E-gov survey shows mixed results

The American Customer Satisfaction Index

The latest quarterly American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI) results produced a double-edged sword for federal Web sites.

Users gave federal sites a satisfaction score of 71.2 on a scale of 0 to 100 — an increase of 5.4 percent over a year ago, according to ACSI numbers released today by the University of Maryland, the American Society for Quality and CFI Group USA LLC. The poll has a 2 percent approximate margin of error.

But despite the overall increase in user satisfaction, a plurality of Web sites decreased in satisfaction since the last quarter — 41 percent showed negative change, while 33 percent increased in rank and 17 percent remained steady. The Government Accountability Office's revamped home page earned a score of 71, a 6 percent gain, one of the largest increases this quarter. But FirstGov and its Spanish-language version, FirstGov En Español, both dropped in satisfaction scores — approximately 3 percent and 4 percent to 70 and 74 points, respectively. And therein lies a paradox the government must overcome, Freed said.

The poll, taken voluntarily by Web site visitors who responded to a pop-up window requesting their opinion, measured responses on 54 government Web sites divided into four categories: portals, information and news, e-commerce and transactions, and career and recruitment. The last category earned a 77 percent satisfaction score, the highest rating. E-commerce and transactions scored the lowest, with 69.2 percent of users satisfied. Sampled sites ranged from FirstGov.gov to the State Department's Belgian Embassy French-language Web page.

The overall satisfaction rate for private-sector Web sites is 74.4 percent, according to ACSI.

Variables measured to determine overall satisfaction included opinions of Web site functionality, navigation, search engine performance, privacy and security, said Larry Freed, chief executive officer of ForeSee Results Inc., which sponsored portions of the ACSI poll.

As Web surfers grow accustomed to a base level of convenience and ease, they demand more capability from the sites they visit. "The biggest concern is that expectations are rising and that the government is changing to keep up with those rising expectations," he said. Although government sites are basically on par with average industry sites, citizens measure their experiences against usage of cutting-edge private-sector sites such as Amazon.com Inc., which scores an 88 percent satisfaction score.

Government Web pages that returned fewer satisfied users did not makes changes over time, Freed said. "If you don't improve it over time, citizens will start to downgrade you," he said. "Citizen expectations of the online experience don't stand still."

Web site search engines and navigation are the two areas that offer the biggest opportunities for improvement, Freed said. "These sites have an immense amount of information behind them," he said.

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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