Any traveler who has returned bleary-eyed from an international trip, only to see a long, snaking line of passport-clutching people at customs, understands the importance of a good experience.
In fiscal 2018, more than 413 million visitors or returning residents passed through customs, where agents did the screening to prevent potentially dangerous people and materials from entering the country.
Distinct from the Transportation Security Administration, which screens passengers before they board flights, the CBP screens people entering the United States to prevent potentially dangerous people and materials from coming into the country. The CBP’s screening counters and booths are the first point of contact for most people returning home or arriving for a visit, whether by airplane, boat or car, truck or trailer.
A majority of the people who responded to a traveler satisfaction survey conducted by CBP on the screening process expressed overall satisfaction, particularly commending the officers at checkpoints. Many travelers also had positive things to say about CBP programs, particularly those that expedite entry into the U.S., such as Global Entry, which provides faster security screening for low-risk passengers. The agency also benefits from these programs by being able to focus screening and inspection efforts on potentially higher-risk inspection issues.
This year, however, the agency had to deal with the five-week partial government shutdown that ran from December 2018 to January 2019, when many CBP employees were unable to work. The shutdown contributed to a backlog in applications for Global Entry that persists months later since, along with the shutdown, the agency had a record number of applications for Global Entry in 2018 and the first half of 2019.
The agency’s website got mixed reviews. In customer surveys conducted by CBP, 55% of CBP website visitors rated it “above average” or “outstanding.” Many users reported having trouble completing their intended task, often because they found the content difficult to understand. We experienced a similar challenge during our own analysis of selected CBP web pages.
Key Services for Customs Security and Screening
- Security screening of international travelers as well as goods and cargo that cross U.S. borders.
- Application management of and enrollment in trusted traveler programs, such as the Global Entry program, that enable preapproved, low-risk travelers expedited clearance through customs.
- Management of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, which determines the eligibility of visitors from certain countries to travel to the U.S. without a visa.
- Support provided to callers through the CBP Information Center.
DID YOU KNOW
If the more than 413 million travelers who passed through customs screening in fiscal 2018 stood in a line, that line would stretch around the earth more than six times.
International travelers crossing U.S. borders.
PROFILES ON THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCEAirport security screening and passenger support services (TSA) Citizenship and immigration applicant services (USCIS) Federal student aid applicant services (FSA) Individual taxpayer services (IRS) Medicare customer support services (CMS) Outpatient health care services for veterans (VHA) Passport services (Bureau of Consular Affairs) Download the full report
calls to the CBP Information Center
average wait time to speak with a representative
visits to CBP.gov2
travelers processed by CBP officers at air, land and sea ports of entry
Social Media Presence
CBP interacts with the public through several social media channels including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. The agency provides tips and information for travelers through these accounts including on topics such as what people can bring through customs checkpoints and how to apply for Global Entry.
Because CBP’s social media team is small, it has limited capacity to answer customer questions through the agency’s social media accounts, according to Jennifer Gabris, the branch chief for digital engagement in CBP’s office of public affairs. However, the team monitors social media accounts to analyze how the public uses the posts or the information—for example, by examining how widely particular posts are shared—and uses that information to improve future messages.
As of September 2019, the agency’s social media presence includes:
Joined: October 2008
Joined: February 2018
*As of September 2019, CBP was in the process of merging their new Facebook page with their old page, which had more than 8,800 followers and 8,400 likes.
Joined: December 2014
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Joined: July 2009
CBP collects customer feedback from many interactions with the public. While not all customer input is available publicly, the agency shares results from a survey of travelers entering or returning to the U.S. through selected airports, as well as from a survey of its website visitors.
Travelers expressed satisfaction with many aspects of the screening experience but indicated the agency’s website could be improved.
Feedback on the Screening Experience at Ports of Entry3
Results are from a CBP Traveler Satisfaction Survey conducted in the summer of 2018 at 25 large international airports.
Feedback on CBP.gov4
of visitors surveyed in the first quarter of 2019 rated their website experience as “outstanding” or “above average.”
of visitors surveyed in the first quarter of 2019 said they were able to complete the purpose of their visit to the website.
Of the visitors who were not able to complete their intended task, 63% said it was because the content was difficult to understand.
CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE HIGHLIGHTS
Travelers commend the trusted traveler programs CBP offers to expedite screening at U.S. airports and borders, according to agency officials. In addition to Global Entry, this includes programs such as Sentri and Nexus, which expedite travel between the U.S. and Mexico and Canada, respectively. In fiscal 2018, applications for Global Entry reached an all-time high with 1.7 million applications, according to John Wagner, deputy executive assistant commissioner at CBP.
Travelers who participated in the Global Entry program estimated waiting just over six minutes on average, compared with more than 11 minutes for travelers using automatic passport-control kiosks, and more than 14 minutes for travelers going through a standard inspection booth, according to CBP’s summer 2018 Traveler Satisfaction Survey.
Our scan of more than 1,000 social media comments about customs security and screening services found examples of posts that can help understand the experiences of customers. Here, we provide a few specific examples of posts that reinforce themes in customer feedback identified elsewhere in the profile. Along with comments on other topics, our scan found many instances of customers praising the benefits of CBP’s Global Entry program as well as some constructive criticism.
“I use Global Entry and have used biometric boarding gates. Fast, simple, easy — as it should be.”
“It would’ve been nice if @CBP told me my Global Entry interview at ORD was cancelled before I drove all the way up here.”
Opportunities to Improve the Customer Experience
- Travelers recommend CBP officers be more pleasant and approachable, according to CBP’s Traveler Satisfaction Survey. More than 75% of travelers gave their interactions with CBP officers an excellent rating. Of the 24% of travelers who were dissatisfied with their interactions, nearly 70% indicated officers could be more friendly or welcoming. Travelers who were surveyed also mentioned insufficient staffing for the number of people who needed to be processed as another reason for their dissatisfaction.
- The inspection areas where travelers are processed could be improved. According to the Traveler Satisfaction Survey, people recommended improving the layout of the inspection areas with clearer signs directing passengers to the correct line. Travelers also indicated CBP should have more staff to help guide people through the entry process.
Along with a record number of Global Entry applications over the last two years, the five-week partial federal government shutdown in December 2018 through January 2019, during which many CBP staff were unable to work, contributed to a backlog in applications. CBP is working to reduce the logjam. While most applications took 15 days or fewer to process, as of July 2019 it took more than 90 days to process about 25% of applications, according to CBP officials. Some applications require more scrutiny. For example, people who change their address frequently require lengthier background checks.
USING TECHNOLOGY TO SPEED UP THE SCREENING PROCESS FOR TRAVELERS
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection is rolling out facial recognition systems at major U.S. airports to screen people entering and leaving the country, providing a fast, paperless process designed to make the travel experience smoother and ensure people are who they say they are. The process works by matching passenger faces to a database of passport and visa photos, allowing officials to quickly verify passengers’ identities.
Since the summer of 2017, the program has screened more than 13 million travelers with a nearly 99% accuracy rate. Travelers who do not have a photographic match with the database are required to present traditional documentation. The program also helped identify more than 7,000 visa overstays and revealed that 45 people were traveling with fraudulent documents.
While the agency is still working to address the security, transparency and privacy concerns posed by biometric technology, this effort is simplifying and speeding the screening experience for travelers, and could eliminate the need to present identification as they make their way through airports.
A key component of the effort’s success was the attention paid to the experience of travelers as well as the interests of airlines, airports, the Transportation Security Administration and other partners, according to John Wagner, CBP’s deputy executive assistant commissioner.
Earlier efforts to meet a congressional mandate to screen international travelers using biometrics struggled. Critical partners, including officials at airports and airlines, worried the program would slow boarding processes and create airport gridlock. But by focusing the program on goals such as creating a smoother experience for travelers and easing operations for airports and airlines, partners were clamoring to join the program rather than resisting, according to Wagner.
“We have taken a seemingly impossible security mandate, and we are accomplishing it by focusing on the traveler experience,” Wagner said.
Website Experience: How Easy Is It to Navigate and Understand Online Information?
In April 2019, the Partnership and Accenture partnered with the Center for Plain Language, a nonprofit organization that champions clear language, to conduct an analysis of selected CBP web pages. The center evaluated pages providing information on choosing and applying for CBP’s trusted traveler programs as well as pages travelers use to submit applications for permission to enter the United States, which go through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, an automated system used to determine visitor eligibility.
This review is distinct from the customer survey data from CBP’s website, aiming instead to get a deeper understanding of people’s experiences with key CBP web pages. Reviewers looked at the sites from the perspectives of three potential users: a Canadian trying to pick the best trusted traveler program; a member of the Global Entry program trying to log into the trusted traveler web page, through which travelers can apply for programs that allow members to use expedited lines at U.S. airports; and a person from Ireland who plans to travel for 60 days and seeks information about the Electronic System for Travel Authorization.
Note: In a separate study, the center examines a range of government websites annually and issues a Federal Plain Language Report Card. The average grade in calendar year 2018 was a “C.”
What the Analysis Found
Overall, the site with information on the trusted traveler program enables users to complete the task of finding the most appropriate program efficiently. For example, users provide answers to a simple quiz to help them identify the best program for their circumstances. The content in the introductory pages is direct and functional, as is the design. However, the tone and the writing become bureaucratic and dense as users click into the site to access more information, and use of the passive voice makes the writing less lively.
The design of the pages is adequate but could be improved. For example, there are pages on which spacing makes it difficult for users to see the available information at a single glance. They may not be aware additional information exists if they do not scroll down.
Figure 1: Easy tool to find the best trusted traveler program.
Figure 2: Dense and bureaucratic language.
Indicators that the Customer Experience is a High Priority
The Partnership and Accenture developed the following list of indicators to understand how agencies are prioritizing the customer experience, and steps they can take to improve. The list is based on research about effective customer experience practices in both government and the private sector, and aligns with practices in a customer experience maturity self-assessment for agencies developed by the Office of Management and Budget. Leaders who participate in the Partnership’s federal customer experience roundtable provided input.
Commitment to customer experience
Includes high-quality customer experience in its strategic goals.
Specifies customer feedback as a key measure of the organization’s performance.
Has a senior executive with the responsibility and authority to lead efforts to improve customer experience across the organization.
CBP has an executive who leads the stakeholder experience initiative as part of the agency’s strategic plan, but stakeholder experience is not that position’s primary responsibility.
Has a process for standardizing across channels the information and guidance provided to customers.
Shares meaningful customer feedback with the public.
Customer Service Basics
For the most common services provided, customers can:
Complete frequently used transactions online.
People can complete online applications for trusted traveler programs such as Global Entry, but for security purposes must do in-person interviews at enrollment centers to verify identity.
Easily find information to call an appropriate representative.
A phone number for the CBP Info Center is easy to find on the website, but there is no description of the types of issues callers can inquire about.
Schedule in-person appointments.
People can schedule appointments for visits to trusted traveler enrollment centers.
Obtain status updates.
Customers can check online for the status of their trusted traveler applications.
The agency collects and analyzes data and information on customer perceptions:
Of specific interactions, including website visits, phone calls and in-person appointments.
Of the customer journey through a series of interactions or multistage processes that build toward a specific goal.
Of the overall service the organization provides.
Through qualitative research, such as customer interviews, focus groups, analysis of social media comments or direct observation.
Footnotes and Methodology
1 Data provided by CBP for fiscal 2018
2 U.S. Customs and Border Protection, “CBP.gov Web Performance Metrics.” Retrieved from http://bit.ly/2KBI0uo
3 U.S. Customs and Border Protection, “Traveler Satisfaction Survey Report: Wave 4: Results, Findings and Recommendations,” August 2018.
4 U.S. Customs and Border Protection, “CBP.gov Web Performance Metrics.” Retrieved from http://bit.ly/2KBI0uo
Note: The Partnership downloaded CBP’s website performance metrics for each month in the first quarter of fiscal 2019 and calculated totals for the quarter.
Social Media Methodology
Accenture conducted the social media scan using a social media intelligence platform. Using keyword searches, the team identified comments posted from November 2018 through February 2019 about each federal service on popular social media sites such as Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, Yelp, Google and other online forums. The majority (61%) of the posts ultimately included in the analysis were from Twitter.
The team excluded posts primarily containing political commentary and grouped posts to identify themes in customer feedback for each federal service. The methodology allowed us to identify common trends in posts about each service and identify potential issues customers face but cannot be used to draw firm conclusions about the experience of the full range of its customers.
Web Experience Methodology
For each agency, we selected for review a set of web pages that provided information on how customers apply for or access one of the agency’s highest-volume services.
We partnered with the Center for Plain Language to conduct this review. The center followed the same methodology it uses to assess plain language for its annual ClearMark awards for a range of organizations and its annual Federal Plain Language Report Card for the government. This process involved developing two profiles of typical users for each set of agency web pages. The user profiles helped focus reviews on typical tasks, for example, an individual applying for a green card for the first time.
Two plain-language experts individually and independently reviewed and scored each set of pages, using five plain-language criteria to assess each site. They rated each criterion on a five-point scale:
- Information design and navigation.
- Pictures, graphics and charts.
- Style or voice.
- Structure and content.
- Understanding of audience.
The reviewers then met to reach consensus on strengths and weaknesses of each site and to assign a letter grade based on their ratings.
Detailed Methodology for Our Review of Indicators That Customer Experience Is a High Priority
We reviewed each agency and service against indicators that customer experience is a high priority using the following criteria.
Commitment to customer experience
The agency, subagency or bureau:
1. Includes high-quality customer experience in its strategic goals.
Criteria: 1) Customer experience with the agency’s services is listed in the strategic plan as one of the organization’s top priorities, or a supporting goal of one of the priorities; 2) the strategic plan provides specific actions the agency will take to improve customer experience.
2. Specifies customer feedback as a key measure of the organization’s performance.
Criteria: There is a performance measure included in the agency’s strategic plan, annual performance report or on performance.gov that is based on feedback directly from customers.
3. Has a senior executive with the responsibility and authority to lead customer experience efforts.
Criteria: Based on a review of the agency organizational chart and online descriptions of leadership positions, the agency has an executive who meets the following criteria: 1) customer experience is their primary responsibility; 2) they report to the head of their organization, or a deputy; 3) their work spans all major service delivery channels (e.g., online services, contact centers, face-to-face services).
4. Has a process for standardizing across channels the information and guidance provided to customers.
Criteria: At least two service delivery channels have integrated knowledge management systems so that when content for customers on one channel is updated, it is updated on the other channel.
5. Shares meaningful customer feedback with the public.
Criteria: In alignment with the Office of Management and Budget’s guidance on CX measurement, the agency makes public customer feedback that: 1) represents multiple service delivery channels; 2) provides details into different aspects of the experience (e.g., beyond overall customer satisfaction).
Customer service basics
For the most common services provided, customers can:
1. Complete frequently used transactions online.
Criteria: Based on a review of the agency’s website, customers can complete all major services or
2. Easily find information to call an appropriate representative.
Criteria: The agency’s website provides a clear explanation of which number to call for specific issues or provides one number that customers can call to get routed to the appropriate person.
3. Schedule in-person appointments.
Criteria: Based on a review of the agency’s website, customers have the ability to schedule appointments for in-person services.
4. Obtain status updates.
Criteria: Customers can get real-time updates through an online or self-service channel.
The agency, subagency or bureau collects and analyzes data and information on customer perceptions:
1. Of specific interactions, including website visits, phone calls and in-person appointments.
2. Of the customer journey through a series of interactions or multistage processes that build toward a specific goal.
3. Of the overall service the organization provides.
4. Through qualitative research, such as customer interviews, focus groups, analyzing comments on social media, or direct observation.