Satisfaction with fed customer service worst ever

The American Customer Satisfaction Index blames the decline on budget and staff cuts.

Shutterstock image (Dencg) : digital government concept.

Satisfaction with the services provided by the federal government is at an all-time low, according to a new report released by the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

In the last year, citizen satisfaction dropped by 2.6 percentage points to 64.4, out of 100. That's the lowest score since ACSI began conducting the annual survey in 1999. The ACSI Federal Government Report 2014 is based on interviews with 1,772 users, contacted via telephone and email between Oct. 17 and Nov. 1, 2014.

ACSI chalks up the drop in satisfaction to cutbacks in agency budgets and fewer federal workers.

"Much like the private sector, one of the first casualties of cost-cutting is customer service," Claes Fornell, ACSI chairman and founder, said in a statement. "Due to the very nature of their business, regulatory agencies like the IRS always face user satisfaction challenges and it becomes even more difficult to maintain quality service to a growing number of users with fewer, or even the same number of people, providing those services."

The biggest issue respondents had with their customer service experience was in the helpfulness and courtesy of agency staff; that number dropped by 6 percentage points since last year.

Other aspects of agency performance that declined or stalled in the last year included less than satisfactory ease and timeliness of service (68 percent) and information provided by agencies lacking clarity and accessibility (69 percent).

According to ACSI Director of Research Forrest Morgeson, websites were the favorite avenue of interaction with the federal government, although, government websites showed no improvement after declining a year ago -- the website score remained unchanged at 72.

"There's a significant margin. They are happier when services are done through a website," Morgeson told FCW. "We use that as an explanation for why websites are going to be part of the solution to improve customer service."

If cuts are going to be made to the people delivering the services, more attention should be paid to the website, Morgeson added.

One example is the IRS, where customer satisfaction with filing taxes electronically through the website was significantly higher than for those who file on paper, 76 percent compared with 57 percent.

That being said, the federal government is still lagging behind the private sector in this area.

"They don't offer Google or Amazon-level consumer experience, but they do tend to be better than typical brick and mortar services by the federal government," Morgeson said.

Overall, the Defense Department received the highest score for citizen satisfaction, 73, followed by the Agriculture Department at 69.

The lowest rated departments were Treasury at 57, Veterans Affairs at 59 and Health and Human Services Department at 62.

ACSI also found a direct relation between trust in government and customer service satisfaction; when satisfaction declines, so does trust. The report said the latest drop in trust is slight, however —from 67 a year ago to 66. (A February 2014 Pew Research Center survey was even less encouraging: only 24 percent of respondents said they could trust the government in Washington always or most of the time.)

A new Pew survey, meanwhile, also explored Americans' opinions on federal agencies. That poll, conducted Jan. 7-11 among 1,504 adults, found wide partisan divides in how Republicans and Democrats view many government agencies, with Republicans voicing less favorable views than Democrats of five of the eight federal agencies in the survey.

Favorable views of the VA fell sharply on both sides of the aisle, with Republicans' favorable views decreasing by 23 percentage points and Democrats' decreasing by 20 points between October 2013 and January 2015.

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