How to apply for a simple passport, in 19 easy steps: Part 2

The story so far: You’ve tried to apply for some passports. You’re mid way through the whole convoluted process and have just learned it will probably conclude some time after your foreign holiday was supposed to happen. You just swore (silently) but many times).

Step 12. Luckily, you work in the public sector, so the words “Oh, that’s a bit of an issue for us. How can we expedite the application?” issue forth in place of the aforementioned expletive. Real Person explains you have the option of him finding out whether upgrading to the urgent service may be possible, so would you like him to do this. You would. Real Person takes contact numbers and promises to get the relevant local Passport Office to contact you to confirm next steps, within 48 hours.

Step 13. A differently-regional accented Passport Office serf calls back a mere 18 hours later, to double-check you want to upgrade to the urgent service, should it be available, and confirm there will be a further £121 to pay if you do. Re-confirm this is your chosen course of action. Nice-accent-serf confirms he will pass message on to relevant official, and you will be contacted within the next 48 hours to proceed.

Step 14. Wait 48 hours. No contact. Call 0345 number. Press some buttons. On hold 8 minutes. Speak to another headset monkey. Explain. They cannot put you in contact with regional Passport Office but can email them asking to call us back. A call back will happen within 48 hours.

Step 15. Wait 24 hours. No contact. Call 0345 number. Press some buttons. On hold 3 minutes. Get automated callback message. Leave contact number and name. Fill in email form for good measure. Auto response received.

Step 16. You can no longer sleep, relax or eat like a normal human being. Prospect of losing only potential prospect of affording any kind of holiday looms large. Check travel insurance. Cannot claim for inability to arrange passports in time, drat. Consider breaking a limb instead, so as to claim on insurance for limb-breakage non-travel reasons. Holiday is meant to be happening in six days. Just CANNOT contact Passport Office. Arrange for all work commitments to be put on hold in case of urgent need to travel in person to location of passport applications (210 miles away). Imagine waiting tearfully in reception area until passports created.

Step 17. Passport Office call, oh hallelujah, praise be to Allah, Jesus, Mary and Ganesha! Real Person takes your payment for emergency application and says it will be printed and couriered next day (four days before holiday), to arrive day after, or at latest day after that. Pay £121. Sleep.

Step 18. You’ve so little faith in the whole organisation you invent new worry beads to fidget with whilst you wait again, for the final result to appear. Has Passport Office definitely processed payment OK? Did I say credit card number right? Has bank stopped credit card, owning to recent increase in unusual purchases? What if they are only doing one application and not the other? Ring Passport Office local number (at last – not generic 0345). On hold 11 minutes. Speak to real person. Yes, passports are in queue awaiting courier collection. Expect delivery tomorrow/next day. Check secure courier’s website. Learn that they will need recipient to be at address for delivery and may want to see ID. Arrange day off work to be home for delivery.

Step 19. At home, working and distractedly scanning road for courier van. Midday. Pottering briefly away from lookout point, noisy kettle on. Thud on door mat at front. Is that passports, or is it a “sorry you were out” card? It’s… a small package… it’s the passports! 48 hours before you are due to fly, you have your passports and can finally look forward to An Overseas Holiday.


So, what’s wrong with this from a Systems Thinking perspective?

  1. Incorrect information about the process length on the website. I’m sorry, but “usually takes three weeks” and “do not book travel before you receive your documents” is not good enough, when it’s currently taking a guaranteed four-week minimum, and the more urgent services are not signposted for those seeking quicker options.
    Lesson: if you’re an organisation that’s struggling to keep up with demand, it’s better if you are honest about it with your customers through every possible channel, so they can make different choices (if they exist) or at least have realistic expectations.
  2. Incorrect and ambiguous information about the documents required from the customer.
    Lesson: road-test what you’re instructing your customers to do with a good sample of genuine first time customers in real life scenarios, and learn from their mistakes by making changes to your instructions and/or processes. Don’t commission someone to do the customer-research work for you and then ignore the findings (like HM’s Passport Service’s report here, pg 29)
  3. Direct contact with anyone who could help provide progress information or make changes to the service appears to be totally forbidden. How much does the Passport Service spend to employ headset monkeys who, literally, are no more use than an automated answer phone, and who you can only reach once you’ve been on hold and spent £3 on a pointless phone wait?
    Lesson: put staff who can deal with customers’ needs as close to the customer as possible, to ensure you’re not employing people to eat waste (metaphorically speaking).
  4. Too few people will complain… because once they’ve finally received their little red books they’re SO relieved, and then go on holiday anyway so it is no longer a priority to make your feelings known.
    Lesson (as a customer): don’t forget how annoyed you’d be “next time” if this service was still the norm and you hadn’t complained.

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