CBP 2021 CX Profile

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Customs Airport Security and Screening Service

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security

As international travel resumes and border restrictions are lifted, Customs and Border Protection is increasing its use of technology to streamline the customs experience.

Updated automated kiosks, electronic gates and facial comparison technology are helping the agency reduce long customs lines and limit the need for CBP officers to perform lengthy security checks. Virtual interviews for renewing trusted traveler program enrollment, introduced because of the pandemic, are also making it easier and faster for customers to renew their participation in these programs.

In contrast with tech-driven improvements to CBP checkpoints, customers often experience frustration when trying to locate information and answers on CBP’s website, finding the content difficult to understand—a particularly significant challenge as people need to understand customs rules and procedures in order to inform the decisions they make. Improved communication with the public during the pandemic has been and will continue to be particularly important as travel restrictions keep changing.

Service Overview

Customs and Border Protection screens people entering the United States to prevent potentially harmful people and materials from coming into the country.

Primary customers

People entering U.S. borders, whether international 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.
    • 1.3 million Global Entry applications received in fiscal year 2020. (More than 2 million in fiscal year 2019)
  • 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 for callers through the CBP Information Center and Traveler Communications Center.

Service Snapshot (data for fiscal year 2020)

  • 422,366 calls to the Traveler Communications Center, which handles program-specific inquiries.
    • Average wait time: 7.6 minutes.
  • 98,563 calls to the CBP Information Center, which handles general inquiries.
    • Average wait time: 8 minutes.
  • 40.6 million visits to CBP.gov.1
  • 238 million travelers processed at air, land and seaports of entry.2 (Note: drop from 410 million in 2019 due at least in part to COVID)
  • 9.6 million members in CBP trusted traveler programs.3

Data Highlights

decrease in the backlog of Global Entry applications since 2019, thanks in part to virtual renewal interviews.

of visitors surveyed on CBP’s website were not able to complete the purpose of their visit in fiscal year 2020.


Customer Experience Insights

Virtual interviews for renewing participation in trusted traveler programs, such as Global Entry, are making it easier for people to renew and enroll.

The Global Entry program provides expedited screening to low-risk, preapproved travelers. While travelers give high ratings to the program and the convenience it provides, some people have had difficulty enrolling. In 2019, it was taking CBP 150 days or longer to process applications that required additional vetting, and appointments for the required security interviews were hard to get.

During the pandemic, CBP began allowing virtual interviews for people renewing their Global Entry applications—an option that has continued as the pandemic lingers. The virtual option saves time for applicants and enables CBP to conduct more interviews each week. This new process, along with a decline in new applications due to the pandemic, enabled CBP to reduce the backlog of Global Entry applications to 182,000 as of July 2021 from about 500,000 applications in March of 2020, a decrease of about 65%.

In July of 2021, CBP was processing about 70% of applications within 15 days or fewer. Applications requiring additional vetting were taking about 90 days, compared with 150 days or longer in October 2019, a decrease of 40%.

CBP is now using new technologies to create a faster, contactless experience at customs checkpoints.

For passengers enrolled in trusted traveler programs, the agency is piloting updated mobile kiosks (called totems) and electronic gates, as well as expanding the use of facial comparison technology to verify a traveler’s identity. These technologies could streamline the customs checkpoint experience and reduce the need for passengers to present documents to CBP officials. Currently, it takes passengers about 90 seconds to check in and process their passports and other travel documents at CBP kiosks, but the new totem kiosks and automated E-gates equipped with facial comparison technology can process travelers in just three to four seconds, with the potential to greatly reduce long lines at customs. The new kiosks are also mobile, allowing officials to adjust the placement of them as volume at customs checkpoint lines fluctuates.

Although various facial recognition technologies are already in use by federal, state and local government agencies, research has demonstrated that some of these systems routinely misidentify individuals from certain demographic groups.4 When implementing this technology, CBP must pay particular attention to ensuring that it is used in an equitable way and does not negatively impact travelers. According to CBP officials, the facial comparison technology used for trusted traveler identification—which matches travelers to the photo they provided to the agency in their application—has no differences in effectiveness across races and ethnicities. However, officials noted that insufficient lighting at some ports of entry can alter the effectiveness of the technology, and that customers can opt out of the facial comparison process.

Customers would like a better experience with the CBP website, noting difficulty in completing the purpose of their visit.

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

  • The content was not easy to understand (56%).
  • There was a page error, bad link or technical issue (33%).
  • The information was outdated (11%).

Customers visit CBP’s website to understand what items they may bring into the United States, learn about what they can expect at customs checkpoints and apply for trusted traveler programs. Difficulty interpreting this information can have serious consequences—customers may not be able to enter the United States or may have their trusted traveler program application denied if they misunderstand what they read on the website.

Noting that much of the language on CBP’s website is legal information about entry into the United States, CBP officials are working with agency legal staff to replace hard-to-understand content with plain language. Part of their strategy is giving legal staff more insight into the customer experience, including by having them listen to phone calls where customers were misinterpreting information they had read online. This helped legal staff understand, based on customers’ own words, why certain information was confusing and provided examples of how contact center staff typically answered questions, information that was then used in rewriting webpages.

Delivering Customs Services Equitably

Customs airport security and screening services have a diverse customer base. People of all nationalities, races, ethnicities, abilities and familiarity with international travel will pass through its gates, with a range of objectives from leisure to visiting family to making a new home. This diversity needs to be addressed in an intentional and systematic way to ensure that the first impressions travelers have of their stay in the U.S. are based on safe, respectful and positive interactions. The same principles are equally important for the other group of customers receiving service at an entry point—returning U.S. residents.

Currently, notable efforts of CBP to improve equity are focused on addressing the needs of customers with physical disabilities. For example, instead of having people who use a wheelchair go through a gate, they could be screened using appropriate software on an iPad.

CBP also makes efforts to provide service support in several languages. Currently, the online CBP Information Center provides information in Spanish, German and Russian, and the CBP Traveler Communications Center plans to bring on more Spanish-speaking staff in the fall.

Providing a more equitable approach for security and screening services entails coordinating efforts to improve cultural awareness and ensure employees’ interactions with customers from different cultures and backgrounds are appropriate. This could be achieved by offering training programs for security officers and monitoring customer feedback, with a specific focus on equitable treatment of customers.

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. 

Organizational Commitment

Organizational Commitment

A strong commitment and plan from agency leaders to prioritize customer experience is essential for sustained progress.

The agency:

1. Includes high-quality customer experience in its strategic goals.   

Yes

The agency’s strategic plan includes an initiative around the “stakeholder experience.”

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

No

The agency’s strategic plan does not include any metrics based on customer feedback.

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

Ease of Customer Interactions

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.  

Partially

Customers can complete program applications online, but sometimes must complete in-person interviews for security purposes. Although CBP is increasingly using video interviews, this option is not yet available to all customers.

2. Obtain status updates through online self-service. 

Yes

Using their personal accounts, customers can check online for updates on the status of their trusted traveler program application.

3. Receive a response to feedback or answers to questions over social media.

No

CBP does not respond to customer questions on Facebook or Twitter, possibly because these sites are not a primary source of customer questions.

4. Access online information and support in languages other than English.

Yes

The CBP Information Center website is available in both Spanish and English, with fact sheets about specific programs available in 19 additional languages.

Listening to Customers and Acting on Feedback

Listening to Customers and Acting on Feedback

To understand and prioritize customer needs, agencies should collect, publish, analyze and act on feedback.

The agency:

1. Collects meaningful customer experience data across interactions and service delivery channels and shares it with the public.

No

While CBP collects customer experience data across service delivery channels, it does not currently share this data with the public.

2. Collects and analyzes first-hand customer feedback to understand customers’ experiences, based on their own words.

Yes

CBP collects feedback from customers on their interactions with the agency through its website, email and over the phone.

3. Aggregates and analyzes customer feedback across channels and programs, and shares feedback with relevant staff members so they can act on it.

Partially

CBP recently launched a customer feedback survey and once sufficient data has been collected, the agency plans to begin aggregating and analyzing it to improve services.

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Footnotes and Methodology

Footnotes

  1. Data from an analysis of CBP website metrics. Scores represent totals for the year aggregated from monthly reports.
  2. CBP Travel and Trade Report, Fiscal 2020. Retrieved from https://www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/assets/documents/2021-Feb/CBP-FY2020-Trade-and-Travel-Report.pdf.
  3. Ibid.
  4. National Institute of Standards and Technology, “NIST Study Evaluates Effects of Race, Age, Sex on Facial Recognition Software,” December 19, 2019. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2ZtEgFp.
  5. Data is from cbp.gov. Percentages are based on a 5-point response scale on which a 4 indicates above average and a 5 is outstanding.

Customer experience indicators methodology

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 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.

Organizational Commitment

A strong commitment and plan from agency leaders to prioritize customer experience is essential for sustained progress.

The agency:

  1. Includes high-quality customer experience in its strategic goals.
    • Criteria: a) 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 b) 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 agency priority goals that is based on feedback directly from customers. 
  3. Has a senior executive with the responsibility and authority to lead efforts to improve the customer experience across the organization.
    • Criteria: Based on a review of the agency’s organizational chart and online descriptions of leadership positions, the agency has an executive who meets the following criteria: a) customer experience is that executive’s primary responsibility b) the executive reports to the head of the organization or a deputy c) the executive’s work spans all major service delivery channels (e.g., online services, contact centers, face-to-face services).

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.
    • Criteria: Based on a review of the agency’s website, customers have multiple options to complete common transactions including going online, calling, using webchat and visiting field offices or other physical locations. 
  2. Obtain status updates through online self-service.
    • Criteria: customers can get real-time updates through an online self-service channel that provides estimated timelines.
  3. Receive a response to feedback or answers to questions over social media.
    • Criteria: Does the agency respond to questions through the direct message feature on Facebook and Twitter, or in the comment section of posts? To assess this, we examined social media posts on the service’s primary account across a three-month period. “No” indicates the agency never or rarely responds to comments; “partially” indicates the agency responds sometimes, but not consistently; and “yes” indicates the agency responds to comments on a frequent and consistent basis.
  4. Access online information and support in languages other than English.
    • Criteria: “No” indicates content is available only in English and translation features are not available on the website; “partially” indicates that some content or services are available in English and Spanish; “yes” indicates that content or services are available in English and Spanish and additional languages.

Listening to Customers and Acting on Feedback

To understand and prioritize customer needs, agencies should collect, publish, analyze and act on feedback.

The agency:

  1. Collects meaningful customer experience data across interactions and service delivery channels and shares it with the public.
    • Criteria: In alignment with the Office of Management and Budget’s guidance on customer experience measurement, the agency shares customer feedback with the public and that: a) represents multiple service delivery channels b) provides details into different aspects of the experience (i.e., beyond overall customer satisfaction)
  2. Collects and analyzes first-hand customer feedback to understand customers’ experiences, based on their own words.
    • Criteria: In alignment with Office of Management and Budget’s guidance on customer experience measurement, in customer or user research such as interviews, focus groups, surveys and other feedback mechanisms, customers can describe their experiences in their own words, and the agency has automated analytic capabilities to identify and act on insights that emerge from customer feedback data.
  3. Aggregates and analyzes customer feedback across channels and programs, and shares feedback with relevant staff members so they can act on it.
    • Criteria: Agency has an automated system to collect feedback across multiple channels and programs into a centralized location, analyze it for insights, and share those insights with relevant agency business owners or other appropriate colleagues responsible for taking action. The agency also tracks the impact of actions taken in response to customer feedback.

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