Customer Service through Digital Engagement

What’s the issue?

The safety and protection of U.S. citizens overseas is among the Department of State’s highest priorities and the number one priority of the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA).  Nearly 40 percent of U.S. citizens hold U.S. passports and increasingly travel to remote destinations and engage in adventurous activities.  CA’s commitment to protect U.S. citizens’ safety and welfare overseas remains the same regardless of how urban or remote the locale.  CA’s customers, whether U.S. citizens or foreigners, expect lightning-fast customer service and increasingly the ability to communicate directly with a customer service representative digitally, through online chat, social media, email, or other digital platform.  

What was the intervention?

CA embraces new technologies to keep information flowing during rapidly changing circumstances or crises overseas and boosts its customer service and outreach efforts through its social media platforms.  CA implemented the use of Twitter and Facebook on TravelGov in 2009.  In FY 2016 alone, @TravelGov tweets appeared in 54.2 million Twitter users’ feeds, and TravelGov Facebook posts reached 16.9 million Facebook users.  CA established official Yelp pages for all passport agencies and centers in 2015 and began a pilot to engage customers through a streamlined set of six Yelp pages in 2016.  U.S. citizens who require assistance with passport processing can call the National Passport Information Center for help and use Twitter, Facebook, or Yelp to reach a CA representative directly.  Customers can tweet @TravelGov or post a comment or question on the TravelGov Facebook page, and CA will respond within the next business day.


CA continues to improve its customer service for non-U.S. citizens who require U.S. visas.  Applicants can call or email the National Visa Center with visa inquiries and post questions or comments on the TravelGov Facebook page.  CA representatives answer general visa processing questions by directly commenting on applicant questions on the Facebook page.  Answering questions on a public platform such as Facebook, Twitter, or Yelp enables CA to provide a customer with a direct answer to his or her question that the general public also can see.  As a result, social media customer service initiatives simultaneously become outreach efforts. 

How was performance management useful?

CA serves as the primary public face of the Department of State.  Often, the first interaction U.S. citizens and foreign nationals have with the U.S. government overseas is through a consular professional.  This tremendous responsibility means CA professionals must uphold the highest standards of public service and treat all people with dignity and respect, no matter the outcome of the consular service.  As a result, customer service is a CA priority, and customer service performance measurement and accountability is paramount.  The Office of Management and Budget, under the Customer Service cross-agency priority (CAP) goal, identified passport issuance and processing as one of 30 major high-volume, high-impact Federal programs that provide transactional services directly to the public.  As part of the CAP goal effort, CA participated in the FeedbackUSA pilot that ended on September 30, 2016.  This pilot collected transactional feedback at 27 passport agency and center public counters that CA regularly analyzed in order to continue to provide customer service that is efficient and easy to access.  In addition, CA monitors and reports on its success in achieving quarterly performance targets related to visa and passport customer service and processing speed in the Department’s Excellence in Consular Service Delivery agency priority goal.    

What was the impact?

CA has reached millions of customers through these direct engagements and outreach initiatives.  Constant engagement with the public through these venues enables CA to get its messages out quickly and provide customers with the information and resources they need to make educated decisions in real time.  For example, when terrorists attacked Paris on November 13, 2015, TravelGov sent out tweets and Facebook posts all night, reaching over four million users.  Additionally, when the Turkey attacks occurred in July 2016, TravelGov tweeted and posted 24/7, reaching more than nine million users.  These messages successfully directed U.S. citizens to shelter in place and to contact family to let them know that they were safe.  TravelGov is one of the only U.S. government social media entities to directly engage with customers, answering questions in real time and advertising special Q&A sessions for the public.