The Herald Bulletin

December 4, 2013

Susan Miller: How easily do you do business?


The Herald Bulletin

---- — Generally speaking, I prefer to keep business and government as separate as possible. Regulations, red tape and rule books are anathema to rational entrepreneurs who reason that market forces will keep their behavior in line.

Every now and then, government serves up a lesson that brilliantly validates the mindset that says business is not government’s business. Such is the case with the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Act violates a central tenant that is core to any business’s success.

Just what is this core quality that trumps price, friendliness, quality and service? Five little words: Easy To Do Business With. Jay Conrad Levinson, author of numerous “Guerilla Marketing” titles, counts being easy to do business with as a non-negotiable quality for any successful business.

The World Bank even publishes an “Ease of Doing Business Index” that ranks global economies on factors such as access to electricity, property costs, construction permits and cross-border trading.

But here in Middle America, what does “easy to do business” look like? First of all, it is not expensive. In “Guerilla Marketing for Free,” Levinson describes “easy to do business with”: “There is no cost. All that’s required is heightened awareness and acute sensitivity to customer needs.”

Considered from a cost perspective, the estimated $1 billion invested in creating the HealthCare.gov web site is a clear sign that the site isn’t easy to do business with.

Let’s consider acute sensitivity to customer needs as another “ease of doing business” benchmark. I confess to having felt a jolt of smugness as my most liberal Facebook friend posted that she had been trying for six weeks to make it all the way through the healthcare.gov site before her COBRA coverage expired. How is that for the government’s acute sensitivity to customer needs?

How does a business know if it is easy to do business with? According to Levinson, such insight comes from viewing the business through the customer’s eyes. Successful businesses often ask mystery shoppers to make a complex inquiry just to determine how well the business responds to the out-of-the-ordinary request. Given recent data regarding how the healthcare.gov site is processing the simplest requests, I doubt there’s much mystery about customer satisfaction with the ACA.

Before I rain on your holiday mood, take heart. Private businesses have long committed to making it easier to do business. They’ve even figured out how to bring technology into the process. I’m shopping for a car, and the dealer websites allow me to compare models, options and financing with a few keyboard clicks – and their sites even work!

Americans are innovators. The unpopularity of the ACA is already providing upstarts with fuel to fan the entrepreneurial flame. Businesses succeed by customer choice, not mandate.

Remember, ease of doing business costs nothing, but is driven by an acute focus on the customer’s needs. Make “ease of doing business” your company’s only mandate in 2014.

Susan Miller is owner of Ewing Miller Communications, an Anderson-based marketing and consulting firm. Her column runs in the Herald Bulletin on the first Thursday of each month. Write to her at susan@ewingmiller.com.