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American Customer Satisfaction Index

ACSI: Government Services Rival Private Sector

12/16/2004 --

Satisfaction with federal agencies improves.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Federal agencies provide services that often rival and sometimes exceed that of the private sector, but they are still lacking in some areas that affect overall satisfaction, according to the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

In the latest ACSI report, satisfaction with government services rates a 72.1 on the ACSI's 100-point scale, up 1.7 percent from last year. The government score compares reasonably well to the 73.9 earned by private sector services, and is well ahead of less competitive industries such as airlines (66) and cable television (61), says ACSI director Claes Fornell, professor of marketing at Michigan's Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

Federal agencies, Fornell says, are weaker in two ways that are critical to achieving higher satisfaction: timeliness and accessibility. But there may be signs of enduring positive change in the way government does business, particularly when it comes to customer service, he says. Courtesy and professionalism of government personnel are both at their highest levels to date.

"Satisfaction with federal agencies is respectable compared to the private sector, especially considering that government is usually something people have to deal with and not something they necessarily want to deal with," Fornell said. "Customer satisfaction with many agencies is on par with private industry. Courtesy and professionalism have been rated highly every year we have measured and are improving steadily. Agencies are making some progress improving accessibility and timeliness, but not enough."

Government providers of health-related services were among the top performers in the cross-section of agencies evaluated. The Veterans Health Administration satisfaction scores are significantly higher than private sector health care–84 for inpatient services and 83 for outpatients, compared to 76 for the hospital industry.

Online service Medline Plus, a health information Web site run by the National Institutes of Health scored a strong 86. By contrast, the score for commercial news and information Web sites stands at 75.

Non-consumer oriented health services provided by the Health Resources and Services Administration also registered superior scores, including a 91 for its work with state grant recipients–one of the highest scores in the ACSI's 10-year history. Medicare earned a lower but still strong 76 for the services it provides to the public.

The National Cemetery Administration provides the highest satisfaction ever measured by the ACSI–a score of 95. The U.S. Mint (86), Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. (84) and the GSA's Federal Citizen Information Center (81) are also among the best in achieving customer satisfaction.

The Internal Revenue Service has greatly improved its services since 1999, the first year the ACSI measured government–up to 64 this year from 51 six years ago. Various categories of tax filers are included in the ACSI, and the results show that non-business online filers are highly satisfied with the tax filing process (78), while offline filers are not (52). Small-business filers' satisfaction stands at 60, while the score for the IRS's large and mid-sized business filers is 51.

"Much of the IRS's improvement is attributable to e-filing," Fornell said. "People are very pleased with the e-filing service and the IRS has been successful in encouraging more people to use it."

Overall, the ACSI shows that government services are usually well received and government workers get fairly high marks in general.

"The ACSI shows strong improvement and generally good performance, which is not necessarily what you'd expect if you think about general public opinion of government," Fornell said. "But there is a difference between general public opinion of government and actual experience with government workers and services.

"The trends are in the right direction. We may be seeing some signs of enduring improvement in satisfaction with the federal government. That would be a significant accomplishment."

The ACSI is produced quarterly by Michigan's Ross School of Business in partnership with the American Society for Quality and international consulting firm CFI Group. The annual government ACSI is done in cooperation with the Treasury Department's Federal Consulting Group.

For more information, please visit the ACSI Web site at

For more information, contact:
Bernie DeGroat
Phone: (734) 936-1015 or 647-1847