Love or hate Trump, government satisfaction just hit an 11-year high

Customer satisfaction for U.S. federal government services just hit an 11-year high. Yes, you read that right.

If you watch the news, skim the headlines, or scroll through Facebook, you’ve probably noticed that people have wildly different perceptions of how well the government is working.

But as far as customer service is concerned, many Americans agree: The federal government is much better than it was just a few years ago, and is the best it’s been since 2006.

Just a few hours before President Trump gives his first State of the Union address, the economy appears to be flourishing and GDP is rising. But there are other measures of success to factor in. Let’s look at a few.

“Customers” are satisfied with the government

Citizens using the government’s services are happy with their experience, according to our most recent data. In fact, customer satisfaction with the federal government’s services improved for a second year in a row, increasing 2.5 percent to reach 69.7 (on a 100 point scale).

Four key factors drive satisfaction:

  1. Quality of federal websites (up 1 percent to 77)
  2. Courtesy and professionalism of customer service personnel (down 1 percent to 77)
  3. Clarity and accessibility of information received from agencies (up 1 percent to 73)
  4. Timeliness and efficiency of government processes (up 3 percent to 72)

Last year, the federal government’s website performance saw the highest gain, but customer service was the highest-ranking factor in overall customer satisfaction. This year they tie as the most important indicator for happiness.

Political affiliation doesn’t matter

You may think that customer satisfaction with the government directly correlates to political affiliation. The party in power surely must impact the overall consumer satisfaction rate.

But, surprisingly, you’d be wrong.

In fact, satisfaction among Republicans dropped over the past year (1 percent decrease to 69), and it remained unchanged (73) among Democrats. Independents shifted the most, with a 3 percent gain to 67.

The ACSI survey doesn’t measure satisfaction with government policy and leadership, instead relying on the four factors above to analyze interactions and determine the scores. But it’s still interesting that affiliation and opinions on the administration didn’t appear to muddy consumers’ perceptions of the processes and services they received.

Not all government services are created equal

While customer satisfaction with the federal government overall has been climbing, there’s varying opinion of which government services are most customer-friendly.
The Departments of Justice and Interior performed particularly well this year (81 and 78 respectively), while the Departments of the Treasury and Housing and Urban Development were at the bottom of the spectrum (61 and 60 respectively). The IRS is included in the Treasury Department, which will be interesting to watch now that the tax overhaul is in effect — both from the perspective of lowering costs as well as simplifying the process, which historically results in higher satisfaction.

The 21-point gap between the highest and lowest performing departments is significant, but not unusual or unexpected. The 69.7 average means consumers are getting what they need and are relatively satisfied, but there’s room for improvement.
Private companies still reign supreme

While almost 70 percent doesn’t seem too bad for a customer satisfaction score, the government still falls short of the private sector.

For example, credit unions have a high customer satisfaction level (82), as do the banking and shipping industries (81). Many other private companies are in the low-to-mid-70 range, putting the federal government’s report card on the lower end of all industries the ACSI surveys. In fact, only subscription TV services rank lower than government services, at 64.

Based on historical data, the government is always at or near the bottom of the ACSI. This isn’t a new finding, but it is significant in the context of customer perception.

What to watch moving forward

Tonight’s State of the Union should give insight into the government’s priorities for the next year and what we might expect for major projects and policies.

But a more politically polarized country and low approval ratings for President Trump don’t necessarily translate into a change in the ACSI report. However, if there are positive changes to government websites and the friendliness of service-oriented staff, we could continue to see the upward shift in customer satisfaction.

ACSI 2015: The Year in Review

The year 2015 marked customer satisfaction downturns across nearly every economic sector—from the post-holiday 2014 retail segment to U.S. federal government services. At the national level, overall U.S. customer satisfaction retreated across four quarters, adding to a string of consecutive declines that began in 2014.

According to ACSI results released from February to December 2015, 70% of 43 measured industries showed year-over-year satisfaction declines, with products or services from 59% of measured companies deemed less satisfying according to their own customers.

16feb-blog-infographic

In the public sector, citizens were less satisfied with services of the federal government during the year 2015, although the pace of decline slowed considerably compared with the two prior years.

Despite this pervasive weakening of consumer opinions of goods and services over the past year, the most recent satisfaction levels tracked by the ACSI are not dramatically different from pre-Great Recession data. It is possible that the years immediately following the recession represent a honeymoon period when companies went to greater lengths to attract and keep their customers—and when those customers may have been more willing to adjust their expectations.

Coming soon at www.theacsi.org: customer satisfaction results for the fourth quarter of 2015, including ACSI scores for more than 60 online and traditional retailers, based on data collected during the holiday shopping season.

ACSI Federal Government Report 2015 »

ACSI 2015 Year in Review: 
Slumping Customer Satisfaction Across Much of the U.S. Economy »

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