Can a federal government agency be good at customer service? The Transportation Security Administration - better known by its acronym, TSA - is setting out to change perceptions and make traveling easier by answering all sorts of questions on social media.
The agency, which screens 2.2 million passengers and their luggage daily, while also protecting train stations and ports, launched the AskTSA Twitter handle last September with little fanfare.
"The audience was there," says Jennifer Plozai, Director of External Communications. "We didn't promote it...Right when we launched, we had passengers sending us good questions on Day 1, and it's just grown from there."
The most common questions include permitted and prohibited items, what types of ID are accepted, the popular TSA Pre✓® program, and people traveling with disabilities or medical conditions. TSA's goal, says Plozai, is to "provide guidance, clarify our policies, answer questions, [and] resolve issues."
"This was a win-win for TSA to be able to launch a customer care account and help passengers be less frustrated with the process and have an better overall travel experience," Plozai says.
Since the TSA is one of the first government agencies to establish a customer service handle on social media - the United States Postal Service was another - Plozai had to learn from other sources, most notably airlines and airports. She and her team spent just four months from internal approval to launch, creating an answer database and establishing a social media policy.
"There wasn't one that we could find already existing in government," Plozai says of the policy. "We needed a very well-defined policy for managing this program." She has since shared the policy and best practices with other government agencies.
TSA's staffing model for social customer service is unique - and corporations should take note. The team uses a rotating group of TSA employees on "detail assignments" - that is, this isn't their permanent job. The result is a unique mix of "very diverse backgrounds", including airport officers, trainers, federal air marshals, and global strategists. "They all bring different expertise to our team and are able to help customers in a better way," says Plozai. Each employee completes a four-week training program which focuses on social media, customer service, and combining the two.
Plozai says the agency also uses social media to "have the pulse of the traveling public" and "to identify trends in operational issues by hearing the concerns of the public and being able to address those." Results so far, she says, have exceeded expectations.
"Interacting with the passengers in real time, whether it's before, during, or after their travel experience, the appreciation that we're there to listen... we're just really pleased with the program and how it's gone so far," she says.
Key moments in the episode are below:
1:03 A brief overview of the TSA and Jennifer's background
2:17 The recent launch of the Ask TSA program
4:35 How TSA was able to obtain leadership buy-in to start their social customer service program
7:26 Jennifer describes the process of setting up a pilot program
9:43 The types of questions that TSA sees in social media
14:16 The TSA's expansion into Facebook Messenger
15:25 How recent negative press affected the questions TSA received on social media
19:55 Jennifer shares a memorable customer interaction
21:14 What Jennifer wishes she had known when she started Ask TSA
22:42 What the future looks like for TSA in social media
Additional episodes of the Focus on Customer Service Podcast can be found on iTunes, Stitcher, and Soundcloud. If you have experienced great customer service from a brand on social media, please let us know in the comments below or tweet me at @dgingiss.