The Long Wait

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Have you ever received a letter from the Social Security Administration and had no idea what they were attempting to tell you? I got two of them recently and I have to say that even with my college coursework in mathematics and English I was unable to decipher the gist of the communications. I had my husband read it and he was even more confused that I was. So that meant I had to either make a phone call  or head down the the local office to pick a number and then probably wait for half a day to actually see someone.

As it happened my call got dropped on my first try and the second time around I was on hold for over one hour. They did not even give me some dorky music to calm my increasingly anxious mood. Instead they keep telling me that I could find all kinds of information online, except nothing online referred to the questions that I had. My only recourse was just to patiently wait my turn to get the attention of a representative. Luckily I had my Wordscapes app to I keep me entertained during the very long interruption of my day. 

As I waited and worried that the call would be dropped again, I wondered how many old people needing answers fall asleep in their easy chairs during those wasted moments of delay. I began to imagine all sorts of scenarios involving folks attempting to make use of the time spent watching the phone. I no doubt could have baked a cake or written a blog if I had thought to bring my laptop along for the interim. Heck, a really brilliant individual might even invent something during that time. 

To say I was becoming peeved is an understatement, but this is the Christmas season and I was determined to be nice to whomever ultimately got around to taking my call. After all, the poor souls who work there are obviously overworked and no doubt underpaid as well. They also have a lousy phone system that they discuss in a recording before callers are put on hold. They admit that their equipment is prone to failures like hanging up or making so much strange noise that the attempts to speak with one another become garbled. 

I submit that any Congressperson who wanted to really address the issues with the Social Security system would likely become a great hero to the American public. There are definitely numerous issues there, not the least of which is what I consider to be the theft of my legally earned income that I paid for during the years when I was not a public school teacher. Sadly, as a teacher, my allowed benefit is tragically reduced by a windfall formula that occurs simply because I have a pension that I paid into for decades. 

When I finally got a real person on the phone I almost fainted from shock. Since I had sworn to myself that I was going to be kind, I peppered my questions with respect and a honey-laced tone in my voice. When the representative explained all of the gobbleldy gook I realized that the letter only need about three sentences to make sense. I did not, however, suggest this to the nice young man helping me because he was so bright that it was apparent to me that he had nothing to do with the letter I had received. I simply thanked him profusely for his time and suggested that he was surely overworked, worthy of a raise and in need of more help and decent equipment for his job. His surprised demeanor told me that he is unaccustomed to being treated well by callers.

I tend to be impatient with incompetence. I’ve seen too many incredibly busy systems that work magnificently, so I cannot understand why some organizations are so unable to maintain a fluid manner of doing business. I tend to believe that such places are hiring unqualified people at low wages or perhaps cutting corners by not having enough people on staff. I feel badly for those stuck in such jobs unless they demonstrate indications that they are surly or lazy. 

I’ve been to Social Security offices before and wasted half a day sitting in a hard chair surrounded by droves of others becoming increasingly angry as the clock ticks. I suppose that there is little incentive to properly staff an office that produces no income, but they could sure learn a thing or two from the Buccee’s stores and gas stations that I frequent on my travels in Texas. A trip to Chic-fil-a should be inspirational for them. I mean those businesses have people in and out so quickly that it is head spinning. 

I’m glad I decided to be pleasant with the person who translated the strange sounding letter for me. He did a great job once he was able to get to my call. I wondered how many times someone yells at him during a regular day just because the folks he works for won’t attempt to make the customer service experience a bit more bearable. In the end he wished me a great rest of the day and a very Merry Christmas and we both smiled. (I could hear the smile in the tone of his voice, in case you are wondering.)

Later it occurred to me that with the time spent composing those two letters as well as the postage to send them when multiplied hundreds of thousands of times might possibly pay for the kind of improvements that are needed. Surely there is an efficiency expert somewhere who might finally make a broken system better. It’s been out of order for as long as I can remember. Isn’t it about time to at least try to do something more than ask people to use the website rather than call? (As a side note I did attempt to use the website but ended up in an infinite loop informing me that I needed one thing or another to work my way inside.)

I suppose that all is well that ends well, but I can’t help but imagine hordes of individuals falling into a deep slumber in the process of waiting for an answer to their call. I truly hope that I won’t find it necessary to contact that office again. If so, I’ll set myself up with something constructive to do while biding my time.

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