TSP Recordkeeper Says Things Are Getting Much Better, After a Rocky Transition
Officials from Accenture Federal Services committed Tuesday to working continuously to boost customer satisfaction.
Officials with the federal contractor responsible for recordkeeping services for the federal government’s 401(k)-style retirement savings program touted an array of improvements they have made to the participant-facing portion of the Thrift Savings Plan, and vowed to continue finding ways to improve enrollees’ satisfaction.
Last June, the TSP transitioned to a new recordkeeping system run by Accenture Financial Services, upgrading many of the back-end functions and promising new public-facing features, such as a mobile app, a virtual assistant, the ability to sign documents and submit rollover checks electronically, and access to around 5,000 new investment options in the form of a mutual fund window.
But that changeover was far from a smooth one. In early days, participants struggled to set up new login credentials to access their accounts online and reported that the system did not reflect their previously made beneficiary designations. Those issues, combined with a slew of more individualized problems, caused a surge in calls to the ThriftLine customer service call center, for which Accenture was not prepared, exacerbating the situation.
Accenture officials on Tuesday told the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which administers the TSP, that it has made a number of improvements both to the TSP website and its call center to make transactions easier to navigate, and said they have more changes coming in the near future.
Owen Davies, a managing director at Accenture, said that, among other things, the company has improved the procedure for changing installment payments, and will make that process doable via TSP.gov from start to finish. The company also made it easier to find various transactions and other services from the My Account homepage.
Accenture has also revamped how and when customer service representatives are trained, and it has improved the call center software to make it easier for participants to connect immediately with a representative with the expertise to handle their request.
“We’ve made a number of changes to make it easier for people to get to the agency who has the skill that they want,” Davies said. “We’ve also added a number of year-end features like tax and annual statements so that people can get those questions answered quickly . . . We’re continually fixing things that aren’t working quite right. The number of those things are shrinking dramatically, and our ability to address those—the time it’s taking to address them—is shrinking.”
Another common pain point after the transition was the lack of availability of historical account statements, although they could be made available by request through the ThriftLine. Beginning next month, Davies said all statements from 2021 and 2022 will be available through the website, although older documents must still be requested by phone.
Staffing at the call center is also no longer a concern, officials said. Last week, which with the Presidents’ Day holiday and tax season is the highest call volume period of the year for the TSP, statistics around wait times and participant satisfaction were strong, Davies said.
“Wait time was down to 10 seconds, and call duration was down by a good 45 seconds to a minute, so people were on the phone for less time,” he said. “We were picking up faster, participant satisfaction was at 89.6% and 90% of calls were picked up in less than 20 seconds.”
TSP Board Chairman Michael Gerber applauded improvements to the website and mobile app, but stressed the need for the phone line to run smoothly, as many participants who are retirees who often are less inclined to manage their accounts electronically.
“There seems to be a pattern of older participants or families members of older participants [having trouble], and I hear you talking about the website and the app, but my parents, if they were still around, would just never use those—they’d just pick up the phone,” he said.
“That’s why the phone will never go away, because it can’t, and that’s why we staff to have a good response there,” Davies said. “We’re exiting that extended burn-in period, where there were things that weren’t quite working correctly and that could create problems for particular participants . . . There was also the newness of some elements of the plan, like adding a second general purpose loan or other specific areas where we have to get public service representatives up to date with more accurate info. But I think a lot of things that you’ve heard about—they weren’t edge cases, but they’re not the normal cases, there are extenuating services. And that’s life, and we have to be prepared for that, and we’re getting better at getting them prepared for that.”
Davies and Elaine Beeman, Accenture’s senior managing director, said they are constantly analyzing data around why people are calling the ThriftLine and what they’re having problems with in order to know what improvements to prioritize. And the contractor is building a team of representatives to proactively reach out to people who have called or otherwise requested help multiple times about a specific issue.
“We’re always looking at repeat callers and conducting proactive outreach so that we can resolve their issues in the phone channel,” Beeman said. “We’re just getting much more proactive.”