Nightmare on E Street: Scary Customer Service at Feds’ Retirement Program

A new report from the Inspector General (IG) of the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM) paints a gruesome picture of the poor customer service retirees encounter when trying to call the federal workforce retirement program’s information office. An October 28, 2016 Washington Post article summarizes some of the findings, including alarming statistics about abandoned calls, specialists ignoring messages, and eternally full voicemail boxes.

According to the Post article, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) cites staffing shortages as one of the main drivers of poor service performance. Currently the ratio of customer service specialists to customers is 27,000 to 1, more than three times the ratio of the Social Security office’s 8,000 to 1 ratio. The OPM report says that in FY 2015, there were 1.9 million calls placed to the Retirement Information Office, of which 540,000 were abandoned by the callers, presumably after excessive waits and other issues.

Figure 1:

From OPM's "Evaluation of Retirement Services Customer Service Function"; Report Number 4K-RS-00-16-023; 9/28/2016

From: OPM’s “Evaluation of Retirement Services
Customer Service Function”; Report Number 4K-RS-00-16-023; 9/28/2016

According to the OPM report, retirees access the Customer Service line using a toll-free number listed on OPM’s website.  The office is located in Pennsylvania and staffed with customer service specialists and contractors who handle inquiries such as address and direct deposit changes, taxes, life insurance, and health and survivor benefits. There is also a Walk-In center at OPM’s headquarters on E Street NW in D.C. serving about 4,000 annuitants per year. Over 500,000 annuitants in FY’15 also used Services Online, the creative name given to the Retirement Services’ online customer service portal.

It is reports like these that fuel the American public’s poor satisfaction ratings for services provided by the government. According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) “Federal Government Report 2015,” both federal and local government services score far below every private economic sector in user satisfaction. This underscores the need for local and federal government service providers to adopt more private sector techniques for evaluating and improving the customer experience.  Improving constituents’ satisfaction with public sector services can help improve the American public’s overall trust in government.


Figure 2: Public vs. Private Sector Satisfaction Scores


From: ACSI Federal Government Report 2015; January 26, 2016