Federal Thrift Savings Plan Could Stand More Customer Service

Federal Thrift Savings Plan Could Stand More Customer Service

The Federal Thrift Savings Plan could stand to be a little more customer service friendly with more options, better guidance, and better follow-through, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office.

Customer service-related difficulties during the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board’s (TSP’s governing body) record-keeping system conversion in 2003 led the Chairman of a Senate Committee to ask GAO to examine the customer service provided to TSP participants.

Comparing the TSP against private plan managers, government auditors determined that while TSP managers were more inclined to emphasize the efficiency of their call centers, such as measuring the time it takes to respond to incoming calls, private sector plan managers placed greater emphasis on satisfying the customer’s needs on an incoming call.

And while TSP managers said that agency representatives serve as the initial contact points for TSP employees to learn about TSP and receive counseling, private plan managers use on-site representatives less to supplement services provided by call center representatives and web-based resources.

GAO also discovered that private sector plan managers we contacted have adopted various other practices that are not featured within TSP, such as regularly assessing customer satisfaction and using regularly updated technology to improve customer service. For example, private sector plan managers gather participant feedback on their voice response system via short, automated surveys at the end of participants’ calls and use short, on-the-spot surveys to gather information on participants’ experience with their web site. These plan managers emphasized the importance of incorporating participant feedback into their customer service delivery model in order to better meet the needs of their participants. GAO stated that although TSP managers have surveyed participants in the past, they do not have a systematic approach to assess whether their customer service meets participants’ needs.

“TSP managers rely largely on indirect feedback from customer service staff, agency coordinators, and others who respond to complaints or requests for assistance from participants. The privately managed plans we studied also appear to utilize more up-to-date technologies to provide customer service, such as allowing participants to create account statements for any period of time or offering seminars over the web on different plan topics that participants can access anytime. The TSP web site provides fewer options and relies more on basic features,” the report indicated.

GAO recommended that the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board:

* Develop a systematic effort to assess TSP participants’ overall satisfaction with the services provided, and;

* Institutionalize the routine collection of information and systematic assessment of industry trends and innovations.

The Board disagreed with GAO’s recommendations because it had stated its intentions to conduct a participant survey and has visited with several large private plan managers.

“However, we continue to believe that ongoing efforts to assess customer satisfaction and practices used in the customer service industry should be institutionalized as a regular aspect of TSP’s operations,” GAO concluded.

The federal government’s TSP was intended to resemble private sector 401(k) pension plans and at the end of 2003 held more than $128 billion in retirement assets for more than 3 million participants.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47