When it comes to satisfying customers--that is, citizens--e-government Web sites fare better than the overall federal government does, but they still trail the private sector.
Posted Jun 20, 2007
Many citizens may not have the fondest memories of interacting with the federal government to complete important tasks like filing taxes or tracking down pension information. But federal agencies are making incremental strides enhancing their online presence, according to a report from the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) E-Government Satisfaction Index. The report, which evaluates 83 sites, is produced by the university in partnership with the American Society for Quality, ForeSee Results, and the CFI Group.
E-government's ACSI (a 100-point scale measuring satisfaction with the quality of goods and services) was back on the upswing in Q2 of this year--albeit slightly--to 73.7, an increase of four-tenths of a point over the first quarter's 73.4. This uptick comes after citizen satisfaction with federal Web sites suffered a 0.7 percent dip from Q4 2006 to Q1 2007, the first decline in two years. Despite such lean improvement, e-government's Q2 2007 mark is still higher than the overall federal government's 2006 score of 72.3. (The full government report, which includes both online and offline satisfaction, is only conducted on an annual, rather than quarterly, basis.)
E-government's higher showing isn't particularly startling; after all, many people would prefer to turn to the Web to sidestep lengthy phone queues and packed bricks-and-mortar locations. Still, satisfaction with federal Web sites continues to lag behind their comparable private sector counterparts: the ASCI score for what the report calls "private sector e-business" (which includes news and information, portals, and search engines) was 76.5. (Meanwhile, "private sector e-commerce," covering e-retail and online travel, auctions, and brokerage, pulled in a score of 80.) "Citizens' expectations of the government sites they visit are going to be set by experiences at other private- and public-sector sites," says Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee.
The report segments e-government into four buckets: e-commerce/transactions, portals/department main sites, news/information, and recruitment/careers. Citizens turning to federal Web sites appear to be most pleased with e-government sites that allow them to carry out more tasks and transactions online; the customer satisfaction score for sites providing transactional or e-commerce capabilities grew 3.5 percent quarter-over-quarter from 74.2 to 76.8, according to the report. That put the category in the top spot, supplanting recruitment/careers (which declined from 77.2 to 76.5 quarter-over-quarter). Over the same period, satisfaction with news/information sites rose from 72.8 to 73.2, while portals/department main sites slipped into last place, declining from a score of 74.1 to 72.6.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has three of the top e-commerce and transactional sites in terms of satisfaction--Internet Social Security Benefits Application site (88), Help with Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Costs site (87), and Social Security Business Services Online (83). The SSA is "really stepping up to the plate, and what's interesting here is there is a message that the elder population is really stepping up and using the Web more and more," Freed says. "Even if you need to have your grandson help, it's a lot easier than doing it over the phone."
The CIA's recruitment Web site topped the recruitment/careers category (80), while the National Institutes of Health led the way in the news/information category with two sites, MedlinePlus (87) and MedlinePlus en espanol (85). Meanwhile, NASA's main Web site fared the strongest within the portals/department main sites category (77).
What the e-government sites need to prioritize, Freed says, is an improved approach to search and navigation. The sites, he adds, need to "understand why citizens are coming to your site, what they want to accomplish, and what challenges they're having."
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