SEWP Boosts Customer Experience While Cutting Its Fee

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The vast majority of customers seem to be happy with NASA’s IT acquisition vehicle but the quest for better customer experience never ends.

People seem to be happy with NASA’s governmentwide IT procurement contract, Solutions for Enterprisewide Procurement, or SEWP, according to an internal survey of customers. But that hasn’t stopped the program office from trying to improve the customer experience.

The recent survey showed 89 percent of SEWP customers are happy with the way the program operates. But it’s that 11 percent that nags at Program Manager Joanne Woytek.

“90 percent of our customers are happy,” Woytek told Nextgov. “So, we’re talking about the 10 percent that weren’t.”

To improve the customer experience, SEWP managers have rolled out two new features and are announcing a drop in the order fee, from 0.39 percent to 0.375 percent.

By statute, SEWP is not allowed to turn a profit, so any surplus in the budget is put into program improvements or lowering the fee, which is now the lowest among the governmentwide contract vehicles. When SEWP launched in 1993, the fee was 2.4 percent, Woytek said. By comparison, Health and Human Services’ NITAAC contract has a 0.65 percent fee for the unrestricted vehicle and 0.55 percent on the small business vehicle, with a max of $150,000 for both; and the General Services Administration’s IT Schedule 70 carries a 0.75 percent fee.

Woytek’s goal is to get SEWP’s down to 0.25 percent.

“I want to make it as meaningless to our customers as possible,” she said. “We want to make sure our tools make it … so the cost of acquisition is the cost of getting what they want, not the cost of figuring out how to get it.”

To that end, the SEWP office has rolled out two new features. The first is an updated order status tool that collects all order history for an agency customer or industry seller in one place. This has the potential to save customers a lot of time, Woytek said, as this information wasn’t accessible in a central place before.

The second is a new question and answer tool designed to help companies interact directly with the agency buyers to discover exactly what their procurement needs are.

In a similar vein, it can be hard for SEWP managers to discover what their customers’ needs are, both government and industry.

“The customer doesn’t usually come to us and say, ‘I want this,’” Woytek said. In her experience, the best way to get input from customers is by conducting the training herself.

“I do a lot of the training myself. I use that as one of my main customer input points,” she said. “If you see what they’re doing or you hear their questions or you read their emails, you realize where you can help them.”

Woytek said she also spends time scanning the help desk tickets for nuggets of feedback she can use to improve the platform. And, since SEWP uses an agile, iterative form of development, those improvements can be wrapped into the next cycle.

And that last 11 percent?

“They mostly don’t like the fact that we are not just a static catalog,” Woytek said. “We don’t just sit there and say, ‘Here’s the products, go buy them.’ We ask the customers to tell us what they want and then we get them that through our catalogs.”

Unfortunately, that’s exactly the strength of SEWP, from Woytek’s perspective. Rather than project managers spending time finding the right solution, they can work through SEWP to discover options they might not have thought of. But still, some would rather just be able to buy what they want.

“Some customers don’t like that. That’s OK,” she said. “For people who either don’t understand the process or don’t like the process, we’re trying to find ways to provide a view into the products we have while still allowing for flexibility.”

Editor's note: This article has been updated to more clearly reflect the fees for different governmentwide contract vehicles.