Airport Security Screening and Passenger Support Services
Transportation Security Administration, Department of Homeland Security
Every year, the Transportation Security Administration interacts with millions of travelers passing through airports and other transportation hubs. Even with the slowdown in travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic, in fiscal year 2020 the TSA screened more than 450 million travelers.
Customers appreciate the general travel information and answers to their questions that TSA provides over social media using its #AskTSA accounts. Customer satisfaction with the agency’s website has also increased in recent years. The agency has improved the clarity of information on the site, although many customers still call the agency’s contact center to confirm information. Despite TSA’s ongoing outreach and communication initiatives, some customers are still confused by aspects of the TSA screening process, an issue we also noted last year. In fiscal year 2020, TSA’s customer service branch worked to provide TSA officers with training to help address this customer concern.
of customers were “very satisfied” with #AskTSA social media accounts in fiscal year 2020.
of passengers surveyed in 2019 said that TSA officers did not clearly explain the reasons for additional screening.
Customer Experience Insights
Improvement from last year
Room for improvement
TSA uses multiple social media platforms to share information with customers about screening procedures and to respond to travelers’ inquiries. In addition to responding to individual questions, the agency aggregates the questions and comments received over social media to identify trends and themes. This analysis helps the agency decide what kind of information to proactively post to ensure customer questions are being addressed. TSA also uses this analysis to update the agency’s website based on common customer questions and needs.
For example, the agency noticed that many of the questions asked on social media in 2020 were about very basic travel procedures and were likely coming from people who had not traveled for a long time and were therefore unfamiliar with TSA processes. Based on this trend, the agency developed a social media campaign for new travelers focusing on the most basic information so that people who had little familiarity with TSA could understand what to expect when they got to an airport.
- Customer satisfaction rate for AskTSA social media accounts in fiscal year 2020: 95% “very satisfied.”
Engaging customers with social media
With 95% of customers in fiscal 2020 “very satisfied,” TSA’s social media accounts are some of the highest rated in government. Agency officials noted that the goal is to “meet customers where they are,” and convey the information that TSA wants to share—such as reminders about items prohibited from air travel—in a way that is relatable and engaging. For example, the agency often shares pictures of prohibited items found during screenings with captions that include jokes or reference other social media trends. TSA social media accounts have above average engagement rates, indicating that customers are interested in the content, and agency officials note that this engagement benefits the agency’s mission. Field staff have reported that fewer prohibited items have been found in baggage since AskTSA began sharing these photos.
TSA may select travelers for additional screening for a variety of reasons; for example, random selection by the screening technology or they have the same name as someone on a list of known or suspected terrorists. When passengers are selected for additional screening, officers provide an overview of the general purpose of additional screening and what the process will entail. However, travelers do not always understand this overview and can become confused or frustrated that officers have not effectively explained the additional screening process.
- 21% of passengers stated that TSA officers did not clearly explain the reasons for additional screening, according to a 2019 TSA survey.1 (TSA was not able to conduct this survey in 2020 due to the pandemic.)
In 2020, TSA took advantage of the slowdown in travel caused by the pandemic to conduct additional training sessions for officers on how to communicate with customers during the screening process. These training sessions emphasized the importance of using plain language, rather than TSA acronyms or technical terms, when explaining the screening process to customers. Beyond conducting these training sessions for current officers, the agency’s customer service branch also partnered with TSA’s Training and Development Office to ensure these plain language principles were included in the training all new officers receive.
Due to the pandemic, TSA has not yet been able to survey customers to measure whether these training sessions have improved communication and decreased confusion about additional screening, but it plans to do so in the future.
Satisfaction with TSA.gov has significantly improved since 2016, but agency officials acknowledged that many customers still feel more comfortable getting information by calling the TSA contact center. Agency customer research has shown that many customers first find information on TSA.gov, and then call the contact center to confirm that they have interpreted the online information correctly.
In addition to continuing work to improve the clarity of information available on TSA.gov, the agency is also looking at other ways to address customers’ preference for confirming details. For example, TSA is looking to add a chat feature to TSA.gov that would enable customers to ask contact center representatives questions they have about online information directly through the website. The agency hopes this will help address customers’ questions and enable the agency to connect directly with more customers while reducing demand on the call center.
Leading Customer Experience Practices
The Partnership and Accenture developed the following list of practices to understand how agencies prioritize 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.
A strong commitment and plan from agency leaders to prioritize customer experience is essential for sustained progress.
1. Includes high-quality customer experience in its strategic goals.
The agency’s current strategic plan does not include a goal related to customer experience.
2. Specifies customer feedback as a key measure of the organization’s performance.
3. Has a senior executive with the responsibility and authority to lead efforts to improve the customer experience across the organization.
However, TSA has a customer service branch manager who oversees the agency’s customer service branch comprised of seven employees who lead customer experience improvements across the agency. The branch supports nearly 200 customer support managers dedicated to customer service at each airport across the country.
Ease of Customer Interactions
Interactions with the federal government should be easy, transparent and designed around user needs.
For the most common services provided, customers can:
1. Complete common transactions using the service delivery channel of their choice.
Customers can ask questions about what items are permitted on airplanes and apply for TSA PreCheck™ and the DHS Traveler Redress Inquiry Program online and over the phone. For security purposes, the TSA PreCheck™ application process requires an in-person appointment. TSA PreCheck™ renewals do not require an in-person appointment and can be completed online.
2. Obtain status updates through online self-service.
For example, customers can get status updates on their TSA PreCheck™ applications and check the status of their redress complaints.
3. Receive a response to feedback or answers to questions over social media.
TSA responds regularly to mentions and replies on both @TSA and @AskTSA on Twitter, Facebook and to comments on Instagram.
4. Access online information and support in languages other than English.
Listening to Customers and Acting on Feedback
To understand and prioritize customer needs, agencies should collect, publish, analyze and act on feedback.
1. Collects meaningful customer experience data across interactions and service delivery channels and shares it with the public.
TSA publishes data about website and contact center satisfaction, and has resolved Paperwork Reduction Act limitations so that it will be able to publish data from future surveys about satisfaction with airport security screenings.
2. Collects and analyzes first-hand customer feedback to understand customers’ experiences, based on their own words.
3. Aggregates and analyzes customer feedback across channels and programs, and shares feedback with relevant staff members so they can act on it.
TSA’s customer service branch regularly collects and analyzes customer feedback and shares it with relevant agency components at headquarters and in the field so they can act on it.