GOVERNMENT FOR THE PEOPLE: PROFILES ON THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

Customs Airport Security and Screening Services

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security


Executive Summary

In 2019, one of the busiest travel periods on record, Customs and Border Protection officers screened more than 410 million people entering the United States. When the coronavirus pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, and the volume of travelers plummeted, the agency adjusted its security checkpoints to continue its screenings while trying to protect travelers and employees from the virus.

In feedback provided on the airport screening experience before the coronavirus, people reported high levels of satisfaction, potentially because of faster screening times. In 2019, the CBP expanded options to help customers enroll in trusted-traveler programs, such as Global Entry, that provide expedited screening to low-risk, preapproved travelers. More than two million travelers enrolled or renewed their Global Entry membership that year—a record high. Automated processes also helped reduce wait times; 6% more travelers used digital interfaces to process their passports compared to the pervious year.

Still, customers continue to face some challenges with CBP services. The need for more welcoming CBP officers is the area for improvement most frequently cited by air travelers in an annual agency survey. And customer satisfaction scores with the CBP website dipped in 2019, possibly due to complicated language and a cumbersome design that made it difficult for users to complete their intended task.

Service Overview

The CBP screens people entering the United States to prevent potentially dangerous people and materials from coming into the country.

Primary Customers

People entering U.S. borders, whether international travelers, visitors or returning residents.

Key services related to customs security and screening

  • Security screening of international travelers who cross U.S. borders.
  • Management of applications and enrollment in trusted-traveler programs.
    • More than 2 million Global Entry applications received received in fiscal 2019
      (1.7 million applications received in fiscal 2018).
  • Management of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, which determines the eligibility of visitors from certain countries to enter the U.S. without a visa.
  • Support to callers through the CBP Information Center and Traveler Communications Center.

Data at a Glance

Of travelers surveyed said they were satisfied with the CBP checkpoint experience at airports in fiscal 2019

Estimated average wait times at CBP airport checkpoints compared to fiscal 2018

Of visitors surveyed on CBP.gov were not able to complete the purpose of their visit in fiscal 2019


People Interact With CBP By

(All data for fiscal year 2019)

CALLING THE CONTACT CENTER

2.7 million

calls to the CBP Information Center, which handles general inquiries


(2.1 million in fiscal 2018)


5.1 minutes

average wait time


(5.8 minutes in fiscal 2018)


325,663

calls to the CBP Traveler Communications Center, which handles program-specific inquiries


5 minutes

average wait time to speak with a representative

VISITING ONLINE

46.6 million

visits


(40.5 million in fiscal 2018)

PASSING THROUGH CHECKPOINT

410.3 million

travelers processed at air, land and sea ports of entry


(413.9 million in fiscal 2018)


9.3 minutes

estimated average wait times at airport checkpoints


(~12 minutes in fiscal 2018)


50%

of traveler passports processed in airports by digital interfaces such as self-service kiosks and the Mobile Passport Control app.


(44% in fiscal 2018)


Customer Experience Insights

The following insights and data pertain to airport-related screening and security services only and does not cover land or sea entry points.

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Satisfaction with the screening experience at CBP airport checkpoints, 2016 to 2019
2016 2017 2018 2019
Overall experience 92% 92% 91% 94%
Overall CBP officer experience 94% 94% 94% 96%
Overall physical processing area 91% 91% 91% 92%

In 2019, the agency was able to reduce wait times for air travelers going through screening by generating daily wait time reports for international airports across the country. Once managers identified airports with high wait times, they could take action to reduce delays, such as deploying more staff members to airports that needed them.

  • The average wait time was an estimated 9.3 minutes, about three minutes shorter than the previous year, according to a CBP survey.
  • Only about 6% of travelers CBP surveyed characterized their wait time as long.

Recent efforts to train CBP officers to be more welcoming during the screening process and use complaints as a constructive learning opportunity also have helped improve overall customer satisfaction, though some travelers still note CBP officers could be more welcoming.

  • The average processing time at airport customs for Global Entry members decreased by 50% over the previous three years.
  • Air travelers in the Global Entry program estimated waiting just over four minutes on average, compared with travelers who waited 12 minutes going through a standard inspection booth or more than 10 minutes using an automated passport control kiosk.
  • As of September 2019, there were 6.7 million customers enrolled in the program, a 16% uptick from the previous year.
The number of Global Entry applications has quadrupled since 2012.

The 2018-19 government shutdown and a record high number of applications contributed to a backlog of applicants needing background checks. The pandemic—which kept enrollment centers closed as of September 2020—further worsened this backlog.

  • While most applications took about 15 days or fewer to process as of October 2019, about 25% of applications took 150 days or longer—a 60-day increase from the prior year.

To help streamline Global Entry enrollment, CBP is offering Enrollment on Arrival, which allows travelers who get conditionally approved online to enroll in the program while at a U.S. international airport, rather than going to an enrollment center. This service is offered at 57 airports and has enrolled more than 300,000 customers in the Global Entry program since its launch in 2018.

Out of all suggestions for improvement, among the most common was CBP officers being more welcoming—a growing trend over the last three years.

A small portion of customers also recommended improving physical processing areas by making them more inviting, cleaning facilities better, and maintaining kiosks to prevent bottlenecks created by broken equipment. Because these spaces are not always under CBP control, making improvements require collaboration between the agency and international airports.

Customer satisfaction with the CBP website
2017 2018 2019
Overall satisfaction 56% 56% 52%
Able to complete purpose of visit 62% 62% 57%
Likelihood of returning to site 86% 85% 83%

According to our analysis of CBP’s customer survey data, the most common reasons people have a hard time completing their task on the agency’s website are:

  • The content was not easy to understand (63%).
  • There was a page error, bad link or technical issue (30%).
  • The information was outdated (7%).

To further understand the CBP website experience, we assessed webpages that explain how to travel to the U.S. without a visa and what items need to be declared at customs. We gave them a D for their essay-style presentation of information rather than easy-to-read bullet points and their organization of content around CBP programs as opposed to user needs.

Website Experience:
How easy is it to navigate and understand online information? 

Reviewers looked at the pages from the perspective of people seeking to answer two questions:

  • What items are prohibited or need to be declared when I return to the U.S.?
    • https://www.cbp.gov/travel/clearing-cbp
    • https://help.cbp.gov/s/?language=en_US
    • https://www.cbp.gov/travel/international-visitors/agricultural-items
  • How do I determine if I am eligible to travel to the U.S. without a visa?
    • https://www.cbp.gov/travel/international-visitors
    • https://www.cbp.gov/travel/international-visitors/visa-waiver-program
    • https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/

CBP Grade

D


Opportunities to improve

  • Information about bringing items into the U.S. is presented in an essay-like format with too much text, which puts a great burden on the user to plow through and understand it all.
  • The webpages are busy, with many pieces of information competing for attention.
  • Content is organized around CBP programs such as the Visa Waiver Program, instead of around questions a user would likely ask—for example, “Do I need a visa to travel to the U.S.?”
  • Content is written in the third person instead of speaking to the user and includes unnecessarily complicated language (e.g., “officers determine admissibility upon travelers’ arrival”).
  • Webpages lack streamlined bullet points, groupings and graphics that would help the user spot and cross-reference important information quickly.
Figure 1. Essay format with difficult words forces the user to do the work (https://www.cbp.gov/travel/international-visitors/agricultural-items)
Figure 2. Many elements on the page compete for the user’s attention (https://www.cbp.gov/travel/international-visitors/visa-waiver-program)

Key

Improvement from last year

Ongoing challenge


Connecting on Social Media

The CBP uses social media to provide tips and information for travelers on topics such as what people can bring through customs checkpoints and how to apply for Global Entry. The CBP social media team monitors the agency’s social media accounts to analyze what the public does after reading posts—for example, how widely particular posts are shared—and uses that information to improve future messages.

During the first few months of the pandemic, the team used Twitter to share videos and updates on how the agency was protecting employees and expediting clearance for low-risk travelers through customs, and to inform customers about closures of trusted traveler enrollment centers.


Twitter

(@CBP)

Joined: October 2008



Followers: 304,200 



Total tweets: 12,000


Facebook

(@CBPgov)

Joined: February 2018



Followers: 48,800



Total likes: 42,900 


Instagram

(@cbpgov)

Joined: December 2014



Followers: 125,000 



Total posts: 1,187


YouTube

(U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

Joined: July 2009



Subscribers: 24,400 


Total views: 3.6 million

Social media practices

Posts almost daily?
Yes



Responds to customers?
No



Includes multimedia content?
Yes

For background information on these metrics and our full methodology click here.

How Customs Screening Services Shifted During the Coronavirus

As people canceled travel plans and governments established travel restrictions, the average number of people going through U.S. customs each day plummeted. As of April 2020, the average went from 300,000 to about 5,000 travelers per day, according to John Wagner, CBP’s former deputy executive assistant commissioner, who retired in July. In the initial months of the outbreak, CBP quickly made changes to its security checkpoints to create a safer environment for remaining travelers, including constructing barriers between officers and travelers, providing officers with gloves and face masks, and partnering with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct on-site medical screenings as necessary.

The agency also closed its enrollment centers for trusted-traveler programs to help limit the spread of the virus. To keep Global Entry applications moving and limit the effects of these office closures on the backlog of applications, CBP used its authority to waive in-person interview requirements for application renewals that did not pose security concerns.

Indicators that the Customer Experience is a High Priority 

For background information on these indicators see our methodology section.
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Commitment to Customer Experience

The agency:

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.


Shares meaningful customer feedback data with the public.

Customer Service Basics 

For the most common services provided, customers can: 

Complete frequently used transactions online.


Easily find information to call an appropriate CBP representative.


Schedule in-person appointments.


Obtain status updates.


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

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. 


Of a 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.


Through a structured analysis of comments about the service left on social media channels.

More details about our methodology

This customer experience profile was produced in collaboration with Accenture Federal Services.