Many people depend on the government for vital services, so it is critical for federal agencies to assess and improve their customer service efforts.
Over the past 20 years, federal agencies have been working to improve customer service. For instance, the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) required that agency performance plans measure progress toward customer service goals, including quality, timeliness, and satisfaction. And in March 2018, the Office of Management and Budget announced a cross-agency priority goal to improve customer experiences with federal services. COVID-19 presents additional challenges to improving customer service as agencies make changes to their procedures to minimize physical contact.
However, many federal agencies are still not meeting customer needs or making improvements to address customer concerns.
- During the 2019 filing season, the Internal Revenue Service’s telephone customer service declined, in part due to a lapse in funding and resulting delays in training. The IRS answered 67% of calls seeking live assistance and the average wait time was 9 minutes—compared to 80% of calls answered with an average wait time of 5 minutes during the 2018 filing season. The IRS was also late responding to 44% of paper correspondence during the 2019 filing season (compared to 37% in 2018). And although the agency is developing a new customer service strategy, it is unclear how it plans to address late mail response and an improved level of telephone service since the same assistors that answer the phone also respond to correspondence.
IRS Telephone Level of Service and Wait Times
- The Social Security Administration’s workload has grown with the aging of the baby boomer population; at the same time, many of its most experienced staff are expected to retire. The agency estimates that retirement and disability beneficiaries will increase by 15% between 2017 and 2025, while a third of its employees will retire by 2022. Despite SSA's efforts to manage its rising workload, customer service in field offices and on its telephone hotline has suffered. While the agency has yet to create a long-term plan to address this issue, it has increased the proportion of its services that are delivered electronically to help with the demand for customer service. SSA has also developed workforce management plans to address the potential loss of expertise from staff retirements.
Long-Term Projected Growth in SSA's Workload Coincides with Large Numbers of Potential Employee Retirements
Despite SSA's efforts to manage its rising workload, customer service in field offices and on its telephone hotline has been adversely affected. The agency also has yet to create a strategic roadmap detailing the actions and resources it needs to achieve its long-term vision. However, SSA has taken steps to improve its customer service, such as by increasing the proportion of its services that are delivered electronically. It also developed workforce management and succession plans to address the potential loss of expertise from staff retirements.