Aug 30, 2011 (12:08 PM EDT)
Americans Using Web More For Federal Customer Service

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People increasingly are using online channels to access federal customer service and said that their most satisfying engagement with agencies in 2011 came when they used a website to do so, according to a survey.

A majority--67%--of Americans that responded to the MeriTalk survey said their interaction with the government was "good" or "excellent" if they used a website to perform a customer service activity, according to the Uncle Sam at Your Service study released Monday. This is compared to 52% who reported the same level of satisfaction with an in-person activity; 51% when they used email or the telephone; 26% if they used mobile applications; 25% if they used text messaging; and 24% if they used social media.

The survey found that people are using the Web and other online and new-media channels more than any other way to leverage customer service. Visiting websites is the top way people are interacting with the federal government, with 44% saying they engaged in this activity over the past 12 months, and 41% responding that they downloaded a federal government form from the Web over the same period.

Comparatively, 34% said they contacted a federal office by phone over the last 12 months; 24% visited the federal government office in person; 3% used a federal mobile app or Facebook to connect with the government; and 1% connected with the feds through Twitter.

Despite using new avenues of communication to meet customer-service needs, the survey found that people still are largely dissatisfied with the level of customer service delivered by the feds, although they believe it's improved since last year.

Only 31% of Americans that responded to the survey said they were "very satisfied" with federal customer service so far in 2011, up from 24% in 2010.

In addition to providing information about how people are connecting with the government and their various satisfaction levels, the survey--which polled 1,000 Americans--also provides insight into how people would like to see federal customer service improve.

In April the White House released an executive order aimed at streamlining how feds deliver services and improving the level of customer service agencies provide. Goals of the order include providing a better overall customer experience, soliciting customer feedback and streamlining agency customer-service processes, among others.

The MeriTalk survey shows the order is indeed called for, as 79% of Americans believe the federal government can improve customer service. Simplifying their search for answers was the top area people said federal agencies should focus on, with 45% of respondents endorsing making it easier to determine where they should go for an answer to a problem or question, according to the survey.

Improving response time to a query was a close second, with 42% considering that a top area of focus. Those surveyed also considered the consistency of the information provided, improvements in the listening skills of representatives who work with the public, and the addition of more self-service options--such as online question-and-answer features--priorities to make customer service better, according to the survey.

People also want the feds to make better use of customer data and avoid repetitive information reporting. A full 91% of those surveyed said they want to provide their personal information to representatives once and 39% are willing to let the government store some of their personal information if it will improve customer service, according to the survey.

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