Just two years ago, customer service was a strong point for the U.S. federal government, with citizens giving the courtesy and helpfulness of staff a rating of 80 out of a possible 100 points. The American Customer Satisfaction Index—which applies the same rigorous, scientific methodology to measuring satisfaction with both private and public sector organizations—deems scores of 80 or above as excellent.
This once-excellent customer service has diminished since 2012, down 6% according to the ACSI’s annual report on citizen satisfaction with government, but without the benefit of other aspects of agency performance—such as the critical website channel—improving to anywhere near the 80 mark. In fact, website satisfaction has failed to improve at all—staying flat at a benchmark of 72 in 2014, or 3% below its 2012 level. Other aspects of the citizen experience have downgraded further. The process of applying for and receiving services falls to a low score of 68, while the clarity and accessibility of information provided by agencies drops to 69.
As in the private sector, customer service is often the first casualty of cost-cutting and poor service leads to less satisfaction. The overall score for citizen satisfaction with federal government is down for a second year, reaching a new low of 64.4.
The downturn in citizen satisfaction comes amid cutbacks in agency budgets and fewer federal workers. As reported in January, reduced funding for the IRS could mean longer wait times for callers this tax season, delays in refunds for paper filers, and perhaps even a total agency shutdown later in the year.
If cuts are going to be made to the people delivering the services, then part of the solution is paying more attention to websites. ACSI data show that citizens are much happier when services are offered electronically. In the case of the Internal Revenue Service, satisfaction is dramatically higher for taxpayers who file electronically (76) than for those who file on paper (56).