May 18, 2024 3:11 PM
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Survey Says: 4.5 Stars – Social Security and You

Well, the votes are in. Several weeks ago, I asked my readers to rate the service they got from the Social Security Administration in the form of stars: 5 stars for good service down to 1 star for poor service. More than 250 of you responded. And the overall rating averaged out to a solid 4.5 stars.

This is much higher than I would have guessed based on the emails I get from folks complaining about problems they had with the agency’s services and its employees. So this survey reinforces what I speculated about in a prior column. On a routine basis, people are much more likely to complain to me about poor service than they are inclined to send me an email praising good service. But when given the chance to voice their opinion, the folks who were very satisfied with the SSA’s services and employees let me know what they think. I’m going to expound on your rating and your responses in a bit. But first, here are some general thoughts about ratings.

Whether you’re buying some underwear at Kohl’s or a burger at McDonald’s, the clerk you deal with is likely to say something like this to you: “And we would appreciate it if you could take a minute and complete a survey about our service.” And if they are especially bold (and honest), they might add: “And we sure would love it if you give us 5 stars!” (5 stars being the top grade in most rating systems.)

It’s interesting how in the past 10 years or so, these ratings have come to mean so much to businesses, especially because of the online world and the omnipresence of social media. And it probably isn’t too much of an exaggeration to say that some of them, especially smaller businesses, live and die by those ratings. I’ll give two examples.

Last summer, we had a new deck installed in our backyard. I got to know the guy we hired to do the job quite well. He owns a small deck-building business in our town. I was very pleased with the work he and his crew did and the deck he built. And even though I paid him rather handsomely for the job and thanked him profusely, he let me know that wasn’t enough. He practically pleaded with me to go on Google Reviews and other online sites and give him a 5-star rating. He told me that in today’s world, that’s how he gets a lot of business. Without a high ranking on those sites, he’d be in trouble.

And here is another rating story that’s closer to home. My daughter-in-law runs a small pie business in our town. She has a pie truck and a newly opened brick and mortar shop. Because hers is a relatively new business, and because she is going up against some well-established and very well-financed bakeries in town, she has learned that good ratings on social media sites are the key to growing her little business. And thankfully, she almost always gets 5-star reviews from her customers.

But she’s also learned that those ratings can be a double-edged sword. For example, she recently got a 1-star review. She was surprised and hurt — so much so, in fact, that she contacted the guy. It turns out that my daughter-in-law uses cherries grown in Colorado for her cherry pie. And this guy insisted that only Michigan cherries should be used in pies. And thus, his 1-star rating!

That’s just my way of saying that these rating systems can be important and can be an indication of the value or quality of the product or service being rated. But at the same time, sometimes these ratings must be taken with a grain of salt. I’ll explain more about that with respect to my Social Security service survey in just a bit, but first, here are the results. I got 254 responses from readers. And the ratings broke down like this:

— 5 stars: 191 ratings
— 4.5 stars: 7 ratings
— 4 stars: 31 ratings
— 3 stars: 13 ratings
— 2 stars: 4 ratings
— 1 star: 8 ratings

If I’m doing my math right, that comes out to a 4.5-star average rating. I understand this is an unscientific survey. But I still think it’s a pretty good representation of what most people think about the service they get from the SSA.

And I did glean some points from the responses I got. As I suspected, the SSA does routine work extremely well. And the good news is that when it comes to our involvement with the Social Security Administration, almost all of us have routine issues. We file for retirement benefits, or we want to change our address in the SSA’s records. These jobs are handled quickly and efficiently — usually by the SSA’s website: www.socialsecurity.gov. In fact, many readers who gave 5-star reviews specifically mentioned the ease of using the website.

Conversely, many people who gave lower ratings had messy situations. One guy had been trying for years to get disability benefits. And even though he eventually got those benefits, he gave the agency a 1-star review.

Two other readers gave a low rating because they said they got wrong answers from SSA reps. But when they described their situation to me, they actually got correct information. I don’t think you should give a low rating based on what you think an answer is supposed to be. But still, they did.

Some people who gave lower ratings cited the long wait times when calling the agency’s toll-free number (800-772-1213). One guy gave a 1-star rating for that reason. But interestingly, another person who said he waited for about an hour gave a 4-star rating because once his call was answered, he said he talked to a knowledgeable rep who gave him good advice.

This leads me to another observation: I think happy and optimistic people tend to give good ratings and grumpy and pessimistic people give low ratings. Here is a perfect example of that: Two people, one kind of grumpy and one kind of happy (I could just feel those vibes in the emails they sent), reported almost identical issues with the SSA’s in-office service they experienced. They each ended up sitting about two hours in the waiting room of their respective local SSA office before being served. Mr. Grumpy gave the SSA 1 star because of that. Mr. Happy still gave a 5-star review because he said he understood there have been staffing cutbacks and once he was served, he got his issues taken care of in a professional way. By the way, I am not saying that all those who give low reviews are grumpy people. But I am saying that all grumpy people give low reviews.

And speaking of those reviews, in next week’s column, I’m going to relay some of the comments many of you shared with me about your experiences dealing with the Social Security Administration.

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