A Dysfunctional Passport Service – Part 3 – The Final Chapter

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In two earlier blog posts I outlined the poor customer service I had experienced from the UK passport service. I outlined how my application had been suspended following a lack of response to emails I’d not received, how I’d received misleading information and how staff were unable to resolve issues or to provide reliable information. These all continue to manifest in the final part of this saga.

At the end of my last blog I’d been told that my passport would be posted to me soon. I received a text informing me that I should receive my new passport within a few days. On the 8th of July I received an envelope through the post from HMPO, but that just contained my old passport. At that point I was not too concerned as I wasn’t going away for another week, so I decided to give it another couple of days.

A couple of days passed still no passport, so I called the passport office again. I was told that it had been sent out. When I started asking more detailed questions such as when it was sent out or who it was sent through, they were quite vague. One person I spoke to told me that my passport had been sent by Royal Mail, secure delivery. I phoned Royal Mail who informed me that

  • There is no such thing as Royal Mail Secure Delivery
  • The signed options are special delivery or Royal Mail Signed for
  • To find out if and when they had posted my passport they would need to know, when my passport was posted, the type of postage used and the tracking number.
Royal Mail Tracking

I tried contacting the UK passport office several times by phone and email to try to get the information that Royal Mail asked for. Rather confusingly some passport office staff told me that passports were usually returned by TNT. None could provide a tracking number. Another frustration was that when I emailed with specific questions, instead of responding to the questions asked I received a standard response. For example, I asked for conformation to the following questions

1 – if my passport has been printed

2 If my passport has been sent out 

3 if I should have received it 

4 when I should expect to receive my passport 

5 If I will receive my passport before Friday 

On the 11th of July I received a response informing me that my passport had been printed on the 5th of July (which admittedly answered my first question – although I already knew the answer to that one, I was really just asking for confirmation. None of my other questions were answered. Rather confusingly the email also stated, “your passport will be collected by the courier within 24-48 hours of printing”. This was unhelpful as I received the email almost a week after the date, I was told that my passport had been printed. It would have been more helpful if they had told me when my passport had actually been sent rather than just telling me what usually happens.

Time was now once again getting short. I’d heard that some people had found contacting their local MP helpful, so I decided to contact my local MP’s office. They were very helpful. After sending an email they asked for further details which I promptly sent. By the end of the day my MP’s office had called me back confirming that they had been told that my passport had been posted to me and it should be with me the next day.

The next day arrived, still no passport so I called again. It was now the day before my flight. I again asked for a tracking number so that I could check with the postage company. Eventually I was given a tracking number, that indicated that my passport had been sent to me on the 8th of July. For a while I was concerned that my passport might have been stolen from my letterbox. Accepting that this meant that I had missed my flight I asked if they could get a new passport reissued. They then decided to do one final check and contacted me at 4pm informing me that they had found my passport and it was at the passport office in Liverpool. The passport office shut at 5pm and didn’t reopen until 8.30 am the next day, too late to get the flight I had booked for the next day. This time however I decided that I would travel to Liverpool and back to get my passport rather than asking the passport once again to post my passport back to me.

Just to highlight the implications of what I outline over the last couple of paragraphs, not only did the passport office provide false information to me (they told me on multiple occasions that my passport had been posted to me when it had in fact not been sent at all). They also provided false information to my MP (or at least people in my MP’s office). As you might imagine my MP’s office are not happy about this and have asked for more detailed information including financial loss, which I will happily provide them.

So, the nightmare that has been my experience of getting my passport renewed is now almost over. I now have a new passport. It seems that almost everything that could possibly have gone wrong did. At times I have even considered the possibility that someone in the passport service read my first blog post and decided to deliberately make my experience as bad as it could be out of possible out of revenge. Then I reminded myself of the famous saying that if you are unsure if its conspiracy or incompetence its most likely to be incompetence. My experience suggests the service is not joined up enough to deliver conspiracy. At this point I do still have one concern. They still have the original copy of my PhD certificate. How confident should I feel that they will deliver it back to me safely?

Despite the terrible experience I received I do not blame any of the individual people I spoke to. My perception is that most of them were doing their best within a system that does not enable them to deliver a good customer service. I cannot imagine multiple people simply refusing to look for a tracking number if it was on their system. A good system would have made it clear that the apparent non-existence of a tracking number was a likely indication that the passport had not in fact been posted out. A good system might have empowered or even required passport service staff to actually find out what was going wrong. As I indicate in my last blog, doing so would save passport office staff time in the long run as well as improving customer satisfaction.

From my experience it seems that there are issues with the information systems at the passport office, as staff seem unable to access and pass on reliable information. Disconnected information systems and processes are common issues across many large organisations. Improvements to the CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system might help solve this problem. Here I am however speculating a little. My consulting practice and training tells me that to find out what the real problems are, to understand what is creating inefficiency / preventing the delivery of a good service etc, it is necessary to speak with people within a service as well as those experiencing it. I would love the opportunity to interview HMPO (UK passport office) staff to understand their perspectives and frustrations. My guess is that some would mirror my own experience. I know that it is only by engaging with stakeholders from across the system that it is possible to gain a holistic understanding of the real problem or problems and such an understanding is needed in order to make significant improvements.

Feel free to contact me if you work for an organisation experiencing similar challenges or even if you work for one where you aspire to make customer experience even better. I have a toolkit of techniques gained from business, design, and my own creative background that I can use to help clients gain a deeper understanding of problems and find solutions to make systems work better. As illustrated by this case study, really engaging in the problems that impact on customer service in many cases is likely to improve business efficiency as well as improving customer service.

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