Survey: Customers less satisfied with agency Web sites

ACSI survey

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Despite the large effort to make government Web sites more user friendly through the application of e-government, customer satisfaction rates have declined slightly in the last quarter, according to the most recent quarterly survey of agency sites.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) found that the federal government’s aggregate score of 73.4 is 0.7 percent lower than it was last quarter and slightly lower than the 73.5 percent it was one year ago.

Many factors contribute to this plateau, including heightened customer expectations based on rapid private-sector Web site improvements and popular formats that do not apply to government agencies.

The challenges for government agency Web sites to move forward “has not come from a lack of effort, but a lack of focus,” said Larry Freed, president of ForeSee Results and author of the report, which is based on a quarterly performance survey conducted by the American Society for Quality in conjunction with the University of Michigan, CFI Group and ForeSee Results. Government agency participation is voluntary.

Customer standards and expectations continue to rise, especially as many private-sector sites use Web 2.0 and rich text applications to make portals more interactive and user-centric.

By default, the increased use of Web 2.0 puts e-government Web sites at a disadvantage, because the applications’ high prices do not fit into federal budgets and the user-centric rich text, user-focused format often does not apply to federal portals. On the other hand, agency Web sites have the advantage of a credibility level that no competitor can touch, Freed said.

The Office of Management and Budget announced that it would add customer satisfaction measurement to the President’s Management Agenda score card for e-government in December. It will take one year to see how the requirement has affected customer satisfaction, Freed said.

Even with the first quarter decline, the survey found that 46 percent of customer satisfaction scores for government Web sites have risen as compared to one year ago.

The survey also found that 49 percent of Web sites had lower satisfaction scores than last quarter, 31 percent had score increases and 20 percent had no score changes.

Sixteen agencies achieved satisfaction scores of 80 or higher last quarter -- a score ACSI classifies as superior -- while three Web sites fell below 60, the report states.

The Department of Health and Human Services continues to have the highest aggregate satisfaction score of 78.8.

The Social Security Administration’s Help with Medicare Prescription Drug Costs and Internet Social Security Benefits Application Web sites scored highest at 86 points.

The lowest scores went to the General Services Administration’s E-library, the Defense Department’s Military Health System and the Agriculture Department’s virtual marketplace portal.

Even with last quarter’s decline, Freed said government agency Web sites have steadily improved in the past 10 years.

“If you think about how we would have gotten this information 10 years ago, it has come a long way,” Freed said. “Now it is about getting the budget together and getting organizations on the same page.”

Cranmer is an intern with the 1105 Government Information Group.

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