E-gov bookmarks

The American Customer Satisfaction Index

The Bush administration's push for citizen-centered e-government may be paying off as more users find and return to government Web sites for information.

Government Web site users are increasingly more likely to return to the sites and recommend them to other users, indicating an increased loyalty, according to a survey released last week. This loyalty is expected to continue as government officials focus on measuring and improving customer satisfaction online.

"We're really talking about channel loyalty," or citizens choosing to access government information via the Internet rather than through a call center or mail, said Larry Freed, president and chief executive officer of ForeSee Results Inc., a partner in the American Customer Satisfaction Index E-Government Index. "In some cases, there's not true competition, but there is always channel competition, and [agency officials] want to be able to meet needs and meet

expectations."

The quarterly index is produced by the University of Michigan in partnership with the American Society for Quality, the CFI Group and ForeSee Results. The fourth installment, released last week, measured 53 federal sites.

E-government sites scored 81 on a 100-point scale in the area of users' likeliness to return, and a 76 in likeliness to recommend — demonstrating high loyalty, according to the report. Scores have risen since these loyalty factors were first measured in the third quarter of 2003, indicating that government officials are building strong online relationships with citizens, Freed said in the report.

"Over time, we expect to see continually rising expectations of citizens using government sites," Freed said. "The ability to get information and services from the government via the Web is still expanding and enhancing, so citizens are expecting more of it. Satisfaction is going to be a struggle going forward."

The number of sites represented in the index jumped 20 percent as more agencies have started to adopt the tool for measuring and improving the sites' customer satisfaction, officials said. Four sites showed significant increase in customer satisfaction compared to the September 2003 measurement, including the State Department's student Web site. State officials used the index during the site's redesign.

"We knew that overall from the survey that the site wasn't meeting satisfaction across the board," said Colleen Hope, State's director of the Office of Electronic Information and Publications.

Improving customer satisfaction is an ongoing process, she said. The recent report showed deficiencies in the site's search engine, and therefore officials are planning to implement a new one in the coming year. Based on usability testing and user feedback, the index shows a comprehensive view of customer satisfaction, and the likelihood to recommend is an important factor for reaching the intended audience, Hope said.

"If someone recommends your site to another person, that's a very good effort in our public affairs outreach," Hope said.

Since the first e-government index, 67 percent of the sites measured showed an improvement in customer satisfaction, the survey states. This change can be attributed to using the index as a measurement and management tool. Agencies that use the index can get specific feedback on users' needs and focus their resources to improve the sites, said Anne Kelly, CEO and director of the Federal Consulting Group, a franchise of the Treasury Department in charge of purchasing the survey for agencies.

"Agencies are really focusing on making the Internet better in response to more traffic, more visitors," Kelly said.

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