Despite having invested billions of dollars moving services and information resources online, governments around the world are still struggling to meet citizens' growing expectations for better customer service, according to the results of a study released Thursday by Accenture.

The study, "Leadership in Customer Service: New Expectations, New Experiences," which surveyed 9,000 adults in 22 countries, revealed that all countries experienced a drop from previous years' overall e-government maturity scores. The average score, which measures how well governments are delivering services across multiple channels, was just 39 percent. Only Canada scored more than 50 percent. Countries that fared worse tended to be those with an emphasis on solely the e-government aspects of service delivery.

"That leaves a lot of room for improvement," said Marty Cole, group chief executive of Accenture's Government Operating Group. While most governments have put what they can online, far fewer are actually redesigning how they deliver services to meet the more sophisticated needs of customers.

Cole singled out Canada, which ranks first out of the 22 countries surveyed in maturity (the U.S. ranked 2nd), as making the transformation that will ultimately impact how government is managed. He also cited Belgium, which is giving all citizens electronic identity cards, which will open the door to a wealth of new services based on an entirely different infrastructure.

For the first time, the Accenture survey looked beyond e-government and tried to measure the countries' leadership in delivering true customer services. "This year's research shows that governments cannot afford to invest all of their effort and resources in developing the online channel alone to keep pace with citizens demands," he said. "The entire government organization must become focused on delivering services to citizens that are tailored to their needs and circumstances, and are coordinated across the various channels of interaction."

The study comprised two components with one assessing leadership for overall service delivery, while the second component looked at citizens' perception and experiences interacting with their governments online, in person or via phone.

Interestingly, citizens globally prefer to rely on more traditional channels for interacting with government. "Despite citizen understanding of the Internet, they prefer using the phone even though they rank it as cumbersome to use," explained Cole. Over the past 12 months, 57 percent of respondents had used the telephone to interact with government, as opposed to only 22 percent who had used the Internet.

The study also found that while most citizens are eager to embrace a new generation of services, governments are falling short on their ability to deliver them. "Most citizens interact with government several times a year and most found those interactions to be disappointing," said Cole. "Few governments remembered the previous contacts with the citizens, which indicates their inability to pull up data from past contacts. When a government does remember, the citizen's perception of effectiveness reaches 55 percent compared to just 20 percent when government doesn't remember."