Agencies test customer satisfaction

Two agencies are testing a software tool that gauges users' satisfaction with their Web sites

In introducing its broad e-government agenda last fall, the Bush administration said it wants to use technology to better connect with citizens. Now two federal agencies are testing a software tool that gauges how strong that connection really is.

NASA and the General Services Administration are conducting pilot studies on Web sites they operate by adding a customer satisfaction survey based on the American Customer Satisfaction Index (www.theacsi.org).

The ASCI index — developed by a partnership of the University of Michigan Business School, the American Society for Quality, and CFI Group, an international consulting firm — measures the degree to which visitors to Web sites perceive them to be useful and effective.

Although the methodology behind the ACSI has been around since the 1980s, ForeSee Results — the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based company providing the software to NASA and GSA's FirstGov portal — only began marketing the product in January, according to Larry Freed, the company's president and chief executive officer.

First published in 1994, the ACSI focused primarily on the private sector until 1999, when it was expanded to include 30 "high impact" federal agencies. "We're really just applying a technology that the government has already embraced and taking it from a more general use down to a more tactical approach to Web sites," Freed said.

The surveys operate either via pop-up windows that open at random for a certain percentage of Web site visitors, or via links that any visitor can choose to click. NASA, which uses the pop-up method, asks survey respondents to identify themselves as members of broad social categories, while the FirstGov "Customer Satisfaction Survey" doesn't ask for such identification.

The "NASA Home Page Survey" offers respondents a list of possible additions to the Web site and asks them to choose which one they like best. So far the NASA Web audience, which consists primarily of students, teachers and the general public, has voted by a 3-1 margin for Webcasts of NASA-TV, the agency's broadcasts of such events as space launches and life aboard the International Space Station, said Brian Dunbar, the Internet services manager in NASA's public affairs office.

"What we're doing in this pilot is following up on the president's charge to provide people with the information they want when they want it, instead of just providing the information we think should go on a Web page," Dunbar said.

A notice requesting comment on the use of the surveys, required under Office of Management and Budget regulations, was posted in the Federal Register last month.

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