Citizens’ satisfaction with the federal government was down again last year, but the decline has slowed pace compared to prior years, according to a new report from the American Consumer Satisfaction Index.
The federal government’s citizen satisfaction score dropped for the third straight year in 2015 to 63.9 out of 100, down 0.8 points from a year prior. Despite the decline, the negative trend is tapering off from more severe dives of 2.3 and 1.7 points in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
Private sector industries have also seen a multiyear skid in satisfaction, according to ACSI’s 2015 report on citizen satisfaction. Though federal government’s satisfaction rate is in some cases more than 10 points lower than the private sector — transportation scored 74, health care, 75, and retail trade, 77 — that gap is narrowing.
“Deteriorating customer satisfaction was widespread in 2015, and the slump in citizen satisfaction is similar to what we observe in the private sector or among voters in the political arena,” Claes Fornell, ACSI chairman and founder, said in a release.
Breaking down the aggregate federalwide score, there were several increased sub-ratings corresponding to key drivers of citizens’ satisfaction across government, which, Fornell said, signal a possible turnaround coming soon.
“Citizens find information received from agencies to be clearer and more accessible compared with a year ago,” the report states. “Likewise, the timeliness and efficiency of processes improves, as well as customer service (measured as courtesy and professionalism of staff). User perceptions of website quality (ease and usefulness) are unchanged year-over-year.”
“If the small gains in the drivers of citizen satisfaction take hold or continue to rise, we might finally see a bit of a turnaround,” said Fornell.
Of course, the federal government is a massive enterprise, and the scores for individual departments varied widely. At the top of the citizen satisfaction index, the Department of the Interior scored a 75, and close behind were the departments of State and Defense, with respective scores of 71 and 70. The Treasury Department earned the lowest score of 55, thanks the IRS’ notoriously low citizen satisfaction rates. The Department of Veterans Affairs also saw a low score of 60, which the report attributed to “the myriad problems experienced by Veterans Affairs in delivering health services to a swelling number of veterans.”
“The disparity between the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs is notable because it speaks to the vastly different experience of our military personnel,” ACSI Director of Research Forrest Morgeson said. “Services are great when you’re enlisted, but the federal government has many challenges in delivering health services to its massive and growing population of veterans.”
And in some cases, the evolution of digital services increased the ease with which citizens interacted with federal agencies and in turn boosted their satisfaction. For instance, citizens who filed forms electronically rated the IRS at 76, while paper filers gave it a 56 — a 20-point difference in satisfaction.
But a recent survey of federal managers conducted by Deloitte Consulting LLP, found that most agencies lack analytic tools to distinguish customer segments, don’t use customer relationship management software, and haven’t aligned their staff incentives with customer-centric service.
“Listening to the customer and incorporating feedback would not only help the Federal Government improve its ACSI score, but more importantly, improve mission delivery by getting services to the American people in a more efficient and effective way.” said Greg Pellegrino, Deloitte principal and customer strategy specialist.