IRS Site Pays Users With Satisfaction
Tax season is synonymous with sweaty palms and headaches for many consumers. But according to the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) on e-government satisfaction, satisfaction with the IRS Web site is actually on the upswing, increasing five points from Q4 2005's score to a tally of 73 out of 100 in Q1 2006. The Index is produced by the University in conjunction with the American Society for Quality (ASQ), the CFI Group, and ForeSee Results. Scores are determined using a formula based on elements including site users' likelihood of using a site again or recommending it to other users.
Changes to the tax-collection agency's site focused mostly on search and navigation enhancements. For example, the IRS added a "Most Requested Forms and Publications" section and included a pull-down menu to help users quickly navigate to information, according to Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee Results. "The five-point increase in citizen satisfaction is especially significant considering that the final months leading up to the mid-April tax filing deadline brings a large influx of visitors, many of whom are coming to the site for the first time," Freed writes in his commentary.
Interestingly, the IRS's most recent Web site satisfaction score of 73 is 14 percent higher than the organization's overall satisfaction score of 64. What's more, the site also outpaced the ACSI satisfaction scores of the cellular phone industry (69), the cable and satellite TV industry (61), and the airline industry (66), according to Freed.
The Index, which analyzes 91 e-government sites, divides these sites into four groups: portals/department main sites, news/information, e-commerce/transactions, and recruitment/careers. Portals/department main sites is up 0.4 percent from Q4 2005's 74.2 to 74.5, with the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute main site topping the subdivision with a mark of 82. News/information sites fell 0.8 percent from Q4 2005's 73.3 to 72.7, while the sites of Medline Plus and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute's Diseases and Conditions Index share the lead with scores of 85. E-commerce/transactions slipped 1.6 percent from Q4 2005's 75.3 to 74.1, led by the sites of Help with Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Costs and the Internet Social Security Benefits Application, with totals of 86. Recruitment/careers rose 1.2 percent from 76 in Q4 2005 to 77, with the CIA's recruitment site and the Department of Labor Job Listings site both receiving a 79.
Satisfaction with e-government as a whole, however, experienced a modest slip for the first time since Q1 2005, dropping 0.5 percent from 73.9 in Q4 2005 to 73.5. Even so, the sector's aggregate satisfaction score is 2.2 percent higher from one year ago and equals that of the ACSI's national aggregate score. This increase may not seem that large in light of media focus on government Web sites, according to Freed. "However, the fact that the federal government managed to not only maintain, but improve citizen satisfaction during 2005 is impressive when you consider the hurricanes, war and other challenges faced by the government last year," he writes.
Lee Pavach, director of marketing for ForeSee Results, says customer satisfaction is one of the key things for government agencies, since in many cases they're not trying to sell things online or they don't have some of the same metrics that the private sector does. "It's a great way of measuring how well they're doing to meet citizen needs and expectations that can help advance other goals like providing information more cost effectively," she says. "But none of that happens unless they do a good job of making citizens feel comfortable with using the online channel."
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