On How the US Passport Office’s Failures Will Help Your Business

I’m in the process (a process now more than six weeks old) of getting my daughter a passport so I can take her on vacation. I won’t bore you with everything that the US Passport Office has managed to screw up, but here are the highlights:

I went to the US Post Office about six weeks ago, with my two year old daughter. One hour wait to be seen. To her credit, she was good, didn’t cry (much). We get to the woman who will take our request. She verifies everything, noting that we have the proper forms, the notarized form from her mother stating that she allows her daughter’s father (me) to get her passport for her. The woman was very thorough. I asked for expedited processing, since, even though we were traveling in six weeks, it makes sense to pay the extra fees so we would have it in three weeks and avoid any potential hassles.

Less than one week to our vacation, I send an email to the passport office, essentially saying “hi, I paid for expedited service, I’m waiting on my daughter’s passport, we’re traveling in a week, you have all her documents, what’s going on?”

Yesterday, I get a call. “Hi, this is the passport office. You never put your daughter’s age on the letter of consent her mother signed, so your passport hasn’t been processed.” This, I later found out, had nothing to do with my email to them, they just happened to get to me.

Selfie from the Passport Office at 376 Hudson St.

I canceled my entire day, went down to the passport office, and waited, I’m not kidding when I said this, for five and a half hours. Mind you, I was with my daughter at the time, who, while good, is still two. Three hours in, she was moody. Five hours in, she was teaching herself to read the Anarchist’s Cookbook, and I didn’t blame her in the slightest. Finally, we’re called to the window, where a lovely woman asks me to show her my crying, snot-filled, pissed off daughter. My daughter’s mother has come down from her job as well (not working for herself like I do, it was very difficult for her to take time off, and she wasn’t happy about it,) and verified that yes, we are the parents of our daughter, and are both requesting a passport.

“OK,” says the woman. Everything is in ord… uh oh.” Do you have a copy of her birth certificate?” “No,” I said. “Why would we, since IT’S PART OF THE PACKAGE OF FORMS WE SUBMITTED OVER A MONTH AGO.”

“Well, New Hampshire” (where our forms were apparently were sent,) “hasn’t scanned them in yet, so why don’t you just have a seat, and they should be hear by 4pm. Or by tomorrow.” She honestly said it just like that, as in “well, if they’re not here by 4pm, just stay seated and spend the night.”

I was incredulous. At 3:45pm yesterday, the forms miraculously appeared, and I was able to sign a document saying my passport would be ready today. Three weeks after it was supposed to be. I get a receipt that says “come after 3pm to pick up your passport.” But the woman tells me I can get it anytime tomorrow, not to worry about the writing on the receipt.

You know what happened today I go downtown at noon to pick it up again, and shock, it won’t be ready until tomorrow. Which will be less than 14 hours before we’re supposed to travel. And yes, I’m scared to death that they’e going to screw something else up as well, and I’ll have to cancel my daughter’s vacation because she won’t have a passport. Based on a process I started A MONTH AND A HALF AGO.

And the best part? I got an email back from the passport office today, informing me that my initial enquiry couldn’t be answered, because they didn’t have enough information.

Six weeks in, I still don’t have a passport for my daughter, and her trip starts in less than 36 hours.

Well done, Government.

So what does this have to do with your business? Well, think of it this way… I had such an incredibly bad experience trying to get my daughter’s passport (WHICH STILL ISN’T RESOLVED AND I DON’T KNOW IF WE’LL BE ABLE TO TRAVEL ON THURSDAY,) that what it would take to provide even worse customer service is inconceivable. In other words, as long as I walk into your store or utilize your business AND YOU DON’T LITERALLY STAB ME, I’ll probably have a better experience with you than I had with the US Government.

Think about it: Every day, we’re being conditioned to accept bad experiences as the norm. We’re TRAINED to show up two hours early because they’ll be late. We’re TRAINED to use expedited service because we don’t trust our request going through, and we’re TRAINED to know that nothing will go right the first time.

Imagine a transaction where it did go right the first time? Where I got what I asked for in the time I was told I’d get it? Could you imagine how over the moon I’d be, simply because you did something as expected?

Let’s turn it around a second — I fly over 250,000 miles per year giving speeches all around the world on marketing and customer service, and I can fly from NYC to Tokyo to Jakarta back to EWR in 34 hours and give two speeches in the process. But when it comes to traveling with a two-year-old? I have no idea how to do it. So I called Liberty Travel to see if they could help me. You know what happened? A man named Joshua Henruqiez sat down, asked me tons of questions about what I liked, and more importantly, what my daughter liked. You know what happened then? A week later, I had a full itinerary for a vacation that would send any two year old over the moon with happiness. Just done. All perfect. Flights. Hotel room. Care for my daughter in a “kid resort.” Everything. Done. Without having to ask one single question, or call in fear.

Will I be able to use it? I have no idea — Because now my entire life is dependent on the US Passport Office deciding that I’m worthy of their time. Despite paying for faster service. Despite calling to follow up. Despite going to their office THREE TIMES AND COUNTING. Despite keeping my daughter there for five hours. Despite it all.

If you look at it on a scale, Liberty Travel is a 100%, while the US Passport Office is down there at “Invade Russia in Winter.”

So forget steaks at the airport. Forget balloons on a birthday. How about just doing what’s asked of you, in the time and way you’ve told your customer you’d do it? I guarantee you, do that, and you’ll not only double sales in a year, but your PR will be off the charts.


I’m a Customer Service and Experience keynote speaker and consultant, as well as an angel investor and 3x startup entrepreneur. I run a series of small business masterminds, where I personally teach companies how to be better. I’ve written two best sellers on Customer Service, and really do have an awesome two-year-old daughter, who I hope to be able to take on vacation on Thursday. This article was originally published on shankman.com.