SSA seeks tool to handle customer complaints

The Social Security Administration last month began searching for a commercial off-the-shelf software package to use as an automated customer-feedback system that can collect, maintain and analyze data about phone calls the agency receives from the public.

The current SSA system for handling caller complaints and comments is fragmented, which sometimes can be frustrating for the customer and the agency, SSA officials said. Callers usually end up being transferred to various offices within the agency, such as one of the 10 regional offices and the Baltimore headquarters. Sometimes callers are put on hold and never receive answers to their questions.

John Trollinger, a spokesman for SSA, said customers usually call the agency with questions about their benefits or with complaints about not being able to reach anyone. The agency does not have a tally of total calls from the public because there is not a standard system to track them, Trollinger said.

Correcting the problem has become a top priority and a key initiative for the agency. Agency officials hope the new system not only will help SSA organize and track calls from the public but also help collect data that will support management decisions, business planning, policy development and communication strategy.

"We want to provide a single departmentwide application to collect, maintain and analyze feedback from our customers," Trollinger said. SSA hopes to have the customer-feedback system in place by next year. If the agency cannot find a software vendor to do the job, SSA will develop the application in-house, he said.

Randy Wert, a federal regional manager for help-desk software vendor Remedy Inc., said SSA is moving in the right direction. Technology, Wert said, can help bridge the gap between a customer's question and an agency's answer. "The whole idea is client intimacy supported by technology that permits the part of the organization with the answers to stay in touch with the person who has concerns," he said.

SSA published a notice in the Commerce Business Daily last month saying it wants a commercially available software package. Vendors have 60 days to respond.

Trollinger said the software package that SSA uses must provide for the tracking and controlling of transactions across different SSA organizations from the time a call is received through to its resolution. The package also must consolidate transactions at the office, region and national levels and provide formatted reports for data analysis.

Also, the software package must have the capability to generate transactions to SSA's current programmatic systems that are mainframe-based and client/server-based to initiate actions in these systems.

For example, the customer-feedback system must be capable of triggering SSA's notices application, which sends acknowledgment letters to people who call with complaints, suggestions or questions.

Trollinger said the agency hired a contractor to developed a prototype of the kind of software that SSA needs based on five weeks of agencywide research from federal employees. "We're looking at what is it we're trying to do and [whether there is] a tracking system available to meet our needs," Trollinger said.

Wert said the agency should not encounter any problems finding the appropriate software to meet its needs.

"The technology exists," Wert said. "There are success stories in the marketplace doing what [SSA] intends to do.

Customer-relationship management is a mature technology that is now being used in manufacturing operations and telecommunications companies."

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