GOVERNMENT FOR THE PEOPLE: PROFILES ON THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

Passport Services

Bureau of Consular Affairs, Department of State

This customer experience profile is from 2019. To view this year’s profile, click here.

This profile focuses exclusively on passport services to include the experiences of people who call the National Passport Information Center, get information from the travel.state.gov website and visit local passport offices. It does not address other services provided by the Bureau of Consular Affairs, such as support to U.S. citizens overseas.

The State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs issues passports to Americans and visas to foreign visitors to the U.S., providing critical services to facilitate international travel and ensuring the integrity of the passport system. 

In fiscal 2018, the bureau issued more than 21 million passports—about 5 million more than a decade earlier. Even with the substantial increase in demand, people reported high satisfaction with the services and support they received, according to bureau surveys. They highlighted the professionalism and knowledge of staff, both at passport offices they visited and contact centers they called.  

In addition, web pages that offer information on applying for passports are easy to navigate and offer helpful explanations of the process, according to our review. 

However, increased demand for passports and staffing shortages over the past two years have led to increased processing times for routine passport applications, which averaged about 16 days in August 2019, one of the highest average processing times in years. Additionally, the consular affairs bureau lacks online, self-service options for renewing or applying for a passport, although it hopes to launch an online renewal option in late 2020.   

Since passport processing is funded by applicant fees, it was not affected by the partial government shutdown that began in December 2018, unlike other State Department activities.  


Service Overview
Key Services for the Bureau of Consular Affairs

  • Information on and assistance with applying for, renewing and canceling passports. 
  • Processing of passport applications, renewals and cancellations, and passport issuance. 
  • Expedited passports for emergency travel. 

 


Overview1

CALLS

4.3 million 

calls to passport services contact centers 

WAIT TIME 

<1 minute

average time to speak with a representative

ONLINE VISITS

69.5 million 

visits to
travel.state.gov/passport

FACE-TO-FACE- CONTACTS

931,000 

visits at local passport agencies and centers

Social Media Presence

The Bureau of Consular Affairs has more than a million followers across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The bureau primarily uses its platforms to share information critical for U.S citizens traveling abroad, such as how to apply for a U.S. passport and international safety and security information. It hosts sessions on platforms such as Facebook to answer questions and provide tips about applying for passports. The bureau also uses its social media platforms to reach foreign nationals applying for visas to travel to the United States. It regularly assesses the performance of its social media content and efforts to inform future outreach strategies.   

Additionally, all passport agencies and centers have a presence on Yelp and use the site to analyze customer feedback and respond to questions and concerns.  

As of September 2019, the agency’s social media presence includes:


Twitter

@TravelGov
Joined: July 2008 


Followers:
574K 

Tweets:
20.1K 


Facebook

@travelgov
Joined: February 2008 


Followers:
477K 

Likes:
456K 


Instagram

@travelgov
Joined: December 2018


Followers:
6.5K 

Posts:
147 


Yelp

Passport Agencies
Joined: June 2016


Reviews of passport agencies and centers in the last 12 months:
3K 

Average star rating:
4.5 out of 5 

Customer Feedback 

The Bureau of Consular Affairs collects customer feedback on passport services from its contact center, website and other channels it uses to interact with the public. Although each of the surveys conducted by the bureau and highlighted below received more than 1,000 responses, low response rates—of 6% and less—may affect the reliability of the data.  

All scores are on a 100-point scale


KEY TAKEAWAY

Most people are satisfied overall with their experiences applying for a passport, receiving help from the passport services contact center and getting information online. 

Passport Services Application Process Survey Fiscal 2019 Q12

How satisfied are you with [passport services] in all of your experiences to date? 87
How willing would you be to say positive things about [passport services] to friends and family?  86
How would you rate the overall quality of [passport services]?  88
How satisfied are you with the service you received when applying for your passport? 90
How convenient was the application process? 84
How easy was it to get information on applying for your passport? 87
Did you receive complete information needed to apply for your passport?3 87
How long did it take to receive your passport? 81
How professional was the staff where you applied for your passport? 90
How knowledgeable was the staff where you applied for your passport?  91

Passport Services Contact Center Survey Fiscal 2019 Q14

I am satisfied with the service I received from the National Passport Information Center 92
How likely are you to recommend the National Passport Information Center?  92
How satisfied were you with the information provided to you by the agent?  93
How easy was it to access the information available within the automated system? 88
If you requested to speak to an agent, please rate your wait time. 94
How professional was the agent you spoke with? 94

 Passport Services Website Survey Fiscal 2019 Q15

I am satisfied with the service I received from the Passport Services web pages on Travel.State.Gov. 91

Customer Experience Achievements

  • People value the knowledge and professionalism of passport services staff, according to the bureau’s customer surveys. Staff at both contact centers and local passport offices receive extensive training to resolve customer issues, and the organization celebrates examples of excellent service through awards and newsletters. The bureau also works to ensure staff members have consistent website and contact center information to support customers. This ensures people get the same guidance no matter how they get their information.    
  • Passports can be issued quickly for emergency travel. Customers appreciate the expedited service, even though there is an additional fee, according to bureau officials. People who have an urgent need to travel internationally can make an appointment at a local passport office, and their application typically gets processed within two or three days. Routine processing typically takes six to eight weeks.

    The bureau is considering an automatic reminder system to alert people when their passports are about to expire. Building such a new capability could reduce the need for expedited renewals. 

Our scan of more than 7,000 social media comments about passport services found many examples of posts that can help understand the customer experience, such as people noting inaccuracies when checking the delivery status of their passport online and expressing confusion about the process for renewing passports. Here, we provide one example of a post that reinforces a theme in customer feedback identified in this profile. Along with other topics, our scan found many instances of customers seeking help when they have a pressing need for a passport.

 For example:   

“Hello Sir/Madam,

My daughters passport expired, i gave it for renewal 3 days back, my father passed away today. we need to travel on 1/28/2019, please let us know what needs to be done, Our departure is 4pm on 1/28/2019. Thanks for understanding”

More information about our methodology.


Opportunities to Improve the Customer Experience

  • Customers cannot apply for or renew a passport online due to constraints with the department’s technology. Bureau officials said they hope to roll out online passport renewal in late 2020 and also make it possible eventually for individuals to apply online for their first passport.   
  • People may have inconsistent experiences at independent facilities that provide passport services, such as post offices and libraries. Many people complete and submit passport applications at one of approximately 8,000 “acceptance facilities,” which are authorized by the State Department but are not under its direct control. The bureau develops training materials and conducts inspections of these facilities to promote high levels of service, but it has limited insights into what customers experience there.   
  • Passport application processing times are rising due to an increased number of applications and a reduced number of passport specialists. It took the bureau 16 days on average to process routine passport applications in August 2018, among the highest average processing times in more than a decade.6 These processing times do not include the time the documents are in the mail or at a contract facility where the information is catalogued. 

    Bureau officials helped the situation by setting clear expectations for customers about how long it was going to take to receive their passports. Customers were informed in 2019 that the standard wait time would be from six to eight weeks, whereas in previous years they had been told four to six weeks.  

PROMISING PRACTICE
IMPROVING SECURITY BY MAKING IT EASIER FOR CUSTOMERS TO REPORT LOST OR STOLEN PASSPORTS

Criminals buy or pilfer passports to steal identities, and terrorists, as well as others who intend to cause harm or escape detection, use stolen passports to cross borders, so it is vital for citizens to immediately report a lost or stolen passport. Before 2015, however, there was no online option for doing so. Citizens could report lost or stolen passports only over the phone, through the mail or by appearing in person. 

Officials at the Bureau of Consular Affairs were concerned the inconvenience of those methods was keeping citizens from reporting missing passports. So in 2015, the bureau offered an online tool to make it easier and more convenient for people to file a report. Once it became available, the bureau experienced an immediate spike of more than 1,000 additional reports each week. Over the next two years, the bureau experienced a 46% increase in the number of missing or stolen passports reported from around the world.  

This initiative not only enabled passport services to strengthen national security but also improved the experience for passport customers. For example, people submitting a report online generally get confirmation within 48 hours as opposed to waiting several weeks for a mailed confirmation. 

 

Website Experience: How Easy Is It to Navigate and Understand Online Information? 

We partnered with the Center for Plain Language to conduct an analysis of how easy it is for customers to navigate and understand a Bureau of Consular Affairs website that provides information on obtaining a passport. Reviewers looked at the site for the perspective of a potential user: a citizen applying for a passport for the first time. 

More information about our methodology.

PASSPORT SERVICES GRADE
(April 2019)

A

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 

The site offers clear directions to users who need different types of services, such as renewing a passport or obtaining a new passport for a child. It uses plain language and offers features that help users get what they need quickly and easily, such as simple navigation bars, step lists, engaging graphics and useful charts and videos. The site has a few pages with dense text but is mostly uncluttered. 

Figure 1: An interactive tool that answers key user questions.

Figure 2: The overview page would be more helpful if users could click on the blocks they see.

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.      

More details about our methodology.

Commitment to customer experience

The agency:

Includes high-quality customer experience in its strategic goals.

No.

However, customer experience is included as a focus area in the bureau’s goals around innovation and modernization.  

Specifies customer feedback as a key measure of the organization’s performance.

No.

The bureau has a key performance measure based on the timeliness of passport processing, but does not include customer feedback.    

Has a senior executive with the responsibility and authority to lead efforts to improve customer experience across the organization.

Partially

The deputy assistant secretary of state for passport services oversees all aspects of passport delivery, and improving customer experience is a part of that role.    

Has a process for standardizing across channels the information and guidance provided to customers.

Partially

Changes to the website and contact center knowledge base are done on an ad hoc basis through coordination with the content managers.     

Shares meaningful customer feedback with the public.

Yes

Customer Service Basics 

For the most common services provided, customers can: 

Complete frequently used transactions online.

No.

People can access passport applications online but cannot submit the complete application electronically.

Easily find information to call an appropriate Passport Services representative.

Yes.

Schedule in-person appointments.

Yes.

Obtain status updates.

Yes.

Customer Feedback 

The agency collects and analyzes data and information on customer perceptions:    

Of specific interactions, including website visits, phone calls and in-person appointments. 

Yes.

Of the customer journey through a series of interactions or multistage processes that build toward a specific goal.

Yes.

Of the overall service the organization provides.

Yes.

Through qualitative research, such as customer interviews, focus groups, analysis of social media comments or direct observation.

Yes.

  

Footnotes and Methodology

Expand

Footnotes

1   Data provided by the Bureau of Consular Affairs for fiscal year 2018. 

2   Data is from fiscal 2019 quarter 1 and quarter 2.

2   Data is from a survey emailed to customers after they have applied for or renewed a passport. Response rate: 6.07%; Survey scale: 1-10-point scale, unless noted otherwise. The responses for each question are used to calculate a score between 0-100.  

3   Question uses a Yes/No scale.

4   Data is from a postcall survey administered through IVR after customers interact with Passport Services’ contact center. Response rate: 3%; Survey scale: 1-9-point scale. The responses for each question are used to calculate a score between 0-100.

5   Data is from a follow-up survey offered to customers upon interacting with web pages on the travel.state.gov website. Response rate: 0.25%; Survey scale: seven-point Likert scale ranging from “extremely dissatisfied” to “extremely satisfied.” The percentage for the question represents the percentage of customers who responded “extremely satisfied”, “moderately satisfied”, or “slightly satisfied.”

6   Government Executive, “Passport Processing at State Slows as Staffing Levels Fall,” August 13, 2019. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/33u7aCJ


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
transactions online.

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.

Customer feedback

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.

The “Government for the People: Profiles on the Customer Experience” are produced in collaboration with Accenture Federal Services.