It’s a great time to be offering passport services. In the next couple of years, the U.S. Department of State anticipates a rise in new and renewal applications because of expiring passports, heightened security rules, and an improving economy.
This is good news for the U.S. Postal Service, which accepts and executes applications on behalf of the State Department, charging $25 for the service. The Postal Service’s Passport Acceptance Facilities (PAFs) examined, certified, and shipped over 5.4 million new passport applications in fiscal year (FY) 2015. Customers also sent millions of renewal passport applications through the mail.
However, our white paper, Passport to Excellence, has found the Postal Service needs to revamp its passport services or it could miss this growth opportunity. Although the Postal Service earned $135.8 million in revenue from passport applications in FY 2015, passport applications and revenues have been trending downward over the past decade. Fewer applications also mean less revenue from ancillary services the Postal Service provides, including passport photo services, sale of money orders for paying the State Department passport processing fees, and Priority Mail envelopes to send renewals to the State Department. In 2015, that ancillary revenue totaled more than $80 million.
Using four types of analysis, including customer sentiment and transactional data analysis, we identified three primary reasons for the Postal Service’s declining passport application numbers:
- The passport application process is confusing to customers
- Customers didn’t know which post offices required appointments, contributing to long wait times.
- They didn’t understand the instructions for applying, often forcing a return.
- usps.com has inaccurate PAF hours and appointment information
- 55 percent of PAFs had the wrong hours listed for passport services; 22 percent of PAFs never answered our calls asking about hours.
- The customer experience is inconsistent at different PAFs
- Some PAFs are very successful, while others are not. Local efforts seem to drive passport services success – headquarters doesn’t collect best practices or share information on what makes PAFs successful.
Our paper makes a series of recommendations for improving the passport application process and reinvigorating the service. We suggest, for example, that the Postal Service provide passport application instructions on usps.com, hang signs in PAFs detailing the process, and create a script for clerks handling phone calls about passport applications and services.
We are interested in your experiences. What other ways could the Postal Service improve passport services? What changes could it make to maximize passport revenues?