e-Gov and Federal Government Satisfaction Scores Are a Crime
In its most recent quarterly analysis of government Web sites, the American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) reports yet another decline in this sector for the third straight quarter, falling half a percentage point to an aggregate score of 72.9 (on a 100-point scale). Though a full point lower than where it was last year, e-Gov is showing more promise than federal government services overall, which received an aggregate score of 67.8. This score ranks the federal government just above newspapers (66), airlines (63), and cable television (62) in terms of customer satisfaction, a result that Claes Fornell, founder of ACSI, believes the government should be concerned about.
According to the report, citizens gave federal government agencies "strong marks on courtesy and professionalism," but citizens were not satisfied with the accessibility, timeliness, or efficiency of government services. In fact, even though the government receives complaints from only 9.1 percent of its "customers" (compared to the 14.3 percent of private-sector customers who complain), the government lags in complaint-resolution. Even industries such as cable television, wireless telephone service, and banks -- which receive anywhere from double to quadruple the number of complaints that the government receives -- were better at handling them. Fornell believes that by addressing this issue, the government could see a significant increase in customer satisfaction: Customers who had their complaints addressed and resolved reported a satisfaction score of 67, compared to a score of 28 given by those whose complaints went ignored, according to the study.
Though not as good as their online counterparts, Fornell does credit some agencies with doing very well in citizens' eyes. The Department of the Interior, which manages most federal land, including the National Parks and Reserves, leads the pack with a score of 79. Next on the list are the Social Security Administration (72) and Veterans Affairs (70), which Fornell attributes to the nature of the business: They both have large populations of benefits recipients, "typically a more gratifying type of government service," he states in the report. In addition, the study also found that citizens who interacted with online channels as a subset of their overall government interaction had a high aggregate satisfaction score of 73.4, which suggests that not only does the government need to beef up its online experience, but it also needs to ensure that all channels are well integrated.
"Governments still don't see the economic value of going on the Web," says Larry Freed, president and chief executive officer of Michigan-based research firm ForeSee Results, which sponsors the e-government indexes. As a result, he says, the government lacks the necessary focus and discipline to continually improve its online channels to satiate consumer demands. A few years ago, he says, the government was all about the Web. Then, around 2005, there was a push back toward the agencies. Freed believes better Web sites will significantly improve citizen satisfaction levels by:
- providing more information and more services to more people;
- making it easier for citizens to get information anytime, anywhere; and
- bringing huge economic value to the government because it reduces the cost of servicing individuals through contact centers, offices, or publications.
Now evaluating 103 government sites (up from 91 last quarter), the ACSI measures citizen satisfaction within four functional categories:
- portals/department main sites;
- information/news sites;
- career/recruitment sites; and
- e-commerce/transactional sites
and three organizational categories:
- agency-level; and
- program sites.
Compared to last quarter, 40 percent of Web sites have higher scores, while 33 percent are rated lower than before. In addition, 18 percent of sites were "top performers," receiving a score of at least 80. More than half of these were sites related to the healthcare sector; in fact, the top scorers in the latest e-Gov Index are two Social Security Administration sites -- the Internet Social Security Benefits Application (88) and Help with Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Costs (87). Freed describes these scores as indicative of the government's success in "becoming a credible source of online health information."
Search/navigation still remains a primary challenge. The amount of information is increasing rapidly, resulting in an ongoing struggle to make that information easier to find. Because the government comprises so many departments and services, more often than not, citizens are clueless as to where one agency ends, and where another begins. Therefore, the government's burden is to sort through that information and make it as digestible as possible. Luckily, e-Gov is taking this into consideration: 47 percent of sites list that as a priority compared to 42 percent last quarter.
"Sites aren't getting worse month-to-month. They're not breaking down," Freed reassures. "But expectations, like in retail, are going up." Having grown accustomed to great results from search-engine powerhouses such as Google, Ask.com, and Yahoo!, citizens expect the same level of experience when they visit the online headquarters for, say, the Department of State.
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