Survey: citizen satisfaction plunges

Tuesday - 1/25/2011, 10:49am EST

Forrest Morgeson, research scientist, American Customer Satisfaction Index

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

It probably won't come as any surprise to federal employees that average citizens feel a little less kindly towards government than a year ago. Overall, satisfaction is down almost five percent in the Annual Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

The ACSI research scientist who co-authored the Federal Government report, Forrest Morgeson, told Federal News Radio that represents the largest single year decline since ACSI measurement began in 1994.

"What we're seeing," said Morgeson, "is that there are particularly large declines in a couple of areas that are important to satisfaction. One being the delivery of information, the other being the efficiency of processes."

The first part of that, the delivery, might be puzzling to fans of the dashboards that have been popping up on federal websites, but Morgeson explained, "there's certainly a difference between a large quantity of information and easily accessible and clear information. One of the things we have found in the past with federal government is that the amount of information is high. The clarity of that information, the accessibility of that information, the clarity of the language in which that information is delivered is often lacking with the federal government."

Morgeson said the role of the agency or department has a big influence on satisfaction as well. It may seem kind of obvious, but it's all about the bottom line for the citizen.

The type of service being offered by an agency or department is pretty indicative of the satisfaction they're going to be offering. In other words, benefits delivering agencies tend to do a better job, that is, tend to have a more satisfied group of citizens as their clientele. That makes some sense. Obviously, benefits delivering is mostly a positive experience in that you're getting a benefit at the other end of it.

So when relatives or individuals responsible for interment were asked about the VA's National Cemetery Administration, 94 percent gave the agency a positive rating. However, compare that with the score of 53 given by large business and international corporate tax filers to the IRS.

"What we really see that drags down the federal government as a whole," said Morgeson, "is the regulatory processes. And again, there's a great deal of sense to that. It's citizens who have to interact with an agency, by force or by law, are going to be less satisfied with the outcome regardless of how good the processes are. So there's certain disadvantages for some agencies in the federal government in terms of offering satisfaction."

Even so, within regulatory agencies, some do a better job than others and can offer insight on how to improve services. According to Morgeson, those things that can drive up satisfaction are different for each agency. "Some are more process intensive, some are more information intensive, some offer much more intensive customer service interactions, and so we're going to be able to identify for each individual agency what's most important in driving up or down satisfaction."

For more about the ACSI Scores for U.S. Federal Government 2010 and ACSI's Commentary about them, see www.theacsi.org.

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