We talk a lot about how to secure new government customers and contracts that will generate new revenue for your business as that is every company’s goal regardless of size or industry. However, it’s even more important to talk about the effort that must go into retaining that business.
There’s a misconception among many government contractors that, once they get their foot in the door with an agency, it is hard to lose their valuable contract – that the “hard part” was proving to the customer and awarding contracting officer (CO) that they were the right company for the job. 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. Others simply overlook the fact that current actions, or inaction, will be documented in an official performance record for each prime contractor and subcontractor. Those Past Performance records, centrally stored and accessibly by all federal, state and local government agencies in CPARS and PPIRS, will be reviewed by a CO every single time a vendor submits a bid in the future.
Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Part 42 identifies requirements for documenting contractor performance evaluations for systems, non-systems, architect-engineer, and construction acquisitions. The FAR also requires documenting additional contractor performance information in the Federal Awardee Performance & Integrity Information System (FAPIIS) and to make the information available in the Past Performance Information Retrieval System (PPIRS).
In other words: “Past performance” and “customer satisfaction” are equivalent terms in the eyes of public sector procurement officials. That means that customer service must become a priority for every government contractor for the life of the contract in order to secure a top customer satisfaction rating.
Contractor performance will be evaluated, at a minimum, using the following factors during both pre-award and post-award review actions. The 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. - Technical quality of product or service. - Cost control (not applicable for firm-fixed-price or fixed-price with economic price adjustment arrangements). - Schedule/timeliness. - Management or business relations. - Small business subcontracting – FAR
However, keeping customers happy isn’t always easy. Though your main point of contact may be 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 must take action to reduce this rate. (You can start by understanding how performance will be rated.)
That being said, it’s not always the contractors’ fault when things don’t go as planned. Yet, the contractor is often the first to take the fall. (“The customer is always right,” right?) As such, existing contractors 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, every government supplier should act as if this 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 position. There will always be another competitor looking to unseat the incumbent.