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Liz Wainger Headshot

Social Security Administration's Cautionary Tale of Customer Service

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A trip to try to correct a mistake in my Social Security files revealed customer service at its worst and all that is wrong with the government these days -- a government that seems to be inefficient, mean and certainly not "for the people." In fact, everything about my experience screamed in defiance of at least four of cardinal rules of customer service.

Rule #1: Put customers first.
My local Social Security office is a depressing place -- a gray building with metal blue chairs that aren't meant to be sat in for 30 minutes, let alone for the two to three hours that it takes to get any matter resolved here.

I took my number and sat down among the sea of resigned and frustrated patrons. Sitting next to me was a lovely woman who works for the Montgomery County Schools. This was her second visit because the first time around, she waited two hours and just as they called her number, she had to return to work. We chatted as we watched absolutely nothing happen and no movement in the crowded waiting room.

Rule #2: Respect your customer's time (and investment of energy, effort, etc.).
About 90 minutes into my wait, a supervisor came out and told us the computer had crashed, not just in their office but region-wide. Hmm, I wondered, is the Social Security Administration site connected to For those of us whose business required a look at our computer records, we were out of luck. Ninety-minutes of what could have been productive time, earning income that could be taxed and go back into social security wasted.

Rule #3: Customer service means customer service.
Later in the day, I called the toll free number to see if I could make an appointment. Since my issue didn't fit the menu, I had to talk to an agent and that was a 45-minute wait. However, I opted to have them call me back when my turn came up. And so 45-minutes later they did call back and then put me on hold for 15 minutes. When I finally talked to someone, I found out that for my issue, I could not make an appointment. Yes, you guessed it, I have to come back.

Rule #4: Respond. Quickly.
Steamed, I called my Congressman and to my dismay, no one answered the phone, not even a machine at the constituent office. So I called the office on Capitol Hill and got a lovely young man who could only apologize and take my number and promised someone will call me back.

Rule #5: Be pleasant, as well as helpful.
These experiences are text book examples of how not to deliver customer service. To be sure budget cutbacks have reduced staffing and the Patriot Act has put into place greater scrutiny but there must be ways to automate some basic functions and structure the offices to run more efficiently. And everyone in those offices and who answers the phones could definitely use training in how to talk to people and maybe even crack a smile.

If there were a competitor, I would surely take my business elsewhere. Sadly, there isn't.