Quality of service has been a constant commitment of social security institutions, knowing that user satisfaction shapes citizens' perception, experience and trust in public services. This article shows how institutions have implemented approaches outlined in the ISSA Guidelines on Service Quality and highlights the importance of providing quality services that are user-centred to generate greater value for members.
Traditionally, social security institutions provide rights-based services to citizens based on the concept of a client or user, however, this concept is more important when the user cannot choose the institution that provides it. The traditional service delivery approach views the public and other stakeholders as beneficiaries and passive members of the system (ISSA, 2019a). However, the role of citizens is changing beyond the role as passive recipients, who are more frequently playing a pivotal role in the design, implementation and monitoring of public policies and services. Service users increasingly demand services in a changing environment shaped by information technologies.
The quality of public services provided to citizens is crucial for building trust and improving perceptions of social security institutions. In this sense, the services provided by these institutions are the most tangible interactions citizens have with the government. They protect individuals and their families in situations that may affect their lives, such as illness, disability, unemployment, old age, maternity and other events. The latest trends put the user at the centre of service design and delivery based on understanding their needs, experiences, priorities and expected outcomes (ISSA, 2019a). In this way, the user-centred or citizen-centred approach identifies user satisfaction as the success criteria and the basis for measuring public sector performance.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) highlights the potential of using digital technologies to transform the design and delivery of services that deliver public value. This trend accelerated after the pandemic, as digital service delivery became the primary mechanism to meet the increased demand for public services. This needs to be done keeping in mind citizens or users who are excluded from digital services and need to be served by traditional mechanisms. The OECD proposes Good Practice Principles for the high-quality digital transformation of public services (Figure 1). These principles aim to contribute to governments' digital transformation efforts to benefit societies and economies (OECD, 2022).
Figure 1. Good Practice Principles for the design and delivery of public services in the digital age
Source: OECD, 2022.
Social security institutions continuously work to improve the efficiency and quality of the services they provide, even at different stages of service quality development and, in some cases, very significant variations in user experience (ISSA, 2019a). As the good practices documented by social security institutions show, a large part of the strategies, initiatives and projects for the improvement of service quality and user experience implemented are related to the use of information and communication technologies (ICT). The good practices recognize the potential of ICT to simplify and improve the efficiency of processes and generate high value services for members.
The quality of social security services is understood as the extent to which institutions meet the needs and expectations of their members through their service provision. Service quality reflects the value institutions create for members, beneficiaries, partner organizations and stakeholders through their business processes (ISSA, 2019a).
The ISSA Guidelines on Service Quality add to the applicable international standards and the other guidelines of the International Social Security Association (ISSA) by addressing the specificities of service quality in social security administration. These guidelines aim to support social security institutions in developing and improving the quality of their services, offering guiding principles and practices related to service quality, how to support capacity building in this area, and presenting minimum standards for service quality (ISSA, 2019a).
Service quality refers to the qualitative aspects of the services the social security institution is committed to providing. Committed quality objectives should consider the human, financial and technological resources available to the institution and the support that partner organizations can provide (Figure 2). High service quality services will reflect in high satisfaction among members when using social security services (ISSA, 2019a).
|Aspects included in service quality|
|Delivering of the right service to the right person at the right time.|
|Serving with courtesy, respect and empathy.|
|Providing user-friendly, multi-channel and accessible social security benefits and services through appropriate, easy-to-use channels (e.g. online, telephone, mail, in-person).|
|Achieving the intended policy outcomes in an effective, timely and cost-effective way.|
|Knowledge of the legislation, rules and other legal instruments, such as rights of appeal and protection of privacy, to ensure the programme is managed in a fair, consistent and financially responsible manner.|
|Enhancing trust and confidence in the social security institution to deliver benefits and services in a predictable, sustainable and satisfactory manner.|
|Source: ISSA, 2019a.|
The ISSA Guidelines on Service Quality include a service quality model applicable to all branches of social security. It examines areas of common concern to social security institutions (Figure 3). The model proposes establishing a framework that adopts a formal methodological approach to service quality, integrates a clear and explicit statement from top management on the importance of service quality, sets specific quality objectives to which the institution is committed, and identifies how the organization intends to deliver and measure quality. The quality framework sets clear objectives for institutions to deliver value and results in line with the stated policy, mission, and values most cost-effectively (ISSA, 2019a).
Figure 3. ISSA Service Quality Model
Source: ISSA, 2019a
The quality framework is the benchmark that determines the relationship and interdependence between the other elements of the model: taking account of member feedback; incorporating quality at every stage of the product development process; defining the rationale for services to ensure members are treated with respect, dignity and education, including service measurement and evaluation; developing a culture of service quality; and ensuring continuous improvement (ISSA, 2019a). This way, the framework facilitates the achievement of strategic objectives of: extending the coverage of services to all eligible persons; observing fair and impartial treatment for all; addressing the fragmentation in the provision of services and benefits; mitigating risks and uncertainty through forward-looking preventive actions; making the general public more informed about social security. Furthermore, the framework is an essential support for institutions to establish proactive and preventive responses, be reactive in times of crisis (economic, social and environmental) and promote high performance as a culture of the institution (ISSA, 2019a).
The ISSA Guidelines on Service Quality are applicable and relevant to all areas of social security administration because they focus on customers’ needs, expectations and experiences when accessing social security services and benefits at different stages of their lives.
Experiences of ISSA member institutions
The ISSA continuously supports social security institutions in developing their service quality strategies through the ISSA Guidelines on Service Quality (ISSA, 2019a), supplemented by the ISSA Guidelines on Good Governance (ISSA, 2019b), Information and Communication Technologies (ISSA, 2022a), Communication of Social Security Administrations (ISSA, 2022b) and Human Resources Management in the Social Security Administration (ISSA, 2022c). The following good practices show various examples of how social security institutions manage and improve the quality of services in the Americas to provide greater value to members and beneficiaries.
Employment and Social Development Canada
Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) operates the Service Canada programme, which provides citizens with a single point of access to a wide range of government services and benefits, face-to-face, digitally and by telephone. To provide a new standard of service quality and accessibility, ESDC opened the Toronto North York Flagship Service Canada Centre (hereafter referred to as the Centre). The Centre serves as a testing ground for a member-centred design that uses state-of-the-art service delivery methods and proximity to revolutionize the service experience (Employment and Social Development Canada, 2023).
The design of the Centre represents a paradigm shift from traditional service delivery to a modern, flexible and agile model. This model mitigates the challenges the most vulnerable people, such as people with motor, hearing or visual impairments, face when seeking public services. The staff is trained in inclusion and accessibility, considers users' needs and opinions, and has advanced technology solutions, redefining the concept of a culture of service excellence. The project takes a user-centred approach as the cornerstone of service excellence.
The Centre's design addresses the principles of the seven pillars of service excellence established by Service Canada, Ontario Region, which consider: inclusion through design, designing by and for Canadians; member-centred design thinking; active, agile and interactive engagement to respond to and leverage feedback based on observations and the lived experiences of employees, members and external partners; security through access; advanced technology and proximity by adopting a flexible and agile advanced technology environment; digital by choice; and a pathway to service excellence.
DATAPREV – Social Security Information and Technology Enterprise, Brazil
Brazil's Social Security Information and Technology Enterprise (Empresa de Tecnologia e Informações da Previdência Social – DATAPREV) implemented the Digital Work Card (CTPS Digital) project that transforms the traditional physical document of the Digital Work and Social Security Card (Carteira de Trabalho Digital e Previdência Social – CTPS) into a fully electronic format. The CTPS Digital allows access to the citizen's identification data, employment contracts, contributions and remuneration for the entire working life of the citizen (DATAPREV - Social Security Information and Technology Enterprise, 2023).
The Digital CTPS ensures that all information on citizens working lives is recorded, and facilitates the process of obtaining retirement and other social security benefits. In addition, this initiative integrated unemployment insurance processes, providing wage subsidies and labour intermediation between employers and employees. The CTPS Digital also put an end to the obligation for employers to use physical means to report the registration, termination and employment data of a citizen, for which, through a federal government project, the tax, labour and social security information of companies was digitized and unified with the social system. This allowed CTPS Digital to guarantee workers' transparency on the information submitted by their employers and helped to control and ensure that all data and events were recorded correctly.
CTPS Digital builds on a people-centred design (i.e., considering members’ opinions and needs), which provides transparency and certainty to workers about the information. This enables them to access social security services through digital means, which is more convenient, flexible and secure. Expected outcomes include large-scale worker adoption, the right service to the right citizen, and the preferential use of electronic channels to access services and employment benefits.
The results of this initiative are notable, improving the quality of the service through administrative simplification, while allowing transparent access to labour information for more than 79 million citizens who, until the CTPS Digital, could only prove their jobs and income through paper documents issued and signed by companies. The consolidation of CTPS Digital as a channel of interaction between workers and the government allows the platform to contribute to the evolution of labour intermediation and worker qualification policies, including integration with other public policies. This initiative constitutes a good practice that can be used as a reference for other public policies adopted in the country.
Federal Social Insurance Council, Argentina
A member of the Federal Social Insurance Council (Consejo Federal de Previsión Social – COFEPRES), the Retirement, Pension and Retirement Fund of the Province of Córdoba (Caja de Jubilaciones, Pensiones y Retiros de la Provincia de Córdoba) has implemented a digital transformation strategy. The focus of the strategy has been on improving response times and procedures for customers through digitised services. The result of a comprehensive strategy focused on improving service quality allowed the institution to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic as an organization that performs 100 per cent of its services digitally. The digitalisation of services incorporated agile methodologies in which services had to be user-friendly and satisfactory for groups with more significant difficulties using digital channels, i.e. older adults (Federal Social Insurance Council, 2023).
A continuous improvement programme enabled the establishment of metrics for different business processes that served as a guide in developing a service quality improvement strategy. The integration of work teams under an organizational vision allowed the consolidation of the service culture in the institution. This was reinforced by transparency policies, agile methodologies based on interdisciplinary work teams and reinforcement of soft skills that took advantage of available tools, such as teleworking, without losing sight of staff performance efficiency.
The good practice underlines that implementing service quality strategies is relevant for social security institutions with national and provincial mandates. It is an example that demonstrates how service quality improvement can be achieved in smaller institutions and with limited resources.
National Social Security Institute, Brazil
In line with its digital transformation and service quality improvement strategies, the National Social Security Institute (Instituto Nacional do Seguro Social – INSS) has implemented significant improvements to its digital platform Meu INSS (My INSS), which provides digital services for the country's citizens (National Social Security Institute, 2023).
The digital services offered by the institution have been expanded to more than one hundred, making Meu INSS the main INSS service channel. The INSS prioritised a simple design and easy to understand navigation, for a great user experience. The incorporation of clear and easy-to-understand language was essential for the target population to find what they need quickly, understand the content and use the information available to respond to their needs. The language adopted in the platform follows the seven guidelines of plain language (empathy, hierarchy, known word, concrete word, short sentence, direct order sentence and diagnosis).
In addition, the INSS implemented user satisfaction measurement for 75 of the platform's digital services. This built on existing standards to evaluate user satisfaction in Brazilian public services, and new specific quality standards for digital services: simplicity, accessibility, privacy, security, interoperability and transparency. Public services are evaluated by perceived satisfaction and quality based on their experience with the service, the clarity of information, ease of use, quality of communication channels, cost or effort to obtain the service, available service, time to obtain the service and efficiency.
Compliance with the quality standards of the regulation guarantees people's access to public services through effective, simple and intuitive digital services that provide the best possible user experience. As a result, Meu INSS is synonymous with efficiency in the services provided by the INSS and a modern platform that functions as the main alternative for managing social security benefits.
Table 1 summarises the results achieved by these institutions in implementing their service quality projects, highlighting applied approaches in the ISSA Service Quality Model.
|Institution||Results obtained||Approaches in the Service Quality Model|
Critical success factors
A customer-centred approach should drive all strategies for quality improvement and the provision of service excellence. Canada's ESDC incorporated inclusive, member- and customer-centred design thinking to ensure excellence in public services, with a particular emphasis on those with disabilities. Brazil's DATAPREV used a people-centred design to ensure that workers had certainty about registering their labour information to access social security benefits and services. COFEPRES in Argentina aimed to understand the needs and expectations of a target population – the elderly – and established specific programmes to better serve them digitally. Brazil's INSS implemented a series of developments in the design of Meu INSS to improve the user experience and ensure that the information provided by the platform uses clear and simple language that allows people to consume services efficiently.
Adopting new approaches and technologies, and creating an environment that promotes innovation, are key drivers for delivering service excellence. In Canada's ESDC, using emerging technologies such as geo-locators for people with visual impairments (BlindSquare App), remote video interpretation, tactile maps, and inclusive, user-centred design thinking enable the delivery of excellent services, particularly for people with disabilities. In Brazil's DATAPREV, the CTPS Digital project required establishing information exchange with government databases, adopting data governance mechanisms, new technologies and information access standards. COFEPRES integrated service quality as one of the main objectives of its digital transformation project.
Measuring the quality of services and the level of user satisfaction is essential to understanding the initiatives' effectiveness and identifying gaps. The ESDC in Canada conducted a performance evaluation to examine the effects of the new design, tools and technology, and to identify factors critical to the success and sustainability of the initiative. The evaluation applied a mixed methodological approach using quantitative and qualitative data focusing on the seven pillars of service excellence, benchmarking across face-to-face, telephone and online channels. The evaluation yielded highly positive results on the service excellence of the Service Canada Reference Centre in North York. COFEPRES in Argentina established continuous improvement methodologies to optimize specific metrics under an organisational vision of establishing interdisciplinary work teams. INSS in Brazil incorporated satisfaction and quality measurement in most of its digital services, in compliance with the standards established by the federal government for the provision of digital public services, which allowed to know the effectiveness of the improvements in the quality of its services.
Over the years, social security institutions have demonstrated their commitment to providing quality services that add value to their members. This has significant impact on citizens' trust and perception of public institutions. In recent years, ISSA member institutions have made new progress with significant impact, inspired by the ISSA Guidelines on Service Quality.
Service quality should be an organizational strategy that reflects the commitment of top management to provide services that focus on member satisfaction. They should contribute to the well-being of individuals as they access the services of the social security system at different stages of their lives.
As referred to in the ISSA Guidelines on Service Quality, the institutional strategy for quality assurance of services should be approached from a methodological perspective, integrating a clear and specific quality framework to guide institutional actions, the voice of users for detailed knowledge about their needs and expectations, mechanisms to incorporate quality at each stage of product and service development, measurement of results, and the development of a service culture with continuous improvement.
As shown in this article, the good practices documented by the institutions have been developed to improve and assure the quality of services. Most initiatives rely on information technologies, recognizing their potential to design and deliver services that offer greater value with a user-centred approach.
However, these initiatives should be viewed as part of an institutional strategy for service quality and not be developed as independent strategies; although they contribute in a significant way to the provision of higher value services, their actual impact would be enhanced by integrating them into an aligned strategy that consolidates institutional efforts for the development and adoption of a culture of service excellence.
DATAPREV - Social Security Information and Technology Enterprise. 2023. Employment Register Card (CTPS Digital) (Good practices in social security). Geneva, International Social Security Association.
Employment and Social Development Canada. 2023. Toronto North York Flagship Service Canada Centre: How Service Canada is setting the standard for service and accessibility (Good practices in social security). Geneva, International Social Security Association.
Federal Social Insurance Council. 2023. Digital organizations: How the Cordoba Retirement and Pension Fund became a fully fledged digital organization post-pandemic (Good practices in social security). Geneva, International Social Security Association.
ISSA. 2019a. ISSA Guidelines on service quality. Geneva, International Social Security Association.
ISSA. 2019b. ISSA Guidelines on good governance. Geneva, International Social Security Association.
ISSA. 2022a. ISSA Guidelines on information and communication technology. Geneva, International Social Security Association.
ISSA. 2022b. ISSA Guidelines on communication by social security administrations. Geneva, International Social Security Association.
ISSA. 2022c. ISSA Guidelines on human resource management in social security administration. Geneva, International Social Security Association.
National Social Security Institute. 2023. Evolving with a focus on user experience (Good practices in social security). Geneva, International Social Security Association.
OECD. 2022. OECD good practice principles for public service design and delivery in the digital age (OECD Public Governance Policy Papers, No. 23). Paris, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.