SSA tests personal touch on Web
- By Bryant Jordan
- Nov 14, 2000
The Social Security Administration soon may push interactive online government
service to a new high.
Customers surfing SSA's Web site can already find retirement planning
guides and retirement benefits applications. But in the future, SSA site
visitors may be able to deal with a living, breathing person who will answer
questions via an instant messaging — or even voice — system.
The agency, along with CommerceNet — a nonprofit consortium of more
than 400 companies — tested such technology for six weeks during September
and October. SSA and CommerceNet officials will meet with General Services
Administration officials in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 7 to review the proof-of-concept
"The goal is to have people's issues resolved in one session [online],"
said Tony Trenkle, director of SSA's electronic services staff in Baltimore.
During the test phase, SSA set up a laboratory with 10 computer workstations.
Half were used by testers acting as customers and the other half by those
acting as SSA customer service agents.
"Over 100 different people acted as test customers," said John Meyer,
a CommerceNet consultant who helped manage the program. "They would use
these [computers] to contact or go to the SSA Web site and actually conduct
In all, SSA and CommerceNet oversaw the testing of four prototype systems,
with services including e-mail response, automatic callback, instant messaging
exchange and voice.
One prototype included "natural language processing," Meyer said, which
would sort through a customer's questions and forward the customer to the
Trenkle said an evaluation of the prototypes, drafted by KPMG Management
Consulting, could be released as early as Nov. 17. CommerceNet's own report
on the project should be completed by the end of the month, according to
Just what kinds of services are introduced to SSA's Web site will depend
on what KPMG's evaluators find, Trenkle said. SSA will go over the findings
with them, he said, "then decide which technologies we think are ready for