Is mobility the way out of customer satisfaction stagnation?

People already interact with friends and family, companies and brands of all sorts via technological avenues — especially mobile. So it's understandable that they would expect the same level of flexibility with federal agencies online. Yet according to new research, two-thirds of federal websites have no functional mobile version or applications.

“The federal government needs to connect with its users on multiple platforms or risk alienating them,” said Claes Fornell, founder of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), which analyzes consumers’ views on various products, including government services.

The index, which draws on online surveys administered by the customer experience analytics company ForeSee, found that just 32 percent of the more than 200 federal sites and services studied had launched mobile initiatives. Fifty-three percent were currently in discussions about or were already developing a mobile-optimized site, a mobile app or both. But 15 percent had yet to take even initial steps.

All of them had better get moving because the nation is going mobile fast. By 2015, more Americans will access the Internet via mobile devices than via desktop PCs. As of March 2012, 46 percent of American adults owned smart phones, up from 35 percent in May 2011, and last year, global smart phone shipments exceeded personal computer shipments for the first time.

Obama administration officials recognize what’s happening and are trying to accelerate the government’s shift. In May, the Obama administration released a digital government strategy, titled "Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People.” Among other things, it requires agencies to convert two priority customer services to a mobile platform in the next year.

“Today’s amazing mix of cloud computing, ever-smarter mobile devices and collaboration tools is changing the consumer landscape and bleeding into government as both an opportunity and a challenge,” the strategy document states.

In addition to the mobile push, officials want to know whether e-government efforts are working. On that front, the news is generally good. Agencies are still getting solid ratings from the public, according to the latest ACSI E-Government Satisfaction Index, another ForeSee project that gathers input from nearly 300,000 surveys on a quarterly basis. Public satisfaction with e-government is significantly higher than it is with the government overall and nearly on par with private-sector satisfaction scores. In the most recent survey, e-government satisfaction ranked just 0.3 points below the national ACSI score, which is the average of all private companies measured by ACSI.

More than a third of federal websites in the most recent E-Government Satisfaction Index scored 80 or higher on a 100-point scale, the threshold for superior performance. Three websites from the Social Security Administration top the list: iClaim with a score of 92 and the Retirement Estimator and Extra Help with Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Costs sites, each with a score of 90. Those three websites rated higher than top-performing e-commerce sites in the private sector.

However, most e-government satisfaction ratings have remained flat for 11 of the past 12 quarters, not varying by more than half a point in that time. But approval rates will climb if agencies make themselves accessible on multiple platforms, said Dave Lewan, vice president of public-sector business at ForeSee. “The digital government initiative just may be the boost the public sector needs.”

It should be easy to test that theory because more measurement is on the way. Although most agencies do not currently have enterprisewide processes for testing online usability and effectiveness, the digital government strategy calls for the use of analytics and customer satisfaction measurement tools on all .gov websites by this fall.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Shutterstock image: looking for code.

    How DOD embraced bug bounties -- and how your agency can, too

    Hack the Pentagon proved to Defense Department officials that outside hackers can be assets, not adversaries.

  • Shutterstock image: cyber defense.

    Why PPD-41 is evolutionary, not revolutionary

    Government cybersecurity officials say the presidential policy directive codifies cyber incident response protocols but doesn't radically change what's been in practice in recent years.

  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group