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Learning from CX practices at TSA (no, this is not an early April Fools)

The Transportation Security Administration, or TSA as most of us know it, is probably not the poster child for outstanding customer experiences.  Waiting in long lines, hastily removing items that have to go onto the conveyor belt, and then being subjected to a full body scan.  Perhaps not surprisingly given the nature of their job, the TSA staff tend to be a fairly surly bunch and are sometimes lacking in people skills. The TSA “customer journey” has become a normal part of the travel grind that we grudgingly accept as painful, but necessary.

Earlier this month I was pleasantly surprised to have the exact opposite experience with TSA, although for a different “moment of truth”.  Partly because of the aforementioned pain points with TSA, I decided to apply for the TSA Pre program – spurred on by a collegue’s recommendation that the process was quick and easy. My journey could not have been any different from past experiences.  It began with completing a simple online form to schedule an appointment with the local TSA Pre office, handly located right inside the airport.  The appointment windows were in precise 15 minute intervals and the office was open at convenient times for travel.

I arrived at the office and waited just a couple of minutes to be seen by a very friendly TSA representative who already had access to the information I had completed online.  She guided me through the interview process which was all digital (including capturing fingerprints).  After a few minutes the process was finished and I was asked 2-3 questions about my experience – which was somewhat awkward given that the person I was being asked to evaluate was sitting directly across from me.

As I was walking out of the TSA office I received an automated email with a link to check the status of my application.  The representative had told me the turnaround time was usually 5 business days, although this was not mentioned in the email.  I headed off to catch my flight and sure enough, 5 days later received an email confirming that I was now officially a member of the TSA Pre program.

My experience with TSA Pre, while only one data point, suggests they’re leveraging CX best practices which have broad application beyond this example:

  • Using technology to automate multiple aspects of the journey, reducing the overall time to value for the customer
  • Removing unnecessary paper work and traditional documentation requirements for the customer, minimizing effort
  • Providing service geared around the customer’s schedule (cable and utility companies – if TSA can do this, why can’t you?)
  • Setting clear expectations with the customer and then meeting them
  • Proactively keeping the customer informed and up-to-date throughout the journey
  • Soliciting near-time customer feedback with very targetted metrics (although not while the customer is spitting distance from the staff)

While I wasn’t asked during their survey whether or not I’d recommend TSA Pre based upon this experience, if you’re wondering the answer is a resounding “Yes”!


About the Author

Sean Clayton

Sean Clayton

As senior vice president and strategic account manager, Clayton works with Walker’s clients to help them increase customer retention, accelerate growth, and improve profitability. Clayton brings more than twenty years of experience in the customer satisfaction and loyalty industry. Most recently he was responsible for the management of Ipsos Loyalty’s CX initiatives with West Coast-based technology sector clients, serving as senior advisor during the design, insights generation and deployment phases of their global programs.

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