The Transportation Security Administration officers stationed at the nation’s nearly 450 airports screened more than 800 million travelers in fiscal 2018. TSA works to protect the nation’s transportation systems, and also make sure that travelers understand what they need to do to move through security checkpoints, so the process is quicker and more effective for all involved.
The traveling public is largely satisfied with the screening process at TSA checkpoints, and most people appreciated the professionalism of TSA officers, according to TSA officials. However, people also note their screening experiences were different depending on the airport, and those types of inconsistencies can reduce the public’s confidence in the agency.
Checkpoint rules also change from time to time. TSA officials have found that passengers do not always know what to expect when going through security checkpoints, which can lead to confusion and frustration. Many travelers are not aware of the information and resources TSA provides to travelers, however, in addition to its website, the agency is also active on several social media platforms. For example, its Facebook and Twitter accounts provide the traveling public a channel for fast and reliable information, typically responding to customers’ questions within an hour, which is better than many private sector companies.
In our analysis of the website that includes the application for TSA Precheck—the agency’s signature membership program for helping speed passengers through security checkpoints—we found the agency provided clear and useful information.
This past year, the agency experienced challenges due to the partial government shutdown that ran from December 2018 to January 2019. TSA airport employees worked without pay, and staffing shortages arose during the five-week shutdown. TSA reported that, during that time, most travelers waited less than 30 minutes in checkpoint lines, though customers at some airports waited as long as 60 minutes.
Key Services Related to Security Screening and Passenger Support
- Security screenings at U.S. airports.
- Information about policies and procedures for traveling and preparing for checkpoint screenings.
- Enrollment and application processing for TSA Precheck.
- Assistance during the security screening process—through the TSA Cares program— for passengers with disabilities, medical conditions or other special circumstances.
- Clarification related to watchlist names to prevent confusion about and misidentification of travelers through the Department of Homeland Security Traveler Redress Inquiry Program.
DID YOU KNOW
Items confiscated at TSA checkpoints in recent years include nunchucks and ninja stars—both of which could be used as weapons—as well as endangered seahorses and a movie prop corpse, according to TSA’s Instagram account.
Passengers of all modes of transportation within the United States, with air travelers making up the majority.
PROFILES ON THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCECitizenship and immigration applicant services (USCIS) Customs Security and Screening Services (CBP) 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 TSA’s customer service line
average wait time to speak with a representative
visits to TSA.gov2
passengers and crew members through TSA screening3
TSA PRECHECK ENROLLMENTS
TSA CARES PROGRAM ASSISTANCE
DHS TRAVELER REDRESS INQUIRY PROGRAM
Social Media Presence
TSA engages with customers on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, using them to distribute information, answer travel questions and prepare people for security screenings. With nearly 1 million followers, the agency’s Instagram account provides fun, pun-filled posts that also educate the public on what is and is not allowed through airport security. The account placed fourth on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of top 100 Instagram accounts. For example, an August post started with, “Roses are red, violets are blue, a knife hidden in your flowers can’t be carried through … ” and was accompanied by a photo of the knife and the roses where it was found.
TSA has a social media team that responds to customers’ questions on Facebook and Twitter and points them in the right direction for information on the agency’s website. The average wait time for a response is typically an hour, according to TSA officials. That response time is far better than many private sector companies. In one study of 500 retail companies, it took an average of about 30 hours to respond to Facebook and Twitter questions.4
As of September 2019, the agency’s social media presence includes:
Joined: November 2011
Joined: May 2015
Answers questions about travelling and preparing for checkpoint screenings
Joined: April 2017
TSA collects customer feedback from across the channels the agency uses to interact with the public, including the experience at airport screening checkpoints. We were not able to include the results of TSA’s customer surveys due to restrictions associated with the Paperwork Reduction Act that preclude TSA from sharing them publicly. However, interviews with agency officials provided the following information on progress and challenges:
CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE HIGHLIGHTS
- Travelers are largely satisfied with TSA’s security screening experience and feel that TSA officers conducting screenings act professionally, according to TSA officials. “We found that the confidence that travelers have in TSA, the time it takes to get through security and officer professionalism all appear to be good indicators of a traveler’s overall satisfaction with the screening process,” said Michelle Cartagena, director of customer service at TSA.
- Travelers appreciate TSA’s Precheck program. TSA Precheck members typically do not have to remove items such as shoes and belts and wait less than five minutes, on average, to get through security, compared with nearly eight minutes in the regular lines. TSA officials expect that very few individuals would not renew their membership when it expired, either because they did not fly often enough or the membership fee was too expensive.
Our scan of approximately 11,000 online comments about TSA airport screening found many examples of useful customer feedback, such as people expressing confusion about what items are permitted at checkpoints and concerns with screening procedures for people with disabilities. Here, we provide specific examples of posts that reinforce themes in customer feedback identified elsewhere in the profile. Along with comments on other topics, we found many instances of people praising the benefits of TSA Precheck as well as offering constructive criticism.
“TSA Precheck is the best money I’ve ever spent. Airport lobby all the way through security in 4 minutes.”
“NO @TSA precheck available at @SpiritAirlines in @FLLFlyer this morning. @TSA you need to update your app that says it’s available today. ”
Opportunities to Improve the Customer Experience
- Some travelers find their screening experiences to be inconsistent, potentially decreasing their confidence in the agency, according to Cartagena. Some common complaints TSA received involved the lack of thorough and consistent security screening. For example, travelers may go through a checkpoint at one airport and be asked to take out liquids from their carry-ons, but then get through a checkpoint at another airport carrying liquids. According to Cartagena, TSA is developing plans to smooth out disparities to provide a consistent, positive customer experience.
- Some travelers were confused about aspects of the screening process, such as what triggers the need for additional screening. Often when travelers were selected for additional screening, officers did not always clearly explain why, according to TSA officials. This can lead to confusion and frustration for travelers.
- Most travelers were unaware of the TSA resources available to help them prepare for the screening process. TSA provides thorough information to help travelers get ready, both on its social media accounts and on its website. However, not many people know about these resources, according to TSA officials. “If travelers are unprepared or do not know what to expect when going through security screenings, that is going to create a less satisfying experience,” Cartagena said. “The better we can prepare individuals … the better it will go for both passengers and officers.”
COORDINATION ACROSS SILOS TO IMPROVE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
TSA has a customer experience advisory council to coordinate efforts across agency offices that interact with the public, including offices that manage contact centers, social media accounts and operations at TSA security checkpoints. Members are mid- to senior-level officials who report to or work closely with the most senior leader in their offices. Council members convene quarterly to address cross-cutting issues as they emerge, and what could be improved. For example, in fiscal 2019 the council instituted a coordinated approach for collecting, understanding and acting on traveler feedback.
The advisory council’s first task was to figure out what data and customer feedback TSA already had—and what information it still needed. Council members learned the agency had ample data and feedback about travelers’ experiences involving visits to TSA websites or calls to contact centers, but lacked sufficient information about the most important TSA interaction with the public—going through airport security screening.
The council helped develop a new survey that was used to assess travelers’ experiences at security checkpoints. As of summer 2019, it was analyzing the results and developing plans to address challenges respondents mentioned. Eventually, the council hopes to create centralized dashboards so leaders can review customer experience data and feedback from across the organization.
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 TSA websites that provide information on applying for TSA Precheck. Reviewers looked at the sites from the perspective of two potential customers: someone who wants to apply for TSA Precheck and someone who wants to renew a Precheck membership.
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, this site has many things just right. It is clean, inviting and easy to use. It enables users to either get to the task immediately or easily explore the site. The site is effective for any user who wants to complete the task of applying for or renewing TSA Precheck. Additional elements, such as videos and interactive graphics, further enhance the user experience.
Figure 1: Good use of an interactive graphic.
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.
TSA does track and report on performance measures important to customers, such as wait times at security check points.
Has a senior executive with the responsibility and authority to lead efforts to improve customer experience across the organization.
However, TSA has a customer service branch that leads customer experience improvements across the agency.
Has a process for standardizing across channels the information and guidance provided to customers.
TSA has systems in place to coordinate updates on both its website and social media channels to ensure customers receive consistent information.
Shares meaningful customer feedback with the public.
Possibly due to restrictions associated with the Paperwork Reduction Act.
Customer Service Basics
For the most common services provided, customers can:
Complete frequently used transactions online.
Customers can ask questions about what items are permitted on airplanes and apply for TSA Precheck and the DHS traveler redress inquiry program. For security purposes the TSA Precheck application process requires an in-person appointment.
Easily find information to call an appropriate representative.
Schedule in-person appointments.
Customers can schedule appointments online for a TSA Precheck background check and fingerprinting, and opt to receive appointment reminders.
Obtain status updates.
Customers can get status updates on their Precheck applications and check the status of their redress complaints.
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 TSA for fiscal 2018.
2 Transportation Security Administration, “Web Metrics.” Retrieved from http://bit.ly/2N4cpTV
3 Transportation Security Administration, “TSA Year in Review: A Record Setting 2018.” Retrieved from http://bit.ly/2H8UsQ7
4 Eptica, “Retail: Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study,” 2015. Retrieved from: https://bit.ly/2zg5cb3
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.