We offer a lot of tips on the blog about how to find, bid on and win government contracts that will generate new revenue for your business. However, we want to stress that a great deal of effort must go into retaining that business long term.
There’s a misperception among many government suppliers that it is hard to lose a contract once they get their foot in the door with an agency. Many believe that repeatedly winning contracts is a given once that first one is secured. As a result, many companies forget how much customer service is still valued – and how much customer satisfaction really is tracked – in the public sector.
The National Association of State Procurement Officials (NASPO) just released its 2021 Top 10 Priorities list for State Procurement, and “Customer Service to Agency Stakeholders” was number three. Specifically, this means that procurement officials are focused on improving “responsiveness to agency stakeholders’ needs; maintaining trust, compliance with service level agreements and high satisfaction levels.”
In other words: procurement officials are under pressure to keep their internal customers happy, which means they are going to increasingly put pressure on suppliers to meet high quality standards in the delivery of goods and services.
This goes beyond product or service quality expectations and really speaks to overall performance and reputation. Do you meet deadlines? Are you amenable to changes requested by the customers? Are you responsive and agile? Do you go above and beyond to ensure agency customers succeed in their mission?
Procurement officials are going to take note of all of these things, and they’re going to notate each action (or inaction) in your official performance record whether you’re a prime or subcontractor or goods or services supplier.
Those past performance records, centrally stored and accessibly by all federal, state and local government agencies, will be reviewed by a contracting officer every single time a vendor submits a bid in the future – and often multiple times during the contract term. If there are repeat issues, corrective measures may be taken, to include a contract cancellation.
So, if you thought that the “hard part” was proving to the customer and awarding contracting officer (CO) that your company was the right one for the job in the first place, know that it can be even harder to meet expectations.
Keeping Customers Happy Isn’t Always Easy, but It Is Essential to Your Success (and Theirs)
Though your main point of contact may be in the CO in the procurement office, the internal agency customers they serve are the ultimate influencers and decision makers for each contract awarded. And it’s the end customers that are diligently tracking and documenting everything you do or don't do once the contract is executed. In fact, some COs claim to spend 50% of their day fielding customer complaints about contractors that fail to deliver promised services or meet contractual obligations and facilitating mediation conferences to come to a resolution. That means half of government customers are unsatisfied at some point. Contractors/suppliers must take action to reduce this rate.
You can start by understanding how performance will be rated. For example, the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) – which is used by all federal agencies and serves as a guide for many state and local entities – stipulates that contractor performance will be evaluated, at a minimum, using the following factors during both pre-award and post-award review actions:
It notes that ratings will “be based on objective facts supported by program and contract or order performance data” and “…should be tailored to the contract type, size, content, and complexity of the contractual requirements.” So, if you understand performance expectations from the start, it should be easier to meet (and hopefully exceed) them.
That being said, it’s not always the vendor’s fault when things don’t go as planned. Yet, the vendor is often the first to take the fall. (“The customer is always right,” right?) As such, existing contractors and suppliers have to work that much harder to build relationships and establish a high level of trust with both the customer and buyer. Knowing that customer satisfaction – or a lack thereof – is a major consideration for decision makers when evaluating bids/proposals, government contractors and suppliers should act as if each contract were theirs to lose at any time. They should do everything within their power to prove their value to the agency, and they should never feel “safe” or comfortable in their positions. There will always be another competitor looking to unseat the incumbent.
“Past performance” and “customer satisfaction” are equivalent terms in the eyes of public sector procurement officials. Therefore, customer service must become a priority for any company awarded a government contract – for the life of the contract – if it wants to receive a top customer satisfaction rating and a recommendation for future opportunities.