E-Gov Gets an E for Effort
It may be that the revolution will not be televised, but the Establishment will have moved online, according to findings released today in the University of Michigan's e-Government American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). For the first time in the study's history since being selected as the federal government standard in 1999, U.S. government Web sites scored higher in citizen satisfaction than the federal government overall; e-government's score increased 2.5 percent over last year, to 73.9, while the government at large scored 71.3, a decrease of 1.1 percent since this time last year. The rankings are based on a 100-point scale, calculated through surveys of site users, including their likelihood of using a site again or recommend it to other users.
This quarter's e-government scores climbed 0.6 percent over last quarter. Report author Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee Results, states that this small increase is significant because of its timing. "It is also noteworthy that satisfaction rose during a quarter when many government Web sites were affected by external circumstances," Freed writes in his analysis. "The hurricanes that occurred during the measurement period could have negatively affected many federal government Web sites, which saw an influx of new visitors looking for information in a time of crisis." This underscores government Web sites' commitment to meeting the needs of visitors.
"Further evidence of the evolution of the Web in support of effective government is the number of sites this quarter with citizen satisfaction scores of 80 or higher," Freed says. "Sixteen of the 89 measured sites (18 percent) have scores of at least 80, putting these sites at the forefront of citizen-centricity." This is an increase from last year's level of 13 percent, when 54 sites were rated. By comparison, 27 percent of private sector service industry Web sites (6 of 22) achieved that score, so it appears that government sites are closing in on the commercial world's ability to serve the public. However, the study shows that some e-government sites are still struggling, with 21 percent scoring below 70.
Freed notes that the trend for government as a whole has been relatively flat for the past two years, while the online component has increased steadily. This mirrors the private sector, where traditional channels are saturated and the Web is still a new means of communication, and Freed notes it is easier to add capacity for 1,000 Web inquiries than 1,000 calls to the contact center. "There are four levels of maturity for the evolution of service Web sites," Freed says. "The most basic is presence, where you first actually make the site available. Then comes trial and error, where you are still figuring out what to do." The third and fourth phases, Freed continues, are getting the voice of the customer, and taking action based on their input. "An important early step in that evolutionary process is to capture the voice of the citizen, and we're seeing that more and more, as evidenced by increased participation in the index," Freed writes. "But the key to improving citizen satisfaction is taking action on that data, and the climbing index reflects those results."
Despite the importance of acting on user feedback, the index remains e-government's main source of citizen input, Freed says. "Most e-government sites do not have a way for users to provide information, like a 'contact us' link. To have that you need a means to process all of the contacts. There's always the congressman path, where you tell your local representative what you want," he adds, but unbiased reporting, such as the ACSI, is crucial to the evolution of e-government.
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