Fed sites satisfy

The American Customer Satisfaction Index

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"E-gov bookmarks"

Public satisfaction with government Web sites continues to improve, according to the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) results.

On a scale of 0 to 100, the quarterly survey pegged the public's average satisfaction with federal Web sites at 72.1, almost a 3 percent increase from fourth-quarter results last year. Rated sites ranged from the Web portal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the State Department's Dutch-language Web page for the Belgian embassy. The survey is produced by the University of Michigan, the American Society for Quality and CFI Group USA.

The poll, taken by Web site visitors who responded to a pop-up window requesting their opinion, measured responses on 55 government Web sites divided into four categories: Web portals, information and news, e-commerce and transactions, and career and recruitment. The last category earned a satisfaction score of 77.0, the highest rating among the four areas. Information and news scored the lowest with a 71.4 satisfaction rating; the worst score last quarter was in the e-commerce category, which came in second this quarter with a score of 73.3. Portals received a score of 72.1

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

Although the satisfaction rating for government Web sites is identical to the public's satisfaction with the overall government, according to the ACSI poll, the main factor keeping scores down is frustration with the search engines on federal sites, said Larry Freed, chief executive officer of ForeSee Results, which sponsored portions of the ACSI poll.

An increasing number of users visit .gov sites, but first-time users are unfamiliar with the virtual organization and thus more likely to use keyword searches. Although it was once cool to get 10,000 search results back in .25 seconds, "when I think about it, it does no good," Freed said. "I want two or three results." Thus, as more first-time users surf federal sites, agency officials struggle to maintain their satisfaction ratings, Freed said.

But building a better search engine isn't the long-term response to the conundrum, Freed said. "Search is, in many ways, second choice for most users. Most users would rather navigate the system," he said.

For example, the Forest Service's main Web site, whose satisfaction rating rose from 68 to 72 ... an increase of 6 percent and the greatest improvement among federal agencies this quarter ... boosted ratings by providing links to commonly requested information.

Improving the numbers "is really about setting up really strong content management systems," Freed said. "Make improvement so that people don't need searches as much."

One easy, but often ignored, way of gauging customer results is to use search engine entries to determine what's popular, Freed said. "That is information that should be searched with the content management folks," he said.

Web site improvement is not necessarily an expensive proposition; incremental improvements are powerful, he said. "It's about listening to your customer, finding out who is coming to your Web site and why and finding out what is the most important thing to them to make an impact of their satisfaction, and a lot of times it's small." If the most important things happens to be too costly, agency officialss should move on to the second biggest possible improvement, he added.

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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