To improve its customer experience, SSA found an unusual partner from the NFL

Patrick Newbold, assistant deputy commissioner and deputy chief information officer at SSA, said meeting with the Baltimore Ravens about how they use their data...

The Baltimore Ravens football team may be better known for its winning ways on the field and its rabid fans in the stands.

But the Social Security Administration turned to the NFL team because of its prowess in using data to drive customer experience decisions. It also didn’t hurt that SSA headquarters is located in Baltimore County, Maryland, and many of the staff are big fans of the team.

Patrick Newbold, the assistant deputy commissioner and deputy chief information officer at SSA, said the Ravens are known for providing a great customer experience for their fans so it just made sense that the agency would reach out.

Patrick Newbold is the assistant deputy commissioner and deputy chief information officer at the Social Security Administration.

“One of the questions we asked the Baltimore Ravens was how business intelligence analytics changed their service delivery model?” Newbold said on Ask the CIO. “The Ravens shared an excellent use case with us on how data was able to challenge one of their assumptions on fan demographics. Early on, when they started to aggregate that data, that data disproved assumptions they had about their season ticket holders. Their fans were a lot younger than the marketing assumed. So that led them to change the music they played, the food and drinks they served and how they engaged those fans. The data provided the Ravens with some insights to fan demographics that they weren’t necessarily tracking and allow them to market to a growing demographic fan base be exposed.”

The Ravens brought their chief data officer or equivalent position to the table to meet with executives from SSA’s CIO, CDO and mission offices.

Like the way Ravens use data to drive decisions about how they serve their fans, SSA is looking to apply the same concepts to how they deliver their services.

“We want to use data to monitor and improve the way we do business and services, and deliver our services to our citizens,” Newbold said. “We also shared several challenges. One was the importance of data collection. The Baltimore Ravens leverage NFL-wide data as well as their Baltimore Ravens-specific data. They use that data to inform decisions. We, at SSA, want to create a primary source of SSA-wide data that is beyond assumptions and that supports that ad hoc, cross-cutting capability to do some data analytics. While we are completely different organizations, we have the same goals and mission desire when it comes to how we can use data to really inform the way we want to move forward.”

SSA’s scores better than average

The Ravens, Newbold said, have a mature data and business intelligence practice so gleaming lessons learned can only help SSA, which scored a 64 on the 2021 American Customer Service Index ratings. The federal government’s overall score was 63.4, while the Interior Department received the highest score under the ACSI with a 77.

SSA’s data for 2020 based on its surveys found 93% of the almost 1,700 respondents rated their field office experience as “satisfactory,” but only 47% called it “excellent.”

Newbold said among the biggest lessons learned from the conversation with the Ravens were about the importance of data governance, because the business intelligence platforms and tools are only as good as the data being put into those capabilities.

“Key points that we learned from Baltimore Ravens and throughout the discussions is really having that strong governance, but also they highlighted how they use data as a tool, not as the final answer,” he said. “That resonates with us because as we invest more beyond technologies as an agency, we also must recognize that other factors inform decisions, so data is critical and important, but not the only factor.”

The Ravens are just one of several public and private sector organizations SSA is meeting with to learn more about how they serve their customers.

Newbold said SSA also has met with JP MorganChase, the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, Fannie Mae and the Target Corp.

“We also met with a couple of thought leaders since June, the former General Motors CIO Ralph Szygenda and the former IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti,” he said. “We take these conversations and we’ve highlighted about three important lessons learned from these conversations, and we are baking those into our strategy. They are around governance, data and culture.”

New strategy coming

Newbold said SSA is updating its digital transformation strategy to include the customer experience lessons learned from all of these conversations.

SSA is partnering with the U.S. Digital Service on their modernization strategy and effort.

Newbold said his office and the mission areas are working with USDS to further expand their understanding of their customers and their journey to use SSA services.

“A key objective and expansion of our digital service offerings is a redesign of our website to enhance the user experience. To improve the customer service, we plan to deepen our understanding of our customers, including what drives their evolving service. We will learn about our customers’ journeys from various service channels and touch points, and one of those is a voice of the customer feedback. We want to capture real-time customer feedback, not only to use that feedback to assess what we have in place that is working, but to identify customer pain points to help us design those future digital services.”

To better understand those customer journeys, SSA and USDS held about 65 different sessions with multiple groups of people. This led to SSA using human-centered design techniques for the new beta version of their website that launched in April.

“For many of our services, and especially on mobile devices, we really want to ensure that we offer more digital capabilities that can be leveraged on mobile devices and from any location in it. We released an application that allows customers to express a protective intent to file for Social Security supplemental security income benefits online,” he said. “We have also prioritized within our plan the design and the mobile accessible online process that will upload forms and other documentation.”

Newbold added SSA has received positive feedback so far from the upgrades and plans to expand its interactions and testing with customers.

Reducing the burden on customers

Going forward, Newbold said SSA plans to continue to meet with the Ravens and other private sector organizations on a regular basis.

He said all the different public and private sector organizations help the agency learn more about how they can drive better customer experience. SSA also has begun to implement a customer relationship management (CRM) platform to further its efforts.

“By reducing the burden on the public, we want to eliminate requirements to conduct business in person, present hard copies of original documents, remove requirements for signatures on a document or provide electronic signing options. These objectives will require SSA to reimagine business processes, program policies and enabling technologies,” Newbold said. “We also want to modernize our enterprise IT systems. For example, our system that administers benefits have been cited by GAO as one of the 10 IT systems across the executive branch in most need of modernization. We have begun to modernize the claims intake and adjudication software. But we want [to] continue to finish that work and retire the legacy systems and modernize our benefits system remains a focus to us.”


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