In an entry yesterday, I spoke about the invitation that I received to the downtown Social Security Regional Office to be registered and trained on the new electronic folder access that is being offered for representatives who have clientele at the hearing level of the Social Security application process. The registration process was pretty straightforward, with my journey through security being the most arduous portion of the process.
There was a representative in the vestibule, who directed me to the second floor, and ensured that I had brought my invitation. There are three items that were non-negotiable. One needs a government ID, an invite, and a cell phone that receives texts. The cell phone issue is interesting because, though lawyers may apply to have picture cell phones in Federal Buildings, others are often barred. This rule seems to be enforced with different levels of adherence, but fo non-attorney representatives, I am sure there are accommodations.
Upon arrival to the second floor, a group of folks at a desk welcomed me, and requested to see my invitation. Upon review, they pulled some information from a stack of pre-printed envelopes that I would later find contained a user ID and Rep ID that had been assigned to me. From this desk, I was directed to a workstation with a young lady who verified my identity from my drivers license. She further compared this information with their system information, and then subsequently left to confirm something else via telephone. Once it was established that I was who I said I was, I was escorted to yet another room where I sat down with an instructor.
It was here that I was guided to the official website, and led through the registration process. While not terribly complex, it definitely bore the hallmarks of government documentation with regard to the level of security and acknowledgment of security procedures. The process also involved supplying a cell phone number which sent a series of two text messages. There were registration numbers in these messages that were further used to verify my identity and unlock my access. Once this was completed and all numbers were entered and unlocked, I was directed toward the "help" portion of the website and given a sheet of instructions with a phone number that I was to use should the online documentation not be sufficient.
Once this was complete, I was again instructed to the folks at the front desk who originally gave me my ID numbers, and they took back a sheet that was created during my registration process. From there, I was free to go, and was instructed that full files would be available through my ID within 24 hours from the registration event.
Every interaction with the SSA employees today was genial, and helpful. Furthermore, every interaction was one-on-one, despite the fact that they seemed to be running about 10-15 representatives through the process concurrently. There was very little waiting at or between stations, and everyone working there generally seemed to be enthused about the future. Ultimately, like many aspects of having the internet in our lives, I would expect this service to make the lives of Claimants easier as well as the lives of their representatives. What I hope does not happen is that an organization which is already accused of being faceless and monolithic becomes further distant from its stakeholders. If the customer service that I experienced today is any indicator, SSA really seems to be trying to implement this the right way.
Stay tuned for my experiences with the unlocked system, and for information about Social Security Disability contact Thomas O'Brien at Feiler & Associates.