Social Security online registration // VOTE NO

Social Security online registration

CTA-button-TG-Marketing-StrategyIn general, the difference between the good and the great can sometimes be a matter of how effectively you sweat the little things, the things that actually matter to people at the human-level interface. We call this the tactical user-level interface. Sometimes this is the difference between a positive experience and a negative one. This difference matters for any brand.

Today’s brand example is the US government. Specifically the Social Security Administration, a part of the government I have never harbored any animosity toward … until last week.

I am me.

I was asked to retrieve my social security benefit amount and retirement age. The Social Security Administration no longer mails out statements. That’s a good thing, since a few hundred million statements equate to a LOT of paper. Instead, they recommend that you obtain this information from their website, ssa.gov, which I proceeded to attempt to do. A banner headline greets me on a responsive, seemingly newly-minted website with words like “just how easy it is to apply online.”

Please understand, I have registered on many (too many) websites before. I use the web. The web is a big part of my business. More than one hundred thousand people read this blog last year. I am not a newbie … and, I failed to successfully register. Twice.

I failed not because the website was poorly designed or hard to use. It’s actually very good overall. I failed because I could not answer all the security questions they asked in order to verify that I am me.

I called the Social Security Administration, and got the information I needed over the phone from a very friendly and personable representative. This was relatively easy, and did not require that I divulge much information.

Phone easy. Website hard. I don’t see the efficiency in this.

Phone easy. Website hard. I don’t see the efficiency in this. And yet, a clearly stated value of their website (and your website) is to make things easier for me (as well as to save paper, and money through the efficiency that is a fundamental benefit of doing such things as obtaining your records online instead of through the mail.)

In the call, I also asked about the website and whether she knew of other complaints. She was not forthcoming on this. I felt responsible to tell her they were being inefficient by making me call her. When I went on to tell her that I think the information they have about me—the information that I needed to know in order to satisfy them that I am me—might be wrong, she told me I would have to contact the credit bureaus to correct anything. When I asked if I could register a personal complaint about the website not serving me well, she said no. They were recording my call, but I wonder if they are tracking the volume of failed attempts to register on the site?

She was kind enough to unlock my account so that I could try again to register on the website.

I did try again, being VERY careful…to…get…every…thing…right. I even looked stuff up on Google about myself to ensure its veracity.

I am not me enough to access my social security data.

I failed. I got locked out a second time.

Okay, maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the only one who does not, off the top of my head, know the model year of the car I once owned while in grad school.

My wife also needed data from them, so she gave the website registration process a good college try (she does have a graduate degree).


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Popular Q&A

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Where can I check social security online?

The Social Security Administration has a website that you can visit at

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