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Government Customer Satisfaction Levels Leave Room for Improvement – Here’s Where to Start

Last week, the Federal Consulting Group (FCG) hosted the 2014 Government Customer Satisfaction Forum. The program was jam-packed with public sector and private sector experts, including:

  • Ross Smith from the Office of Technology for the Veterans Administration spoke on his efforts to increase satisfaction of different tech-related interactions
  • Dr. Forrest Morgeson with the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI) shared the 2013 government-wide customer satisfaction benchmarks
  • Sheri Petras of CFI Group discussed government call center satisfaction results
  • Dave Lewan with ForeSee released the Q4 2013 results for Federal e-government satisfaction surveys

There was a ton of great information presented. For those who didn’t have the chance to attend, I summarized some of the day’s highlights, while calling out the points I found most interesting (so if you don’t have time to read it all, just skim the highlighted version!).

Sheri Petras, CEO of CFI Group, presented findings on call center satisfaction results and discussed the various methods that customers used to contact government, including phone, online channels, social media and more. One takeaway was the effect of interactive voice response, or IVR, satisfaction for customers, which scored low enough that Petras encouraged all attendees to call their agency to see how the IVR menu works. She also highlighted the statistic that about one-third of people 65 or older prefer digital or online channels. That’s a trend we have noted previously, too.

But the most interesting data point in Petras’ presentation was the drastic increase in people who contacted the government via phone (versus online channels) from 2012 to 2013. And that’s where Dr. Morgeson’s presentation was able to shed some light on decreased online channel usage.

Dr. Morgeson revealed the government-wide customer satisfaction benchmarks for 2013, with the Federal government coming in at 66 (on a scale of 100). This was a 3.4% decline from 2012, and the largest decline since 2010. Surprisingly, ACSI attributes the drop to government agency websites: “…in particular, users find the sites more difficult to navigate, less reliable, and the information provided less useful.”

Petras’ data around increased phone usage makes a lot of sense in this context: if government customers are frustrated and unable to find the information they need online, they’re going to reach for the phone; which is why Dr. Morgeson emphasized that websites and digital channels were an important lever to increasing customer satisfaction.  His commentary on this was astute: with the increased effort to shift citizens to digital self-service channels, websites are going to be bogged down with traffic, and if the website is overloaded with information and suffers from unclear navigation, the process becomes frustrating for customers.

But, in my opinion, Dave Lewan with ForeSee had the most provocative and strategic takeaway for attendees, one that most clearly identifies the underlying issue at play here: government organizations are serving up enormous amounts of content on the Web, through mobile sites or apps, as well as via traditional and social media channels. In this multichannel world, how can the content that a particular customer wants or needs be delivered easily and consistently – without a ton of digging through websites, scrolling through newsfeeds, or having to call customer service?

This is where data is your best friend. As noted at the forum, data is critical to customer satisfaction. To serve your audience, you need to know what’s working for them and what’s not; what they’re interested in and what they need. So how do you do that? For the first part, measuring customer satisfaction with your digital and traditional communications channels can help you understand what’s working and what’s not.

But you also need to get more granular: what information does your customer want or need, and how do you serve that up to him or her? Sometimes, the best answer is the most simple: ask them. Ask your customers to identify their topics of interest. Ask them if they want to receive proactive notifications when content on your website or blog has changed or when new information has been added. Then deliver those notifications to them via email or text message when they want it. Ask them if they’re interested in getting a digest of your social media content delivered right to their inbox, so they know that they’re not missing what your organization posts to Twitter or YouTube. Your customers will appreciate that you are taking the time and effort to deliver a more personalized experience for them. In fact, recent private sector marketing studies have found that consumers are willing to share information about themselves, such as age, gender, and hobbies, to receive more personalized offers.

Some of the top-rated government websites for the last quarter of 2013 have this functionality already built into their customer experiences. MedlinePlus, MedlinePlus en español, the National Women’s Health Information Center, and the Social Security Administration all offer customers the option to receive updates with “the latest information on the…topics that matter to you most” (from the MedlinePlus website).

WomensHealth.gov - website MedlinePlus - website

This is just one way to better serve your customers with the information they need and want. Another clear way to improve customer service is by updating your agency’s website navigation to become more user-friendly. Ultimately, there are many ways to improve the customer satisfaction score with your organization, but these two levers can make an immediate impact on your customers’ satisfaction level.

What is your agency doing to measure and improve your customers’ satisfaction? I’d love to hear your thoughts and initiatives.