Government Customer Wants to Visit? Gotta Let’em In.

Someone’s Knockin’ At the Door.
Somebody’s Ringin’ the Bell.
Someone’s Knockin’ At the Door.
Somebody’s Ringin’ the Bell.
Open The Door And Let ‘Em In…

Imagine this scenario, familiar to many contractors:
Two years ago, you landed a large contract producing wigits for a major Government agency. Things seem to be going well, until you begin to hear from the Government’s program manager (PM) about quality issues. As you begin to address those, your key supplier has a production melt-down and misses a delivery, making your next three shipments late. The PM asks for weekly conference calls to better understand what’s going on. Because of your missed shipping dates, you can’t submit invoices and get paid – cramping your cash flow. Just as you think you’ve solved the quality issue, another crops up. The Procuring Contracting Officer (PCO) sends you a Show Cause Letter seeking an explanation of how you’ll be getting back on track. Just as you’re trying to prepare a thorough response, you hear from the PM that he wants a plant visit. This is the first time you’ve had the Government in your facility because of a production issue.

What to do?

When you know your Government-customer is coming for a visit, by all means, be as gracious as Paul McCartney suggests, but also take the occasion very seriously. The visit is for a very specific purpose.
When the reason for visiting is because something is awry (e.g., concerns over delivery, quality, cost/price, etc.), then you likely already know why they are coming. But you can be sure that if they choose to come, it’s because their concerns have risen to a level where imminent action needs to be taken.

Typically, your customer will briefly explain ahead of time why they are visiting and may send an agenda. It may be that they want to “walk the ground” in your facility to learn more about what’s going on, examine root causes, assess your corrective actions, and make a factual estimate of what the future holds. If a DCMA rep is involved with your contract, then he/she will be consulted beforehand and likely attend the meeting.

The objective, from your customer’s point of view, will be to assess the risk of continuing to do business with you. Rest assured that the information the customer gleans from this visit will go directly into the contract file your customer maintains on you. The question is, will this visit show your company in good light or bad?

Your proactive work prior to the face-to-face at your facility can turn a potentially negative experience into a positive one — the visit can be an opportunity for your company to show its stuff. If necessary, it could provide your customer the reassurance they need from viewing your staff, facility and operations in action.

So, how do you prepare?

1. engage with your customer in advance,
2. identify and clarify their concerns,
3. be fully prepared to show your corrective actions (both underway and planned), and
4. demonstrate how you will make these corrective actions part of your routine.

Addressing corrective actions and status directly during visits, as well as during regular reviews, ensures your changes are “baked in” to your processes. If handled well, a customer’s physical presence in your place of business is the chance to both communicate and demonstrate your company’s abilities to them. They can walk out the door knowing that their investment in you is sound and productive.

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