NATIONAL COUNCIL OF SOCIAL SECURITY MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATIONS
National Council of
Social Security Management Associations
The 800# Operations Schedule
Thursday, June 9, 2016
From my earliest days as a manager, I was aware that Program Service Center employees (SPIKEs) assisted the Teleservice Centers (TSCs) on heavy call volume days. I even knew there was a schedule that determined how much and on what days this assistance would be provided. What I failed to grasp, was how valuable this information could be. That little golden nugget remained tucked away in my subconscious, and years of struggling to manage the flow of walk-in traffic to the reception area of my small office followed.
After several years, I moved on to a larger office. With the increase in the size of the office came an increase in the volume of walk-in traffic to the reception area, and as a result, the struggle to manage the flow of traffic worsened. Not long after moving to that office, I began to question our process for assigning staff to reception area duty. Each day we assigned Service Representatives (SRs) to reception area duty. The number of SRs we assigned was usually the same each day, yet our walk-in traffic fluctuated widely from day to day. I began to wonder, would it be better if we staffed the reception area based on our expected walk-in traffic for the day? I knew the first day of the month would be busy, and I knew the day after a holiday would be busy. I wondered, how does the day after Independence Day compare to the day after Memorial Day? Are there different degrees of “busy”? That nugget down deep in my subconscious finally broke free.
The 800# operations schedule uses expected call volumes to determine the amount of SPIKE assistance needed on specific days.
That information translates to each day being assigned a level from 1 (busiest) to 7 (least busy). I wondered, could we use that information as a proxy for expected walk-in traffic? Using MI data available through VIPr and MI Central, I compared the actual daily walk-in traffic to the level assigned to that day by the 800# operations schedule – for every day of the previous year. I found that walk-in traffic volume for a specific day correlates closely with the level assigned to the day by the 800# operations calendar. I had my answer. I COULD use the 800# operations schedule as a proxy for expected walk-in traffic volume. Our office began to use the 800# operations schedule as a tool to help us assign SRs to the reception area based on the expected walk-in volume for the day; which made all the difference. On the days with the heaviest projected walk-in traffic, we had to pull CRs from their duties to assist with the reception area; but, we were able to do it in a strategic way rather than reacting to the unbearable wait times as they inevitably occurred.
Lately, I have been wondering, is there another, more magical use for this information? If you have ever planned a Disney vacation, you probably know that professional vacation planners and travel agents have built a cottage industry by using expected crowd levels to help families plan their vacations when the Disney parks are the least crowded. I’ve been thinking, what if we published information that showed expected walk-in volumes so the public could plan their visits when walk-in traffic was expected to be low? Could we use colored flags like the ones at beaches to signal to visitors that long waits are expected? People who live in coastal areas immediately recognize double red flags and know that the water is closed to the public. Billboards throughout my hometown show current waiting times in the local hospital’s emergency room. Could offices with extremely long average wait times use this information in a similar fashion? Some visitors have dire needs that require immediate action; while others have less urgent issues. Could we provide them with information to help them decide the best time to visit our office? I think we can.
By Clayton Wood