IRS Gets High Customer
Satisfaction Rating for Online Filing
American taxpayers are not overly fond of the Internal Revenue Service.
Few people love to pay their taxes, so it's no surprise that citizens
don't love the tax collecting agency.
And so the
bad news is: IRS scored low in the first-ever government-wide customer
But the good
news is: Among electronic filers the agency earned a higher score
than most businesses.
Agencies Join American Customer Service Index
A new, wide-ranging
rating of satisfaction with federal government services allows federal
agencies to be compared to the private sector and each other for
the first time ever. The ratings span 29 so-called "high impact"
agencies, and are being issued as a special report of the American
Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), which has been measuring satisfaction
with goods and services in the private sector since 1994.
score for the federal government is 68.6 on a 100-point scale. This
is 6 percent lower than the private-sector aggregate score of 73,
but 9 percent higher than commercial airlines and 11 percent higher
than satisfaction with network news. The individual agency ratings
range from 51 to 87. The spread is comparable to the range of 53
to 86 seen in the private sector. Folding the government sector
into the overall economy-wide ACSI edges the U.S. score up slightly
to 72.1 from 73.
Workers Do Well
"The ACSI results
show that, in many cases, federal workers do a very good job in
servicing citizens and, in some cases, perform as well or better
than their private sector counterparts," said Claes Fornell, director
of the University of Michigan Business School's National Quality
Research Center. "The key now is to understand what other conditions
produce superior customer service, and then establish those conditions
throughout the government. These measurements and the insights they
yield about what matters most to the public are powerful tools for
The ACSI is
produced quarterly through a partnership among the University of
Michigan Business School, the American Society for Quality, and
Arthur Andersen. This special government-sector report was produced
in partnership with Arthur Andersen Office of Government Services.
The ACSI model was developed by Fornell.
services are producing customer satisfaction levels that equal or
exceed many companies. The Administration for Families and Children
scored an 87 for its Head Start program. Other high performers include
the U.S. Mint (86), the Women, Infants and Children program (83),
and the Social Security Administration (82). These are comparable
to scores for top-performing private companies such as BMW (86)
and Whirlpool (84) and well above private sector laggards such as
Northwest Airlines (53), GTE (63), and Nike (73).
Agencies Don't Do as Well Regulatory agencies tend to end up on
the other end of the Index. OSHA (51), the Food Safety and Inspection
Service (62), and the Veterans Benefits Administration have the
The IRS is
among the lowest-scoring agencies at 51. While this is perhaps not
surprising given the fact that the agency both imposes an unwanted
burden and does not control key factors such as the tax code, the
ACSI yields actionable insights for satisfaction improvement. One
clue is found in the break-out IRS customer segment of electronic
filers, where the agency earned a 74.
"There is no
inherent reason for the government to perform worse than the private
sector," said Fornell. "Government participation in the ACSI is
an important step both demonstrating this and further changing expectations
each agency are based on selected key customer segments, and are
reported as an assessment of how well those particular segments
are being served. Most agencies' scores are now included in the
national ACSI score. In all, 8,060 customers of 29 agencies and
departments were interviewed. Measurement of these agencies will
be repeated in 2000.
only a few government services had been included in the ACSI. With
this expansion of the public sector measurement, the Index now covers
200 companies and public sector organizations. Prior to today's
report, the public-sector agencies measured were the IRS, US Postal
Service, and local garbage and police agencies.
ACSI approach to federal agencies was initiated by the President's
Management Council based on the recommendation of the methodology
by the General Services Administration.
"It was a
bold move for the government to put itself into an Index directly
alongside the private sector," said Fornell. "I take it as a sign
of seriousness about the business of measuring, understanding, and
improving customer satisfaction-which is a fundamentally important
component of effectiveness in any organization.
"In view of
the public mistrust of government reported in other studies, the
relatively high customer satisfaction achieved by several federal
agencies may be surprising to some," said Fornell. "Mistrust does
not necessarily translate into dissatisfaction with services. On
the other hand, there is a strong linkage from customer satisfaction
to improved trust. Low levels of trust probably lead to lower customer
expectations. This is one thing the ACSI data suggest."
The ACSI methodology
combines five key categories of questions through an econometric
model that produces a more accurate picture of customer satisfaction
than is possible through a simple survey. Fornell's model is designed
to isolate factors that have the highest impact on satisfaction.
This "impact" component of the model both produces a more accurate
understanding of satisfaction than traditional surveys, and yields
valuable insights into what customers care about the most. In evaluating
the government agencies, the model was altered only to adjust the
private-sector input category related to price and product purchase
and ACSI private-sector scores from 1994 to the present are available
on the University of Michigan
Business School web site .
information, contact Judy Calkins at the University of Michigan
Business School Office of Communications at 734-936-2150.
the government customer