Social Security Sonya from Seattle
By David Henderson
Regular readers of my posts know that I sometimes highlight the bad or inefficient behavior of government officials and the good or efficient behavior of private for-profit actors. I don’t cherry pick. I report what I see. So, for example, I recently wrote about bad behavior from Verizon, but then also wrote about Verizon’s fixing the problem. (A number of commenters pointed out, probably correctly, that I got Verizon on the problem so quickly because EconLog is such a prominent, well-known blog.)
So now I’ll report some very pleasant and efficient behavior by Sonya from Seattle, who works for the Social Security Administration.
A little over a week ago, I returned from a 3+ week vacation in Canada and Vermont. Catching up on mail a couple of days later, I found a letter from the Social Security Administration congratulating me on having started an electronic account with them on July 25. July 25 was 2 days before I left on vacation. So, even though my short-term memory isn’t as good as it used to be, I doubted that I had done any such thing. The letter gave me a number to call in case I hadn’t started such an account.
So toward the end of my day last Tuesday, I called the 800 number. The next part might not surprise people who deal much with government. After trying to explain to a robot what I was calling about, I kept getting options that I was not calling about. So I said, “I wish to speak to a human.” That worked. The little wrinkle: the wait would be, are you ready, 40 minutes.
I decided to wait, put the phone on speakerphone, and multi-task while waiting. That was made more difficult by two things: (1) background music that I didn’t enjoy, and (2) an interruption about every 30 seconds by a male voice that apologized for the wait. One thing that particularly grated was that about every 4th time, which means about every 2 minutes, the male voice explained that I should understand that the wait was so long because Social Security deals with 50 million beneficiaries. That was a surprise to them?
My guess is that many people in my position, frustrated by the long wait they just experienced, would take it out on the person who actually came on to deal with them. But that made no sense; it wasn’t her fault. So I chalked up the annoying wait to sunk cost and decided to deal pleasantly with the woman who came on. Good move. She was pleasant too.
She quickly figured out that yes, someone had set up a fraudulent account, and, with apparently a few key strokes, eliminated it. Then she encouraged me to set up a real account while she waited. She wasn’t sure that would work because she had just eliminated the fraudulent one and wondered if there might be a lag before my real one took. So at each step, as she walked, me through the process, I got taken to screens that I should have been taken to. When I got to the third screen, she cheered. In all my time dealing with government officials who don’t know me, I’ve never heard that kind of reaction. Then screen after screen, she cheered. It was fun working together.
At the end, I asked her her name and where she was. She was Sonya from Seattle. I told her that I appreciated her spirit and her willingness to help. She encouraged me to stay on the line to give that feedback. I assured her I would. I did. I stayed on the line for about 40 seconds, and, hearing nothing, hung up.