Study Shows State Departmentís Efforts to Improve Citizen Satisfaction Pays Benefits
By: Ted Kniker
Satisfaction. A classic Rolling Stones song. It is what we want in our personal relationships and what we as consumers expect after buying a car, having home repairs made, and eating a meal at a great restaurant. Increasingly, it is what the public expects from their interactions with government agencies. But if Mick Jagger “can’t get no,” can we?
Good news. The results of the University of Michigan’s annual American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI)™, released in December 2003, indicate that citizens are reasonably satisfied with the services they received from several bureaus within the State Department. “State can be very proud of its results,” commented Bernie Lubran of the Federal Consulting Group, the executive branch agent of the ACSI for the federal government. “State’s scores ranged from 62 to 77, with an average score of 71, right on target with the aggregated Federal Government score of 70.9.” Lubran praised PA, CA, HR and IIP for their pioneering efforts in bringing the ACSI to State. “These bureaus have understood the importance of using metrics to improve government service and advance their missions on behalf of the American people.”
Four web sites (www.state.gov; www.careers.state.gov; http://usinfo.state.gov; http://future.state.gov) and one service area, Passport Services in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, were included in the 2003 ACSI scores. Recently, the Public Affairs Section in the U.S. Embassy to Belgium became the first mission to use the ACSI, placing it on two of its web sites and in multiple languages. Its scores will be included in the 2004 government scores. Scores for the government in 2003 ranged from 48 to 89. State generally matched or outscored its sister government organizations in compatible areas. For example, www.careers.state.gov (77) scored higher than the OPM’s website (68) and just below the CIA’s website (80). Passport Services (75) scored significantly higher than Customs Service for International Air Travelers (65). Especially for a web site so deep with content, State’s main web page, www.state.gov (72), compared well with other large portal sites such as the Treasury Department (67) and First-Gov (72).
Overall, State kept pace with the private sector’s average score for services of 73.0, and scored well above private sector industry giants like McDonald’s (61) and Comcast Cable (55). The highest scoring organization in 2003 was H.J. Heinz (90).
Government ACSI users are often asked, why measure customer or citizen satisfaction? “With increased attention to raising citizen’s trust in government through initiatives like the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) and the President’s Management Agenda, customer satisfaction measures help to hold agencies accountable for results, improve their operating performance, and provide balanced measures for senior executives,” said Lubran. The ACSI is a powerful tool and according to Forrest Morgeson, Research Associate at the University of Michigan Business School, agencies can use the data to “test against current assumptions, reexamine improvement plans and strategies, report results to Congress, OMB, employees and citizens, design and conduct more detailed surveys on low-performing areas, and identify strategic benchmarking partners.” Ann Barrett, Managing Director of Passport Services (CA/PPT), notes that efficiency goes hand-in-hand with customer satisfaction. “If you don’t give good customer service, it becomes more costly, you spend much more in resources answering complaints, defending decisions, and dealing with problems that could have been avoided.”
All of the ACSI users interviewed acknowledged that pre-existing OMB approval of the ACSI survey, the capability to benchmark against government and private sector standards, the flexibility to add customized questions to the survey, and the ease of working with the Federal Consulting Group and its partner, Foresee Results, made the ACSI the obvious choice for a satisfaction survey instrument.
The State Department has used the results of the ACSI several ways. To improve outreach to students, the Bureau of Public Affairs consolidated two sites www.geography.state.gov and www.state.gov/kids to create one new site designed for students, parents, and teachers: www.future.state.gov. The site was launched last fall and in December, the American Library Association selected the site as one of its Great Web Sites for Kids, noting it was considered outstanding in content and conception. PA also uses the quantitative data for its bureau performance plan submissions and responding to E-government initiatives under the President’s Management Agenda.
HR/REE/REC began using the ACSI in August 2002 when it was completing the design for www.careers.state.gov. The office was able to assess how people were using the site, the profile of the site's users and the site's construction. "Within the first three weeks, we had quantitative data, instead of only anecdotes, that people were satisfied with the site but that there were areas, such as navigation, that definitely needed improvement," commented Diane Castiglione, Director of Recruitment. When Castiglione and her staff revised the site last summer, they drew heavily on the information they had gathered from the ACSI. The results were immediate - within weeks of the re-launch of the site, overall satisfaction jumped from 74 to 79. "By responding to our customer's needs, we are making the Department more attractive as a potential employer," said Castiglione.
CA/PPT not only sees its high scores as a validation of over 10 years of customer service focus, but as a way to move ahead. “We can use the ACSI to test the response to future initiatives and public relations campaigns and help us in providing the right balance between customer service and security, so that all Americans can enjoy their right to travel” says Barrett.
Ted Kniker is the Chief for Evaluation and Performance Measurement in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and served in a detail assignment to the Federal Consulting Group from October through December 2003.