These Agencies Are Trying To Get Better at Providing Retirement Services
Three key organizations are working to improve the customer experience of federal employees and retirees.
Companies are wise to invest in customer service to retain loyalty and to get referrals to new clients. The same is true for government agencies—both those that provide services to the public and those that serve their fellow federal workers.
Federal employees who are transitioning into retirement, for example, will likely need to connect with the Office of Personnel Management, the Social Security Administration and the Thrift Savings Plan. Sometimes online services will get you what you need. In other cases, a phone call might be more effective and efficient. You should receive prompt, courteous and reliable service when you call for help.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. According to an October 2021 report from OPM’s inspector general, the IG office’s fraud hotline continues to receive complaints from annuitants and members of the public who are frustrated by attempts to resolve retirement-related issues. Legacy systems and manual processes contribute to the problem by increasing the backlog of cases and lengthening processing times. Many of the calls the IG receives are related to concerns about interim annuity payments made until the final adjudication of retirement claims.
OPM has been working with the General Services Administration’s Information Technology Modernization Centers for Excellence since November 2020 to upgrade its outdated retirement processing system. The new system is scheduled to be implemented in the third quarter of fiscal 2022. OPM has been trying to create a modern digital retirement system for years now.
The leaders of OPM’s retirement services organization believe that additional customer service staffing and improved operational processes are also viable ways to increase customer satisfaction. The IG’s office agrees, but adding employees will require the support of Congress and implementing new processes is dependent on effective planning and development efforts.
Retirees are encouraged to use OPM Services Online to manage their accounts. During the pandemic, the agency has temporarily closed its walk-in customer support center. You can contact OPM by phone toll free at 1-888-767-6738 and by email at email@example.com.
Social Security also has struggled with customer service during the pandemic. In a recent opinion piece in The Hill, Nancy Altman, president of Social Security Works, wrote, “In the past when people went to their local Social Security field offices, they knew they would get excellent, compassionate help with their earned benefits. It was considered one of the best federal agencies to work for, as well. Now, it ranks near the bottom. Training, which used to be extensive and first-rate, has reportedly deteriorated.”
Personally, I’ve found that the service I’ve received from Social Security during the pandemic has ranged from good to excellent. My calls have been answered within a few minutes and the representatives made a sincere effort to address the issues I raised. Social Security provides a national toll-free number, 800-772-1213, as well as a variety of online services if you set up a My Social Security account. The toll-free number tends to be less busy in the early morning, early evening and later in the month. Social Security is slated to reopen in-person customer service centers in early April.
To contact the Thrift Savings Plan, federal employees and retirees can call the ThriftLine at 877-968-3778. Later this year, the TSP will be providing more options to get help and information. These include an online virtual assistant, available at all hours. And when you’re logged in to your account or the TSP’s mobile app, you’ll be able to connect with a TSP representative during business hours using a new live-agent chat function.
Next week, we’ll look at tips for getting the results you’re looking for from a customer service operation.