Customer satisfaction with e-government down slightly but near record highs

Monday - 10/22/2012, 8:06pm EDT

Satisfaction with federal e-government sites — such as the Social Security Administration's online application portal and the Health and Human Services Department's Web-based medical library — have remained high through most of 2012, according to a quarterly report from ForeSee and the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

On a 100-point scale, customer satisfaction with federal websites now sits at 75.3. That's actually down slightly from last quarter, which set an all-time high, according to the latest report.

But the continued strong performance allowed e-government sites to score more highly than comparable private-sector e-business sites — a reversal of longstanding trends, the report stated.

The results, compiled from about 300,000 surveys, measured 106 federal websites. Websites were grouped into three categories.

  • E-commerce/transactional sites — The government's e-commerce-type websites posted the highest scores.

    The Social Security Administration's iClaim website, which allows users to apply for benefits online, and its retirement estimator both scored in the low 90s, outpacing high-performing private-sector sites, such as Amazon.com.

  • News and information sites — Overall, government news and information sites scored 3 percent higher than comparable private-sector news and information sites.

    These sites include the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service's Resource Center as well as the Health and Human Services Department's MedlinePlus site, a repository of medical information from the National Library of Medicine.

  • Main agency websites — However, overall, main agency websites ranked below private-sector portals and search engines in satisfaction surveys.

    The highest-scoring federal website is the HHS' National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, which scored an 88. All told, HHS had five of its sites in the top 10. Others included NASA, the FBI main site and the Defense Department's main site.

More Americans interacting with government online

The report pointed more broadly to the fact that increasingly Americans are choosing to interact with the government online as opposed to through traditional methods.

"Any website that can meet the needs of its visitor will drive satisfaction and have a direct impact on behavior, and the pay-off is well worth the investment," said Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee, in a release. "Research shows that highly satisfied citizens are more likely to recommend or return to the website, or use it as a primary resource before other more costly channels like call centers than less satisfied website visitors."

That trend is promising, since online services are often more cost-effective than brick-and-mortar call centers, for example.

Still, the authors of the report sounded a note of caution.

"Though it is encouraging to see some public sector websites outperforming the private sector, federal government agencies would be foolish to cut e-government budgets under the mistaken impression that less is more," said Claes Fornell, the founder of the American Customer Satisfaction Index, in the release. "When it comes to citizen satisfaction, a satisfied customer is almost always a more profitable one. Or in the case of government, a less expensive one."

RELATED STORIES:

Half of federal websites working on mobile strategy

Report: Citizen satisfaction with federal services slightly up in 2011

Satisfaction high for e-gov sites