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American Customer Satisfaction Index: Satisfaction with government drops slightly

Although Americans are slightly less satisfied with the federal government compared with a year ago, customer satisfaction with federal services still ranks closely behind that of private industry, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) released today.

The ACSI score for government agencies, including those that are regulatory and those that administer benefits, fell to 70.2 in 2002 from a record-high 71.3 last year. Overall, the customer satisfaction score for the aggregate ACSI (which includes the public and private sectors) increased from 72 to 73.1 during the same time.

In its annual report on how satisfied Americans are with the services of the federal government, the ACSI shows that large declines in satisfaction with Medicare and parts of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) account for most of the drop in the overall government score.
The satisfaction score for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services among recipients of Medicare fell about 4 percent since last year—down from 79 to 76. The ACSI scores for the IRS among its corporate users are down 9 percent to a score of 60 (among small businesses) and nearly 6 percent to a score of 52 (among large and mid-size businesses, for which the IRS measured a broader segment of customers this year).

While corporate users may be less satisfied with IRS services, satisfaction with IRS electronic filing of individual tax returns continues to be remarkably high, the ACSI reports. The satisfaction score for individual electronic filers is 78, compared with a mark of 53 for individual paper tax filers.

“Tax filers view electronic filing as simple and efficient,” says Claes Fornell, professor of business and director of the Business School National Quality Research Center, which compiles and analyzes the ACSI data. “While the score for all individual tax filers is substantially lower at 62, it still represents a 22 percent improvement since 1999.

“No organization, whether private or public, has shown a similar improvement in such a short period of time. However, user satisfaction with a tax collection agency is a double-edged sword. Although a passive agency will not be in the collective interest, it might well make for more satisfied tax filers on an individual basis. Yet, there is no evidence that the cutback in IRS audits is the reason for rising scores.”

In addition to the IRS and Medicare, the U.S. Mint, which sells numismatic and commemorative coins, also saw its ACSI score drop. Despite a decrease of more than 4 percent in its satisfaction score, however, the Mint still registered the highest score of all agencies included in this year’s ACSI. Its mark of 84 was just above the Social Security Administration’s 83 for retirement benefits recipients and the Veterans Health Administration’s 81 for inpatients at VA medical centers.

The most improved government agency in terms of customer satisfaction in the last year is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), whose score rose nearly 9 percent from 59 to 64.

“While the airline industry is under significant security and financial strain, the FAA has managed to provide better service to commercial pilots,” says Jack West, past president of the American Society for Quality, a partner in producing the ACSI. “The FAA’s effort in clarifying policy standards and regulations is the primary reason for the improvement in pilot satisfaction.”

For the first time, the ACSI also includes scores for several government Web sites, whose average score (74) is higher than the overall ACSI score for private industry (73.1) or government (70.2).

Among the Web sites, the Office on Women’s Health ranked highest with a score of 80, followed by the Department of State’s careers Web site (76) and NASA’s education Web site (74).

“The high ACSI scores reinforce the notion that the Web is a great medium for the government to communicate with the public,” says Larry Freed, CEO and president of ForeSee Results, which measures Web customers’ satisfaction and forecasts customer behavior. “The Web is a medium for government that reduces costs to communicate, provides information in a consistent and high-quality manner, and offers the public a way to access government information and services anytime, anywhere.”

Fornell says the government’s offering of various service-oriented public Web sites underscores its efforts to improve the timeliness of the delivery of its services, and, ultimately, raise the level of customer satisfaction.

“Overall, government workers continue to receive high marks on courtesy and professionalism, but less so on timeliness of delivery of services,” Fornell says. “In order to allocate resources efficiently with the objective of improving citizen satisfaction with government services, a focus on timeliness would have the greatest effect.”

The ACSI is a national economic indicator of customer evaluations of the quality of products and services available to household consumers in the United States. It is updated each quarter with new measures for different sectors of the economy replacing data from the prior year.

Each December, the ACSI issues a report on satisfaction of recipients of services from the federal government. Agency participation is voluntary. This year, 39 different customer groups served by 24 agencies were measured.


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