As next week's presidential election draws near, states around the nation are already seeing record participation from early voters -- with some polling stations seeing wait times lasting more than five hours. This year's election has captured the attention of more people, both domestically and overseas, in part due to both candidates' increased focus on the online channel. In the latest University of Michigan e-Government American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) quarterly report, released today, ForeSee Results reports that the government sector received a score of 73.9, up from 72.9 last quarter, on a 100-point scale.
Larry Freed, chief executive officer of ForeSee Results and author of the report, admits he was "cautiously optimistic" that e-government would continue to improve after seeing the sector's overall score consistently decline since the second quarter of 2007. Perhaps most impressive about this quarter's results, Freed says, is that 26 of the 98 reviewed sites were recognized as "top performers" (those scoring above 80); only 23 earned that distinction last quarter.
Not all sites fared equally well. Overall, 64 percent of sites improved their scores, but 29 percent declined in performance.
The departments scoring 85 and above include:
- Social Security Administration (SSA): SSA Retirement Estimator......90;
- SSA: Help with Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Costs....................88;
- SSA: Internet Social Security Benefits Application.........................87;
- Health and Human Services: MedlinePlus.....................................86; and
- Department of Defense: America Supports You.............................85.
Those responsible for keeping government Web sites a priority still find themselves swimming against the current. "[They're] working hard and using what's at their disposal, but there's a little grayness in direction," Freed says. Regardless of who wins the election next week, however, Freed remains hopeful that e-government will continue to prosper.
"The benefits [of e-government] are huge," he says, especially compared to offline government, which received an ACSI score of just 67.8. "The government is there to protect and serve us as citizens, and when it comes to e-gov, it's about providing information services. Obviously, in a tough economic environment, e-gov accomplishes many things...better transparency, better cost savings, better efficiency...but it needs executive sponsorship to keep it on the path that it's going."
The top-performing government sites are seeing what Freed calls incredible results. According to survey responses:
- 84 percent of citizens are more likely to use the Web site as a primary resource, rather than going into an office or branch, or calling the contact center;
- 85 percent are more likely to recommend the Web site; and
- 58 percent are more likely to return to the Web site than dissatisfied visitors are.
All of these factors contribute to a significant reduction in cost, Freed says, which is critical when it comes to asking management for funding. "The Internet plays a bigger part of everyone's everyday life -- that's true for politicians and that's absolutely true for citizens," he says, adding that there are very few things you can invest in that improve your cost and your deliverables to the extent that a Web site can.
As e-government strives for support, Freed says that the focus should not be on the Web designer. What's required, he says, is a commitment and dedication of resources to achieving the goal of the site. Most government sites don't have the same metrics to rely on that a transactional Web site might have. Instead, Was the consumer satisfied? becomes the single most important "metric." As these sites gain momentum among citizens, Freed says that upper management will begin to see the light, especially with regard to decisions on resources and budget.
Given the amount of time consumers spend online, their expectations are continually being pushed to new heights. Freed commends the e-government top performers, some of which actually do compete against top retail sites. Still, in comparison to other online verticals, e-government continues to short:
- E-Commerce Q4 2007...............81.6;
- E-Business Q2 2008..................79.3; and
- E-Government Q3 2008.............73.9
"In government, the philosophy traditionally has been, ‘We're going to improve it and then it'll be good for five to 10 years,' " Freed explains. "On the Internet, that doesn't work. Many people understand that, but that's still the biggest challenge."
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