Federal agency leaders and outside experts met last week to prepare
for the first-ever governmentwide customer satisfaction survey.
Officials from 30 agencies began planning the survey, which is
designed to tell them how well government now meets its customers'
expectations. The survey is part of a broader customer satisfaction
initiative, which aims to identify additional methods of measuring and
improving customer service.
"The goal of this effort is to make customer satisfaction
something we think about every day," said James Dean, deputy
associate administrator at the General Services Administration, who is
overseeing the survey.
The 30 participating agencies are primarily drawn from Vice President
Al Gore's list of "high-impact agencies," which account for 90
percent of the government's interaction with the public, the
administration says. Three of the high-impact agencies—the National
Weather Service, the Small Business Administration and the Commerce
Department's U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service—opted out of the
survey. Two non-high-impact agencies—the National Science Foundation
and the Department of Housing and Urban Development—joined in.
The survey will be administered by the consulting firm Arthur
Andersen under a $867,000 one-year contract. The survey is based on the
American Customer Satisfaction Index, a survey program run by the
University of Michigan Business School and the American Society for
Arthur Andersen will poll 250 to 300 customers of each participating
agency using the American Customer Satisfaction Index methodology.
Results will be published between September and December.
A newly created Committee for Excellence in Customer Satisfaction is
charged with guiding the survey effort. The committee includes
Postmaster General William Henderson; U.S. Mint Director Philip Diehl;
Bobby Harnage, president of the American Federation of Government
Employees; Ronald Hutchinson, vice president of the Harley Davidson
Motor Company; and Clarence E. Anthony, mayor of South Bay, Florida and
president of the National League of Cities.
Anthony said he hopes the initiative will help various levels of
government share ideas on improving service to citizens. In addition,
publicizing customer service initiatives will show private businesses
they can learn from government agencies, he said.
"There are some customer focus best practices in the government
arena that we can share with the private sector," Anthony said.
At the Thursday meeting, federal representatives expressed concerns
about the survey. Charles Jeffress, head of the Occupational Safety and
Health Administration, noted that regulatory agencies will have to
figure out who to identify as customers and how to weigh feedback from
the general public against feedback from regulated communities.
Mint Director Diehl said customer surveys have limited usefulness in
providing ideas for improving operations. Colleen Kelly, vice president
of the National Treasury Employees Union, said some agency officials are
worried that negative survey results will become fodder for
congressional critics at appropriations time.
GSA's Dean said the survey is a way to provide a standardized,
objective view of citizens' perception of government service.
"This survey complements what agencies are already doing with
other surveys," Dean said. "This captures satisfaction at a
much broader level. It also moves away from anecdotal information to an
objective assessment of performance."
Gore announced the administration's plan for a survey in January. He
also announced plans to evaluate federal executives on a balanced set of
measures, including business results, employee satisfaction and customer