Is mobility the way out of customer satisfaction stagnation?

Consumers are largely satisfied with federal websites, but their opinions seem to be unchanging. Could more attention to mobility nudge the numbers upward?

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.

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