GOVERNMENT FOR THE PEOPLE: PROFILES ON THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

Passport Services

Bureau of Consular Affairs, Department of State


Executive Summary

In 2019, people applying for or renewing passports faced longer wait times compared with the previous year due in part to a near record number of passport applications. The situation did not improve in the first half of 2020, despite a decline in international travel. The coronavirus led the State Department to curtail many passport services, further increasing wait times and leading to a backlog of 1.6 million passport applications as of June 2020. As operations began to resume, the number of passports awaiting issuance decreased to 938,000 by the end of August—close to a typical number for that time of year.

Prior to the pandemic, customers reported being satisfied with many aspects of passport services, including the convenience of the application process, and the knowledge and professionalism of passport services staff. Additionally, the bureau’s website provides clear and user-friendly information about passports, according to our analysis of selected pages.

Online options for renewing or applying for a new passport would further improve the customer experience. Currently, these services are only provided in person or through the mail.

Service Overview

Primary Customers

Citizens applying for or holding U.S. passports.

Key services

  • Information on and assistance with applying for, renewing and canceling passports. 
  • Processing of passport applications, renewals and cancellations, and issuance of passports. 
    • 20.6 million passports issued.1
      (21.1 million in fiscal 2018)
  • Expedited passports for emergency travel.  

overall satisfaction score with passport services in fiscal 2019

customers surveyed who were satisfied with passport web pages in fiscal 2019

Approximately 8-day increase in processing times for routine passport applications during fiscal 2019


People Interact With Passport Services By

(All data for fiscal year 2019)

CALLING THE NATIONAL PASSPORT INFORMATION CENTER

5.1 million 

calls


(4.3 million in fiscal 2018)


Percent of calls answered within two minutes:2

  • First quarter: 99.8%.
  • Second quarter: 99.2%.
  • Third quarter: 89%.
  • Fourth quarter: 96.8%.
VISITING ONLINE

59.8 million 

visits to passport pages on travel.state.gov3


(69.5 million visits in fiscal 2018)4

SUBMITTING APPLICATIONS AT A PASSPORT AGENCY

938,340 

applications received


Customer Experience Insights

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Staff at both the 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 ensures staff members across the organization have consistent information when interacting with customers, so that people get the same guidance no matter how they contact the bureau.

Passport services application process survey results (fiscal 2019, all scores out of 100 points)5

How satisfied are you with passport services in all of your experiences to date? 87

How convenient was the application process? 84

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

How do these numbers compare?

68.1 on scale of 0 to 100: the aggregated score across federal services measured in the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

Selected webpages that explain how to renew a passport and receive a passport quickly for emergency international travel received an A in our analysis.6

  • 91% of customers were satisfied with Passport Services web pages on travel.state.gov in fiscal 2019, according to a survey conducted by the bureau.7

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:

Passport Services Grade

A


Strengths

  • The site is organized around the tasks users want to complete, such as getting a passport or renewing a passport by mail.
  • Language is clear and concise, delivering the most relevant information upfront.
  • Effective placement of information and variations in font size help users quickly and easily see what is important and relevant.

Standout feature: guidance on expedited passports

  • One highlight is a table that outlines different reasons an individual may need to travel quickly. The table enables users to easily get to the page that addresses their unique situations, delivering the maximum amount of information with minimal effort on their part.

Opportunities to improve:

  • The site could use more color to emphasize critical points

Figure: A clear and to-the-point table that directs users to the information they need. (https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/get-fast.html)
Figure: Navigation is clear and simple, and based on tasks users need to complete (https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports.html/)

Processing time for routine passport services in fiscal 20198

  • Q1: 6.5 business days
  • Q2: 9.8 business days
  • Q3: 14.4 business days
  • Q4: 14.3 business days

Processing times for passports rose in fiscal 2019 due to an increased number of applications and a reduced number of passport specialists – the bureau had challenges filling these roles after a Department-wide hiring freeze that lasted from January 2017 to May 2018.9 To help adjust customers’ expectations, the bureau upped its estimated time frame for receiving a passport that year to six to eight weeks, instead of four to six weeks.

In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic increased processing times even as international travel slowed drastically. On March 19, the bureau curtailed passport services to serve only those people who needed to travel for an emergency, as 95% of staff responsible for processing passports were sent home for their safety. This led to a backlog of 1.6 million passport applications as of June 2020.10 At that time, the bureau was not providing an estimated timeline for how long it would take to receive a passport, noting only that applicants should expect significant delays. This backlog was greatly reduced by the end of August.

Customers cannot apply for or renew a passport online due to constraints with the department’s information technology systems. The bureau’s plans to enable customers to apply for or renew passports online have been delayed, according to agency officials.

Key

Improvement from last year

Ongoing challenge


Connecting on Social Media

The Bureau of Consular Affairs 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 what to know about international safety and security matters. It hosts sessions on social media platforms such as Facebook to answer questions and provide tips about applying for passports.

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. Some passport agencies receive glowing reviews from customers on the site.

As of September 2020, the Bureau of Consular Affairs social media presence related to passport services included:


Twitter

(@travelgov)

Joined: July 2008



Followers: 651,600



Total tweets: 28,500


Facebook

(@travelgov)

Joined: February 2008



Followers: 652,600



Total likes: 616,300


Instagram

(@travelgov)

Joined: February 2015



Followers: 20,700



Total posts: 256


Yelp

(Passport Agencies)

Joined: June 2016



Rating: 4.5 stars

Social media practices

Posts almost daily?
Yes



Includes multimedia content?
Yes – regularly



Responds to customers?
Yes

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

How Passport Services changed during the coronavirus

To help protect employees and customers from the coronavirus, in March 2020 the bureau curtailed operations at locations where people apply for passports—limiting services to people facing a “life-or-death emergency” who needed to travel within 72 hours. These restrictions were still in place as of August, with the bureau planning to return to more normal operations once circumstances allow.

People could still apply for and renew passports by mail, but between March and June a backlog of applications grew to 1.6 million as the virus prevented staff members from going to the office to process passports. Due to the sensitive nature of passport processing, employees could not work remotely, according to a statement on the bureau’s website. The site also indicated that as more employees returned to work, the number of passports awaiting issuance was down to 938,000 by the end of August—close to a typical number for that time of the year.      

The National Passport Information Center remained open to answer questions about applying for and receiving passports, including providing customers with status updates seven to ten business days after applying.

Indicators that the Customer Experience is a High Priority 

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Commitment to Customer Experience

The Bureau:

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 representative.


Schedule in-person appointments.


Obtain status updates.


Find standardized and consistent information and guidance across channels.

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.