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Social Security telephone service satisfaction high but declining

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Most callers to Social Security Administration field offices have been satisfied with the telephone service they received, show surveys conducted by the SSA that were obtained by FierceGovernment through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The field office surveys results--we obtained surveys for fiscal years 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009--nonetheless contain some causes for concern. (The fiscal 2010 survey is not yet complete, the SSA FOIA office told us.)

The overall satisfaction rate, while recently stable from year to year, has declined from a peak of 83 percent last recorded in fiscal 2005 and before that in fiscal 2003, when the annual survey began. Responses from callers who said they use Internet also indicate no clear demand for more online-based services, a direction the SSA is being heavily encouraged to take.

The survey is conducted each year by a contractor, which receives the telephone numbers of callers to randomly selected field offices and conducts a structured interview with participants.

In a typical recent year, a slight majority of callers report having tried to call the field office earlier that day but say they encountered a busy signal or automated recording. In fiscal 2009, 58 percent of respondents said they met with such a response; in fiscal 2008, it was 55 percent.

In fiscal 2007, field offices managed to cut the percentage of callers who encountered either a busy signal or recording down to a mere 45 percent, "but this improvement was not sustained," notes the survey report for fiscal years 2008 and 2009.

Callers who get through on their first try give substantially higher satisfaction ratings.

Of the callers who left a voice mail, approximately 40 percent in an unweighted average say they never received a call back. Those who didn't, unsurprisingly, tend to have low rates of satisfaction--just 44 percent in fiscal 2009 of those who never got a call back said field office telephone service was excellent, very good or good, while 80 percent of those who did get a call back gave positive feedback.

Of the survey respondents who said they currently use a personal computer, never more than a quarter have said they are "very interested" in using the Internet to conduct Social Security business. And only in one year--fiscal 2009--have more people said they are "somewhat interested" than "not at all interested" in using the Internet for Social Security purposes.

Online self-service "appears to be the only solution that will enable SSA to process future transaction volumes," said a panel chartered by SSA to advise on the agency's future technological state in 2010 report. The panel also said transactions should be available on mobile devices--referring to apps, not voice connection.

For more:
- download the fiscal 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 Field Office Caller Survey Reports (.pdf)

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