The efforts of government agencies to make their services and information accessible on the Web have not always been a resounding success, but at least they’re getting a little better, according to a survey research firm ForeSee Results plans to release today.
In its quarterly survey, the group found that federal government sites saw their scores improve on the University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) for the first time in a year.
“E-government has stopped the bleeding for now, in terms of citizen satisfaction,” ForeSee President and CEO Larry Freed said of the modest 0.7 percent uptick. “But it remains to be seen if this is a blip or the beginning of a positive trend.”
Each quarter, ForeSee evaluates government sites, e-commerce sites and general business sites, awarding each with an ASCI rating. Though the government sector reversed its slide, at 72.9 on a 100-point scale, government sites still trailed e-commerce (81.6) and e-business (75.2) in terms of customer satisfaction.
Last quarter, e-government registered its lowest ACSI score in three years.
Government Web sites are not generally known for their transparency or ease of use. But the researchers argue that they should be held to the same standards that businesses hold for their online presence.
“Whereas private sector Web sites are accountable to shareholders, e-government is accountable to the citizens who use the Web sites and to all taxpayers,” said Claes Fornell, who leads the ASCI rating at the University of Michigan. “Government has a responsibility to get the most bang for the taxpayer buck.”
Just as in the private sector, intuitive, helpful government Web sites that solve problems that would otherwise take the time of the agency’s staff save money.
By the same ACSI rating, e-government’s score of 72.9 beat out customer satisfaction of the government’s non-Internet operations, which earned a 67.8 in the most recent survey to evaluate the offline channel.
The study identified search, navigation and functionality as the areas that most directly affected a site’s ranking. Topping the list of the top-rated government sites in customer satisfaction for the eighth consecutive quarter report was the Social Security Administration’s page, “Help With Prescription Drug Plan Costs,” scoring an 88.
The lowest-scoring site belonged to the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The issue of online usability is not one that the government has been completely ignoring. Since 2000, it has maintained an online portal dedicated to helping citizens navigate the dizzying maze of government agency sites.
Launched as FirstGov.gov, then renamed USA.gov, the organization includes consultants who work with government agencies at federal, state, local and tribal levels to make their sites more user-friendly.
It also offers an A-Z listing of agencies, listings by topic and several methods of getting in touch with someone who can help (e-mail, Web chat, phone, etc.).