Like many things disrupted by the pandemic, call centers and customer service operations were impacted greatly. The Retirement Center receives calls and emails daily from retirees and their families overwhelmed and unable to get in touch with government and insurance providers to ask questions and process requests.
Customer Service Reps Doing Their Best
The pandemic brought massive overnight changes. In a flash, workers were forced to work from home and without the necessary IT/technology support and data privacy/security issues. For many organizations it revealed gaps in service and technology already present before the pandemic. As the pandemic ramped up, so did staff shortages due to family responsibilities, illness, vulnerability due to Covid-19 and career changes. At the same time, public need to access services and feelings of anxiety and nervousness due to uncertainties put a demand on agencies that was too much. One report by NextGov, a news source on federal technology and cybersecurity, indicated that early in the pandemic the Center for Disease Control “increased 100-fold,” unmanageable with the 50 call agents normally available for the agency.
Two years later, organizations continue to have challenges keeping up with demand due to the changing nature of business, availability of labor and customer data security/fraud prevention.
For many retirees the experience was beyond frustrating with extreme wait times, dropped calls, often times unable to connect with a person, all the while mourning the loss of a loved one or feeling the unease and vulnerability of the pandemic. While organizations are working overtime to implement new protocols and processes to meet the demand in this unprecedented time (The Social Security Administration recently announced plans for more in-person appointments in early April), there are some strategies that can help when reaching out to providers. Below are some of the things we’ve learned along the way at the Retirement Center in regards to accessing information and services related to their retirement benefits.
Plan (if possible) and allow plenty of time
It’s true, we can’t always control when we’re going to need vital information, but planning and preparation is key, when at all possible. If you know that you plan to access a benefit or service, do your best to research the process and reach out as soon as possible, allowing time for delays.
UC recently included a helpful article in the “New Dimensions” newsletter titled, “Preparation makes it easier for your survivor to claim benefits” that includes a list of tips on organizing a file for your surviving loved one.
Tips for using phone services
The Retirement Administration Service Center (RASC), the unit at the UC Office of the President who manages UC retiree pensions and healthcare, has been especially hard hit by the pandemic, working overtime and doing their best to accommodate demands. If you are able to log onto UCRAYS and email your question (read more in the section below), this can help decrease the demand on the phone line. If you do call, here are some tips when calling:
Call right when they open at 8:30 am in order to enter the wait queue early.
Listen for a call back feature, and leave your number in order to receive a call back later.
Please know it may take several days to receive a response. RASC’s toll free number is (800) 888-8267.
Many other organizations have an automated call back feature and often have times of the day where wait times to speak to a representative are typically shorter. For example, the Social Security Administration suggests the best times to call are Wednesdays through Fridays or later in the day. The SSA also makes some services and information available via their automated phone line.
Some basic services can be managed online (and provide automated services via their toll free number):
As a way to ease the call volume for customer service centers, many organizations have made more services available online as a way to help meet the demand of clients. Before heading to the phone, try going to an organization's website first to see what information or services may be available online. Oftentimes organizations will have an online appointment system provided on their website or you may be asked to download an “app” onto your phone or tablet. Many businesses have moved to putting all of the scheduling for appointments online since the pandemic. If you need to learn more about downloading apps, check out these safe videos from SeniorPlanet (a nonprofit resource associated with AARP) for better understanding how to download apps: Download app for apple device and Download app for android phone.
You might also have luck emailing the organization in addition to or in lieu of calling. Many staff working from home are primarily using email to respond to requests. You may also be able to arrange a time to talk to someone by sending this request via email.
The Social Security Administration has a pretty extensive list of Frequently Asked Questions on their website and a description of services you can manage through their automated phone line: https://www.ssa.gov/onlineservices/ and https://www.ssa.gov/agency/contact/phone.html.
Many of the Retirement Administration Service Center (RASC) services, including tax forms and updating current contact information, can be accessed online through your UCRAYS account. You can also send RASC a secure message through your UCRAYS account. Information on how to set up your UCRAYS account if you have not already, along with instructions on how to use the different website features, can be found by clicking here. Also many publications about retiree pension, insurance and survivor benefits can be found on the UCNET website.
For Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) or the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), there is an online form for reporting the death of a retiree or survivor annuitant who is currently receiving a benefit: https://rsreporting.opm.gov/AnnuitantDeath.
To report a death to Fidelity, who manages the UC Retiree Savings Program, you may call (1-800-558-9182) to report a death or complete this online: https://digital.fidelity.com/prgw/digital/transitionservices/notify-of-death.
At the risk of sounding impertinent, Google it
“Googling it” is a pretty helpful way to identify a solution to finding out something that you might wait on hold for hours to get answered. Google can be particularly helpful in locating information on an organization’s website, when the website’s search engine isn’t particularly accurate (or helpful). This article from LifeWire gives step-by-step instructions for using google to search a particular website. For example you can enter into the google search box “site:” and the URL address for the UC website, e.g. “ucnet.universityofcalifornia.edu/” and and a keyword e.g. “survivor” and pull up a list of links about survivor benefits. If you’d like to try this, copy the following and paste it into the google search box at goggle.com: site:https://ucnet.universityofcalifornia.edu/ survivor.
Also, many times you can simply type a question into the google search box and get a list that is pretty close to what you are looking for. Tip: be sure when you are looking at the list, to look at the URL provided and see that it is pointing to an agency you are familiar with and it’s likely best to avoid resources with the words “ad” next to it (these usually are listed at the top of the search results).
Reach out for help finding information online or finding out who to contact
The Retirement Center is available to help retirees navigate challenges with accessing resources. Call or email us (ph: 510-642-5461 | firstname.lastname@example.org). We’ll do our best to get you pointed in the right direction. If you're having issues accessing your UC health benefits, contact your local Health Care Facilitator. Also, local librarians can be very helpful in tracking down information on the internet and otherwise.