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How the Social Security Administration Hit A Customer Experience Trifecta With A Mobile App

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The Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program had a problem: it was paying out way too much in unearned benefits to program participants. This was happening because participants weren’t reporting their income often enough. As participants’ incomes went up, their SSI eligibility went down – but they continued receiving SSI benefits based on the lower income they had previously reported.

SSA used fundamental customer experience (CX) techniques to solve this difficulty. As a result, it ended up fixing not one problem, but three.

First, SSA and its contractor performed basic quantitative and qualitative customer research to discover why people weren’t reporting their income. The reason wasn’t fraud – it was convenience. SSA had made it too difficult for beneficiaries to report their income, so they weren’t doing it as often as they should. But how to make it easier? Solid CX design methods presented the solution: a mobile app.

Caution: A mobile app is not the answer for every CX problem. But in this case, it was. SSI beneficiaries are lower-income individuals, and people in that group often have Internet access only through a smartphone. They tend not to own tablets or other computers, so a regular website isn’t right for them. And lower-income people are more likely to work odd hours and have fewer breaks, so a 9-5 call center won’t do the trick, either. But a mobile app, accessible from a smartphone 24/7, would be perfect.

So SSA and its contractor built the SSI mobile wage reporting app, and it worked! Program beneficiaries started reporting their income more accurately, more often. And that meant that SSI started saving big because it was paying out less in unearned benefits. That’s SSA win #1: As I’ve said before, a better customer experience leads to greater customer compliance. In this case, compliance means big cost savings for a program that’s strapped for cash.

But that wasn’t the end of SSI’s CX success. In the old wage reporting scheme, much of the back-end workflow was manual. As a result, many employees were overworked and unable to focus on other important tasks. With the mobile app, the workflow is entirely automated. So there’s win #2: Employees are happier and more engaged.

That new automated workflow takes advantage of a digital system SSA already had but wasn’t using to its full potential. And that’s win #3: SSA gets full value for money it already spent on technology.

As you can see, improving federal CX isn’t just good for customers. Strong CX improves customer engagement and spins off internal budget and process efficiencies that are all important for mission success.

Has your agency achieved similar wins with a CX improvement? If so, please add it to the comment section. We’ll all enjoy sharing in your success!

Rick Parrish is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Profile Photo Alexa McKenna

I think when it comes to customer service, the more simple a service the more beneficial it becomes. I know this was the logic behind the iPhone so I’m not all too surprised SSA found this to be true. Perhaps the real trick to CX is simplifying processes.

Profile Photo Rick Parrish

Thanks for your comment!

Simple is very important. My colleague Allegra Burnette does a lot of excellent research on simplifying CX. In fact, “Easy” is one of the “3 Es” of customer experience: Effectiveness, Ease, and Emotion. In order to be great, a customer experience has to help customers achieve their goal (Effective), without difficulty (Ease), and it has to leave people feeling the way they want to feel about the experience (Emotion).

On thing to remember about simplification, though: A CX solution has to be easy for the customer, not the designer, the program manager, or the accountants. And that requires deep customer understanding born of rigorous quantitative and qualitative research. Making something truly simple and easy is hard work!