NATIONAL COUNCIL OF SOCIAL SECURITY MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATIONS
In This Edition
Special Interest Articles
• President's Corner
• Is My Voice Being Heard?
• TSC Connection
• The Tech Angle
• ePad Tips & Tricks
• WAC Tips & Tricks
• How to Get Involved
The Success of SSA’s Vision 2025
In recent weeks, there has been considerable discussion about SSA’s Vision 2025. Vision 2025 is SSA’s attempt to look into the future and chart a course for what the agency sees.
Everyone agrees planning is wise, and SSA is trying to do this with Vision 2025. However, the success of this plan is ultimately dependent on well thought-out and successful implementation and the flexibility to adapt when the future turns out differently than anticipated.
Nearly 15 years ago, in September 2000, SSA released Vision 2010. Vision 2010 contained three parts:
• How SSA Serves Its Customers
• How the Agency Performs Its Work
• How the Agency Supports Its Employees
The details of this plan sound similar to SSA’s Vision 2025. So the question you may ask is what happened to Vision 2010? Changes in Washington led to changes in agency leadership, which in turn led to shifts in SSA’s focus and initiatives.
That tells us that if SSA’s Vision 2025 is going to be successful, there has to be an ongoing commitment to see the vision through, despite changes in agency leadership.
Our association supports the key concepts of Vision 2025: superior customer service, exceptional employees, and innovative organization. How could we not stand in support of these key concepts? But, the devil will be in the details of how it is implemented. Support from everyone in the agency – SSA executives, management, unions, and the employees – is vital. We may not all agree on all of the details, but effective governing is about making commonsense compromises that benefit both the public and those who work for SSA.
By Rick Warsinskey, NCSSMA President
Did you know? On June 10, 2014, National 800 Number Network (N8NN) Agents handled the One-Billionth call.
As of June, the Teleservice Centers (TSCs) nationwide have received over 49 million calls this fiscal year. Currently, eight regions host 27 TSCs and 2 Call Centers (DERO/OCO and WBDOC).
The TSCs’ National Strategic Goals/Performance Measures are very aggressive for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, 700 seconds Average Speed of Answer (ASA) and 8% Agent Busy Rate (ABR). When the public calls the N8NN, the automated system routes the call to a Teleservice Representative (TSR) after obtaining basic information from the caller. Calls range from simple (directions to the field office) to complex (explanation of SSI overpayments). Callers can be disabled, elderly, distraught, sometimes even threatening suicide or homicide. A suicidal, homicidal, or threatening caller to a N8NN presents unique challenges at the TSCs because it can be initiated from anywhere in the country. Emergency responses are coordinated based on the caller’s location, not that of the TSC.
TSRs provide information and assistance to the public, including claimants and beneficiaries, regarding eligibility and entitlement to Social Security programs such as Retirement, Disability, Survivors, Supplemental Security Income, Black Lung, Railroad Board, and Medicare.
Some of the TSC calls are cyclical; others are not. During the months of January through March, the TSCs handle a large volume of calls. Calls include processing beneficiaries’ reports of annual earnings, SSI benefits paid yearly, cost of living adjustments, taxation of benefits, Payment History Update System (PHUS) inquiries, and corrections. Also contributing to the high volume of calls are determinations to the Title XVIII Subsidy, IRMAA and Medicare GEP enrollment.
TSRs follow the Customer Help and Information Program (CHIP), which became a mandatory tool for assisting callers in 2001. CHIP provides instant access to current facts, policies, and technical references. CHIP eliminates the need to manually search queries by automatically following a predetermined path with SSA’s databases. CHIP’s ability to automatically locate and display information pertinent to a variety of calls enables TSRs to handle calls more efficiently.
The importance of the role of TSCs in the agency is often undervalued. Members of other components who are not familiar with TSCs have a misconception that TSRs are a little more than enhanced “receptionists” or “operators” suitable mainly for providing directions to the field office and scheduling appointments. However, the reality is that TSCs are tasked with providing world-class customer service while handling an immense volume of calls, as efficient as possible, while obtaining high first call resolution rates as a sign that callers are being answered satisfactorily. Additionally, TSCs work collaboratively with other components to help develop, expedite, and complete cases.
The National 800 Number Network’s (N8NN) call flow was designed to separate basic transactions that can be resolved quickly by automated systems from those that are complex or time-consuming transactions that can be handled by TSRs for specialized attention. TSRs complete thousands of transactions daily. Many of these may be considered basic, but in fact, are the most important to the public, such as tracing missing payments, explaining the Annual Earnings test and updating estimates, and explaining why checks may not be due or issued. Moreover, while TSRs can provide accurate information on the rules and requirements of all the agency’s programs, guide the public to an understanding of all complicated inquiries including those involving complicated SSI overpayments, TSRs have the ability to effectively direct transactions to components whose responsibility is to handle them and designate those requiring special or emergency handling.
Coworkers sometimes "pass the buck" by blaming other components for mistakes or leave completion of action/inputs to employees in other components. We need to change any “culture of blame" and work on ensuring that each component is handling work to completion. In the TSCs, we assure the callers that each component is working diligently to get their problems resolved as quickly as possible. In doing so, TSRs are coached to never assign blame or state an improper action was or was not taken. At the same time, TSC employees want to be respected. This enhances the image of the agency for all components, one caller at a time! It is possible to change our SSA work environment to one of collaboration and problem solving. To borrow a term from U.S. President Harry Truman, "The buck stops here.”
By Steven Merriam
A few years ago, it was not uncommon for the PSC to resolve manager-to-manager inquiries within a couple of weeks. Over the last year, however, management has seen a significant in PSC manager-to-manager response times. Many managers have experienced PSC is often taking well over a month to complete manager-to-manager requests.
In early 2015, management in several regions communicated to their Area Representatives and Regional Management Association (MA) leadership about the excessive manager-to-manager delays. Regional Executive leadership shared these concerns with the NCSSMA Executive Committee, who in turn advised Central Office of this issue.
In the last month, several supervisors have reported improved manager-to-manager response rates due to issues being communicated. It appears the PSCs are now completing many inquiries within a couple of weeks.
Doug: The biggest change is in communication. When I started this job, no individual in a field office had an email address. The office received email over a phone line using a 2400-baud modem. All procedures (POMS, emergency messages, etc.) were communicated on paper. Back then, the notion that individuals could sit at their desk and send messages back and forth to each other in real time seemed like science fiction.
Peggy: I’ve often wondered if the ASCs who work for SSA feel as if they are limited in their ability to affect change in the agency. What I mean is that do you think your skillset may allow you to do more in the private sector or do you not feel like that at all?
Doug: I am pretty far down the food chain to expect to have a large effect on a big agency like ours. Over the years, I have written templates and programs, which have had an effect out in the field. Examples:
• Prior to the IWS/LAN installations, I wrote a program for tracking personnel costs. This was used in Regional offices, and sometimes Area offices for several years.
• When we moved from Office 95 to Office 97 many years ago, it had several templates useful for field offices. The way some of them worked seemed very familiar. When I looked at the document properties, I found I was the original author.
• I have served on various working groups designing processes or introducing new programs.
I could have done similar things in the private sector, but even the little things I have done for SSA are more important than anything I could have done for some widget manufacturer.
Peggy: Do you keep up with latest and futuristic technological advances outside the agency?
Doug: I try to, mostly by following some on-line newsletters. It gives me some idea of where the agency may be going in coming years. Our agency moves slowly in moving to new technology, but for good reason. Our systems must work, and they must be secure. This matters more than for most parts of the private sector.
Peggy: Do you think Social Media will grow as an outlet for us to get information out to our customers?
Doug: I’m sure it will. We should be prepared to respond to people who wish to contact us in this way.
Peggy: At the end of the day, how do you measure if your day was a good one?
Doug Henry is our featured ASC. Doug works in the Philadelphia Region and has been an ASC for 25 years in various locations.
Peggy: Doug, tell us about how you became an ASC with our agency? What is your favorite part of being an ASC?
Doug: In October 1989, my Area Director created a temporary opportunity for someone to help the offices find some use for the one or two PCs each had. That detail eventually became a permanent position, and evolved into the ASC job.
Many of our employees, including the young “connected” ones, have little understanding of how our systems work. Frustration quickly sets in when something does not work as expected. It is very satisfying to be able to reach out across the network, fix an issue, and wish them a good day.
Peggy: What has been the biggest change in the use of technology since you have been an ASC?
Are you making the most of ePad? ePad is great for managers and mentors alike. The Home Page allows managers to view a snapshot of active and inactive trainees. They can access links for pending, saved, returned, and completed reviews. Other features include the Review Tracker tab which lists current trainees including completed and pending reviews, checklists, and the next scheduled meeting. You can manage your alerts in ePad by clicking the Manage Alerts tab, then going to the Alert tab. Change your office alerts from the Office Alerts tab, and change your manager alerts from the Manager Alerts tab. You can select alerts in the ePad Message center, in Outlook, or both. The Reports tab creates reports for each trainee in a variety of topics. Make ePad work for you!
By Taberlee Reid
Customizing WAC Columns
WAC allows you to customize your list view by moving any column header to your desired position. To move a column, place your mouse on any part of the header, then right-click and select “Arrange Columns”. This will bring up a dialog box where you can click on the column that you wish to move. You are allowed to move the item either up or down. Once you have moved the column to your desired location, you can save the column order as your new default view. You can rearrange your columns differently for each WAC list that you run.
WAC and MI Results
Instant MI Results are available in WAC for pending claims and workloads. For each list requested, WAC provides MI Results that allow you to focus on specific workload types or cases that are aging. MI can be provided for a unit or for the entire office. If you have requested multiple lists at once, select the workload that you want to review from the drop-down on the left hand side under “Workloads”. Once the workload is displayed, click on the “MI Reports” option. The MI Reports option is located next to the “Available Lists” drop-down menu. The MI Report will have several tabs available for viewing. The MI Report gives you the option to drill down to the specific case type. With the help of MI Reports in WAC, you can better focus your available resources.
By Maria C. Schlosser
San Francisco Region
Always a Winner
Have you ever run for office and lost the election? Applied for a position and not been selected? Many of us have. Instead of diminishing the desire to make a difference, these unsuccessful attempts often strengthen it. The experience of running for office or volunteering to help NCSSMA alone is valuable. It introduces you to important issues, helps you to meet others and often opens new and different doors.
Many of NCSSMA’s leaders and regional management association executives have lost elections. Regardless of the outcomes of their elections, their commitment to NCSSMA is unwavering. That speaks well of NCSSMA and its membership. Contested elections mean members recognize the importance of our association, and that they are willing to get involved and help lead the organization in the future. When NCSSMA members run for office, everyone is a winner.
Your participation will become even more instrumental in achieving our association’s resolutions, as we embark upon what are sure to be some of our toughest budget years yet. Remember, whether running for office or not, your ideas, involvement, and contributions are important. As always, thank you for your support of NCSSMA.
By Peggy Rogers
Kansas City Region
National Council of
Social Security Management Associations
change, and those
who cannot change
their minds cannot
Doug: I do enjoy answering calls for help from users, but actually get more satisfaction from being proactive. For instance, I track the downloads in my twelve offices. A download last weekend failed on several workstations, leaving them without Adobe Flash Player. I was able to run the download on most of the workstations before the users knew anything was wrong. The better the ASCs are doing their work, the less problems occur, and then users wonder what we do all day. I can live with that.
By Peggy Murphy
The views expressed in FrontLine by contributors represent solely the views of the respective contributors.
Staff editorials reflect the views of the editors, and should not be assumed to reflect the formal positions or
views of the National Council or the Social Security Administration.
The objective is not to criticize the PSCs. We understand that they are under immense pressure from increased SPIKING (800# answering) mandates and that they, like us, have to cope with less-than-efficient computer systems. Instead, the objective here is to emphasize that the Management Association’s successfully communicating member concerns with other components. The constant communication by frontline managers and supervisors helps keep the agency in touch with the public we serve. Keep your feedback coming!
By Mike McHugh
Shanna Hardin, DM, Whiteville, NC
FrontLine Deputy Editor:
Shane Van Matre, OS, The Dalles, OR
"I love this new format. It's very easy to read!"
— Kevin Gerber
"Loved the article regarding the TSC!"
— Jodi Shepard