Social Security Administration Turns to Unlikely Source To Improve Customer Service

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The Social Security Administration is known for many things, but stalwart customer service isn’t one of them. In fact, ongoing issues at the agency have gotten so bad that Congress recently held a hearing to figure out ways to fix them. The SSA is now seeking help from an organization best known for paying large men to bang into each other at high speeds.

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That organization is the Baltimore Ravens, as the SSA has turned to the NFL team to learn more about how it uses data to drive customer experience decisions, the Federal News Network (FNN) reported.

The SSA is using the Ravens as a customer-service model because of the team’s reputation for great customer experience, said Patrick Newbold, the SSA’s assistant deputy commissioner and deputy chief information officer. Another bonus: The SSA is headquartered in Baltimore County, Maryland, and many of the staff are big fans of the team.

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“One of the questions we asked the Baltimore Ravens was how business intelligence analytics changed their service delivery model,” Newbold said on the FNN’s “Ask the CIO” podcast. “The Ravens shared an excellent use case with us on how data was able to challenge one of their assumptions on fan demographics.”

When the Ravens first started aggregating the data, it disproved assumptions the team had about their season ticket holders, Newbold said. One thing the Ravens learned is that their fans were a lot younger than the marketing assumed. This led the team to change the music it played at games, as well as the food and drinks it served and how it engaged with fans.

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“The data provided the Ravens with some insights to fan demographics that they weren’t necessarily tracking and allowed them to market to a growing demographic fan base be exposed,” Newbold added.

The SSA aims to apply the same concepts to how the agency delivers its services. As Newbold noted, the SSA wants to use data to monitor and improve the way it delivers those services. The agency ia also updating its digital transformation strategy to include the customer experience lessons learned from discussions with the Ravens.

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There’s no question that the SSA has plenty of room to improve. As the AARP noted in an article earlier this year, it took an average of three minutes to connect with a Social Security representative by phone in fiscal year 2011. Nine years later, that wait time had grown to 16 minutes.

COVID-19 exacerbated the problem because it forced the SSA to temporarily shutter its 1,200 field offices. Field offices reopened in April 2022, but the customer service problems have not gone away.

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One of the SSA’s main priorities now is to upgrade its digital options for Social Security beneficiaries by redesigning its website. The agency also aims to gather customer feedback to find out where it can improve.

“We want to capture real-time customer feedback, not only to use that feedback to assess what we have in place that is working, but to identify customer pain points to help us design those future digital services,” Newbold said.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.

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