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IRS Gets High Customer Satisfaction Rating for Online Filing

Traditionally, 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 satisfaction survey.

But the good news is: Among electronic filers the agency earned a higher score than most businesses.

Government 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.

The aggregate 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.

Federal 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 doing so."

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.

Some federal 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).

Regulatory 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 lowest scores.

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 and actions."

Scores for 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.


Until now, 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.

Applying the 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 intentions.

Complete results and ACSI private-sector scores from 1994 to the present are available on the University of Michigan Business School web site .

Contact Information

For additional information, contact Judy Calkins at the University of Michigan Business School Office of Communications at 734-936-2150.

Also visit the government customer survey website.

Related Resource

IRS Website