying to take care of their personal business online, including their Social Security-related tasks. As a result, they have announced the forthcoming MySSA Web portal that is expected to launch in 2012. This portal will enable customers to verify benefits, access direct deposit services and personal Social Security Statements and conduct change of address requests.

Ten years from now, the SSA expects that it will be able to allow most of its customers to conduct almost all SSA-related business online without the intervention of an actual SSA representative. While the SSA knows what its goals are a decade from now, however, it does not have a concrete plan in place regarding what customer service will look like when the agency achieves such goals. The SSA Inspector General has recommended that the agency begin developing long-term plans for online customers instead of just short-term and mid-term plans, as the agency has been doing up until this point.

Will these changes really help Social Security customers in the long run?

The answer is both yes and no. While customers who wish to conduct business online will definitely benefit from better online services, the SSA should not focus overmuch on its online programs at the expense of customer service for its computer-illiterate elderly and disabled patrons.

Are long-term plans necessary for successful implementation of the SSA's Internet service?

Absolutely. But that probably should not mean that plans for actual face-to-face service should be completely abolished or that the Social Security Administration should assume that the need for actual face-to-face service is going to be replaced completely by online service or the up-and-coming MySSA Web portal.

Another thing to consider is how best to arrange funding for such long-term planning and the implementation of the resulting plans in the face of current budget deficits and significant impending budget cuts from congress. While long-term planning is needed for future SSA goals, perhaps more focus needs to be put on correcting the current Social Security Disability benefit and retirement benefit service issues rather than planning for issues that may or may not occur a decade into the future.

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