Consumers wowed by Web sites

The American Customer Satisfaction Index

A handful of federal agency Web sites, specifically those dealing with health and job recruiting, are among the top performers in customer satisfaction, even rivaling the leading commercial sites, according to a survey released last week.

Health information sites, such as the Department of Health and Human Services' MedlinePlus, and job sites, such as those of the State Department and the CIA, scored high marks and showed improvements in customer service, the

E-Government Satisfaction Index, part of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), shows.

The voluntary quarterly survey measured 44 agency Web sites — nine more sites than the last review. The increase in surveyed sites reflects agencies' growing interest in using performance metrics to determine how to improve online customer service. The ACSI report is produced by the University of Michigan in partnership with the American Society for Quality, CFI Group and ForeSee Results.

"Most of the agencies really do get it in terms of 'we need to listen to the citizen,'" said Larry Freed, president and chief executive officer of ForeSee Results.

HHS' MedlinePlus site earned an 86 on the 100-point scale, the highest score of any e-government site measured and only two points below Amazon.com Inc.'s site, according to the report. A Spanish-

language version of MedlinePlus and the National Women's Health Information Center's site (www.4woman.gov) also received high marks.

Health information sites face a particular challenge due to the large volume of specific information in the field, Freed said. However, many health officials have been focused on presenting that information in a citizen-friendly format for many years, he said. At HHS, officials held studies, focus groups and usability tests before launching MedlinePlus six years ago.

"We have been working very hard at it for many, many years," said Eve-Marie Lacroix, chief of the Public Services Division at HHS' National Library of Medicine within the National Institutes of Health. "We've really tried to listen to the

customers."

Job sites have become increasingly important as many government personnel reach retirement age and the pressure to hire a quality, skilled workforce increases, Freed said. The CIA's recruitment site scored an 80, and the State Department's job site scored a 79. Both performed well compared to private-sector job sites. The main government job site, USAJobs, scored a 73, which leaves room for improvement but shows progress since its relaunch last fall, according to the report.

State Department officials redesigned their site about a year ago based on data gathered over nine months from the ACSI survey, said Diane Castiglione, State's director of recruitment. Focusing on site navigation, officials set out to ensure that the site was user-friendly, and the score — up two points since the site was first measured in August 2002 — reflects its progress.

"The site is a vital component to everything we do because all the other advertising we do is geared to directing people to the Web site," Castiglione said.

Lower scores may mean agency officials have a lot of work to do, but the first step is measuring the sites' performance, Freed said. "You can't fix what you don't know is broken," he said.

Beyond a full report of site performance and overall customer satisfaction, the survey has a built-in cause-and-effect function that shows which drivers can be changed to have the greatest impact, Freed said, adding that this indicates where officials should focus their attention.

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Ranking satisfaction

The latest quarterly report from the E-Government Satisfaction

Index, part of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), measured the performance and satisfaction of 44 federal agencies' Web sites. Each was scored on a 100-point scale in four categories, and the ACSI average is 75. The scores show many sites, particularly health and recruiting ones, rival those in the commercial sector. Below are the highest and lowest scores in each area.

Information/news: 23 sites surveyed

Health and Human Services' MedlinePlus (medlineplus.gov) 86

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's MapFinder (www.oceanservice.noaa.gov/mapfinder) 47

Recruitment/careers: 4 sites surveyed

CIA (www.cia.gov/employment) 80

AmeriCorps (www.americorps.org) 70

E-government agency or department: 15 sites surveyed

NASA (www.nasa.gov) 78

Transportation (www.dot.gov) 55

E-commerce: 2 sites surveyed

U.S. Mint's online catalog (catalog.usmint.gov) 79

General Services Administration (www.gsaadvantage.gov) 67

Source: American Customer Satisfaction Index E-Government Satisfaction Index

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