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Customer Satisfaction with E-Gov Declines
Expectations are high for the new administration, and even with the first "President 2.0" in office, government Web sites are slow to change.
Posted Apr 28, 2009
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Just yesterday, Larry Freed, chief executive officer of ForeSee Results, was getting acquainted with some of the new faces in the Obama administration down in Washington. As part of his meeting, Freed and his team shared results of the latest e-government report, which indicated that citizen satisfaction fell from its record high of 74.1 last quarter to 73.6 on the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

Freed attributes this decline to the government's overall failure to meet high citizen expectations. Nevertheless, he's impressed by the technology team assembled. "They're very metric-focused, very savvy with new technology and the Internet," he says. "They know what needs to be done."

As with any new administration, changes won't come as readily as they are promised. "There's a bit of a balancing act that has to happen," Freed says. Completely reinventing the government's current use of technology and the Web space may be a hefty demand, but if anything, he says, it needs to evolve.

Citizen satisfaction in the first quarter of 2009 is higher than it was the same time last year (72.4). The report measured satisfaction with 107 government Web sites and found that, 24 Web sites were "top performers," with a scores of 80 or higher, up from 22 sites last year. However, e-government still falls behind private second e-commerce (80) and e-business Web sites (79.3).

Satisfaction with the four major categories of federal government Web sites performed as follows:

  • e-commerce/transaction sites............78, up from 76 in the Q1 of 2008;
  • portals/department main sites ............74, up from 72;
  • news/information sites....................72, unchanged; and
  • career/recruitment sites...................76, down from 77.

Top five performing sites in the survey include:

  • Social Security Administration: SSA iClaim...............................................90;
  • SSA Retirement Estimator......................................................................90;
  • SSA Help with Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Costs.................................88;
  • HHS National Institutes of Health: MedlinePlus..........................................85;
  • HHS NIH: Medline Plus en español...........................................................85; and
  • HHS NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive & Kidney Diseases......85.

President Barack Obama -- whom Freed calls "The Internet President" -- has been an advocate of using technology to communicate with citizens. (Obama's devotion to his BlackBerry has been well chronicled. Unofficially named "BlackBerry One,"  the Research In Motion BlackBerry 8830 is a special device that boasts secure software allowing Obama to connect only to those who have the same software on their device.) The Obama administration includes many members of his presidential campaign, which many have called the most technologically advanced in history. Moreover, Freed adds, the Obama campaign appealed to the tech-savvy younger generations, bringing in a demographic that had been previously disconnected from government issues.

Despite the strong initiatives to make government more accessible, Freed says there's still a lot that has to be done. New sites like Change.gov and Recovery.gov have gone up and WhiteHouse.gov received a facelift, but Freed notes that 80 percent of what's above the fold on the homepage contains very little information. In fact, he says, it feels more like a marketing ploy rather than a resource.

"The new look [and] new people raises the expectation as you come to these Web sites," Freed says. Unfortunately, the majority of government Web sites haven't changed at all, which not surprisingly, has impacted the satisfaction score. It's not the individual department's fault, either, Freed defends. "They're waiting for direction."

The economic instability, the housing crisis, healthcare concerns like the current Swine Flu, which, as of this morning, has already claimed 64 American lives, according to Reuters, is motivating a new wave of participation and volunteerism, the last of which occurred around the events of September 11. "I think that's what's bringing more people to the Web sites," Freed says. "Just about everybody has either a vested interest or great desire in one of the things [President Obama] is talking about." In the long run, this enthusiasm to get involved is good for the government, but at present, poses a pressure to make the changes that were promised.

Funding, budgeting, resource allocations take time to get through especially in an organization as convoluted as the government. Eventually, as e-government improves, however, more information and more services can be delivered online and in effect, enhance the delivery and lower the cost of those services.

According to the survey, citizens who are satisfied with the government Web site are:

  • 86 percent more likely to use the Web site as a primary resource
  • 86 percent more likely to recommend the Web site
  • 55 percent more likely to return to the Web site

"When you get right down to it, it's still government and it's going to take time," Freed says.

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