Users More Satisfied with Government Sites

For the first time in a year, user satisfaction with federal government Web sites has risen slightly, according to the second quarter American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) E-Government Satisfaction Index.

The federal government sector got 72.9 points on the ACSI's 100-point scale, up 0.7% from last quarter's score of 72.4, according to the study. The report, which measures the online performance of approximately 100 federal Web sites, is produced by the University of Michigan.

This increase may mark the start of a positive trend for e-government, said Larry Freed, president and CEO of ACSI sponsor ForeSee Results Inc., and the author of the report, in a statement. From April 1 to June 30, ForeSee collected data from 238,000 users who visited 108 federal government Web sites.

Twenty-three of the 108 Web sites, which had satisfaction scores of 80 or higher, were categorized as top performers, a new record, according to the survey. The top-performing sites include both perennially high-scoring sites like the Social Security Administration's Help with Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Costs, and the Internet Social Security Benefits Application, National Library of Medicine, NIH's MedlinePlus , as well as sites new to the high performer's list including the Department of Defense's America Supports You Web site and the FBI's main Web site.

The highest-scoring federal Web site, which continues to be Help with Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Costs, scored 88. This Web site has been the top performer in each quarterly report for the past two years.

"What it does, is it takes a very difficult and confusing process and makes it easier for people to understand," Freed said in an interview. "They're really providing a value to people to understand what's going on. Even though it's not the prettiest site to look at, it seems to meet the needs of its users. And that's what it comes done to - meeting customers' needs."

Freed said another top performer, the FBI's main Web site, has a look and feel that is clean and well organized.

"They've done a good job in understanding what the people who visit the FBI are looking for," he said. "It comes down to knowing what your users want and getting it to them in an easy, straightforward fashion."

Users who are satisfied with government sites are 84% more likely to use them as their primary source of information or to conduct transactions. They are also 82% more likely to recommend a Web site to others and 56% more likely to return to the site than dissatisfied citizens, according to the report.

"E-government has stopped the bleeding for now, in terms of citizen satisfaction. But it remains to be seen if this is a blip or the beginning of a positive trend," Freed said in the statement. "What is evidently clear, however, is that improving online satisfaction can drive traffic to the Web channel. Investment in the online channel will pay itself off and result in increased efficiency and happy citizens."

Users are most concerned about a Web site's search, navigation and overall functionality, which means that those are the areas that should continued to be improved, the survey said.

Although users are more satisfied with federal e-government Web sites, they are still not as satisfied with those sites as they are with private sector e-commerce Web sites, which have an aggregate score of 81.6 and private sector e-business Web sites, which have an aggregate score of 75.2, according to the survey.

The Web sites on the lower end, such as the U.S. International Trade Commission, with a score of 58, and the Office of Disability Employment Policy at the Department of Labor, with a score of 63, often suffer from a lack of resources to make the necessary improvements, even though they have already identified those improvements, Freed said. Those agencies also often think in terms of how they think internally, rather than how the user thinks, he said.

"Government Web sites have much in common with private sector e-business and e-commerce Web sites, in that they are online resources of information or convenient transaction channels," according to the survey. "However, e-government usually has fewer resources at its disposal."

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