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Social Security Administration an 800 call away.


From anywhere in the U.S., the Social Security Administration (SSA) can be reached via a single toll-free 800 number.

Callers quickly reach a service representative to ask a question or set up an appointment to discuss a problem with their local SSA representative.

But it wasn't always that way.

During the 1970s, SSA callers would dial a local office or regional "teleservice center," usually through a toll-free number or a foreign exchange line.

In certain parts of the country, it was a toll call.

800 Innovation

SSA, in seeking to improve its service in the 68 million phone calls it receives each year, came up with the concept of a toll-free information service for the general public through a national 800 number.

This number, answered by Social Security Administration representatives, would effectively link the SSA's 37 telephone service centers across the country, including Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

Calls to the number are directed to representatives in one of the teleservice centers.

They are trained to deal with "primary queries"--questions that can be dealt with quickly without much research or lengthy discussion.

Such inquiries might include general questions about applying for benefits, requesting a Social Security number, or reporting changes after benefits start.

The 800 number extends SSA's weekday hours, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the caller's time zone.

Nearly 43 million people receive Social Security or Supplemental Security Income payments.

Aging Population

With an aging population, this figure is expected to grow considerably.

By the year 2000, there will be 10 million more Americans over 65 than there were in 1980.

Since this population tends to be less mobile than other demographic groups, the need to conduct "benefits" business over the telephone will continue to increase use of the network.

Constructing the SSA network posed technical challenges.

It was to be the largest such network anywhere, linking 37 new and existing "teleservice centers" across the country.

Not originally intended to form the nodes of a network, some of these centers used different signaling protocols and a variety of equipment from multiple vendors.

In addition, the network was to be created with relatively little background knowledge.

No available database existed with information on previous calling patterns.

Despite these limitations, the network had to meet demanding performance criteria.

Calls had to be answered with a minimum amount of waiting time.

Regular Reports

Management reports had to be generated on a "near real number time" basis--with a summary of calling patterns available within 54 hours.

Initially, MCI installed 2600 circuits for SSA.

Since that time, SSA has added more.

The initial cutover was completed by MCI in two days, with no interruption in service.

Rockwell Galaxy automatic call distributors ensure optimal handling of calls at each teleservice center.

SSA takes advantage of special routing capabilities built into the 800 network.

Special Capabilities

* Point-of-Call Routing directs calls according to their origin. It can create the impression of "regionality" in a nationwide network. Callers get to deal with agents who do business in a way that is familiar to them. This can be important to elderly Social Security recipients.

* Allocation Routing allows a specified portion of calls into one teleservice center to be rerouted to one or more alternate sites. For example, a portion of the calls originally destined for the small Puerto Rico teleservice center can be redirected to other centers as necessary. This assures calls are answered quickly, and Puerto Rican callers, redirected to centers with bilingual representatives, will connect to Spanish-speaking agents.

* Time-of-Day Routing send calls to specific locations based on time zones. Early evening callers on the East Coast may have their inquiries answered by live operators in other time zones, still working regular office hours.

* The network also provides for Day of Week Routing to redirect calls during peak call periods around check delivery days and on Mondays, when particular teleservice centers may be particularly busy. If a teleservice center needs to shut down operations for a software upgrade or an emergency, the network prevents interruptions in customer service.

* Command Routing lets SSA activate predetermined alternate routing schemes when necessary.

* Routing Control permits an entire network to be reshuffled within an hour. The SSA can reroute calls according to preprogrammed plans within 15 minutes.


These advanced features are part of an approach to network intelligence that MCI calls "nobotics," in which dumb switches serve as the vehicle for rerouting information based on computer software that provides the intelligence.

This architecture provides the network with the flexibility needed to route calls appropriately to respond to changing calling patterns, while providing critical network management information at the same time.

Nobotics is also the key to offering new features to the network.

In the future, the network may offer "specified call search," which would direct a caller to the same representative on every call.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Communications News
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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