This is about my interaction with TIAA-CREF, one of the largest financial services firms in the retirement savings and investment sector.
Having to process a surivor benefits claim for retirement account funds is, to be honest, an unhappy reminder. It is evocative. It evokes the feelings, emotions, pains of one’s life. The very term “survivor” evokes the experience of the loss you have “survived”. Yes, it’s good to have a plan – a retirement plan – but it’s never a good thing to be the survivor of the one you love, especially when that someone didn’t get to enjoy the fruits of that plan because they have passed before their time.
As I am writing this I have been waiting, on hold now, for 10 minutes. Waiting to speak with someone in TIAA-CREF’s “Surivior Benefits” unit. Waiting. Silence, but for two drop in contacts/comments from the nice gentleman who first took my call. The first: “I’m still trying to get someone.” The second:”Do you still want to keep holding?”
Do I “want to keep holding”? Oh Lord, no . . but I will because heaven only knows if I will go through the same waiting process anew the next time I call back.
It’s now pushing 14 minutes on hold, waiting to talk to someone in TIAA-CREF’s Survivor Benefits Unit.
Now, why bother mentioning any of this? Is this “just a gripe”, a grievance, whining or whinging?
Well, the part about “Surivor Benefits” should tell you most all you need to know. I am “the surivivor”. This experience – in fact most all experiences connected to “being the survivor” of my recently deceased wife of 33 years – have been the saddest, most stressful experiences of my life.
Which should surprise no one.
Which leads me to write about THIS experience.
It’s now 16 minutes on hold.
I write because anyone – I dare say ANYONE – with something like an ounce of human kindness, humanity, empathy, a soul – would presumably know that many, if not all, people calling to speak with someone in the “Survivor Benefits” unit is likely someone who may well have been recently traumatized, in pain and considers the process of dealing with the matter – dealing with any of “the business” surrounding a loss or death – is just one more of many unhappy, unpleasant, painful reminders and “things you have to deal with and must do” – when a loved one dies.
If you have lost a loved one then you know of what I speak. You bite the bullet and suffer the cut, as gracefully as your existential courage and stamina will allow.
So, is there the slightest chance that TIAA-CREF’s “Survivor Unit” would be a unit that is thoughtfully designed and operated with a degree of sensitivity to the pained state of those contacting the unit?
Could the TIAA CREF executives or managers make it a policy – a prime directive – to “get people in and get them out” as quickly, peacefully and painlessly as possible? By adequately staffing the unit with prompt, happy, sensitive staff? By having failover/overflow systems in place? Something more than “Do you still want to wait?”.
It’s now 20 minutes on hold.
Finally, after 20 minutes, “Kathy” – of the Beneficiary Relationship Team – comes online.
Thank heaven for Kathy, as I’m a bit frazzled, and she could not be more responsive, pleasant and professional. I am emotional. I am apologetic. The news (explanations) are not all good. (More to come about this.)
TIAA-CREF? First observation is that I suspect that TIAA CREF is a bit understaffed. A 20 minute wait, for calls into the Surivor Benefits unit, is just a bit . . like salting a wound, one of life’s most painful. Yes, this is “just business” but this part of “business” is best left and handled by the very best that the business world has to offer. The pain and difficulty doesn’t end with the good-bye from the funeral director.
It’s a “busy day on the phones”? Sure, I’ve heard that same comment/(line?) a lot lately from other companies. It’s always busy when the numerical relationship of “staff to call volume” is “lean”. Sure, I understand the desirability of keeping overhead down. I’ve always lived by the mantra.
But in some parts of the business – just like in cars (brakes, tires) – you just don’t scrimp.
20 minutes on hold, waiting to speak with someone in the Survivor Benefits unit, just gives us survivor’s too much time to think about . . .
You, TIAA CREF, should know that.
More to come.