As children we are taught not to judge a book by its cover. We are taught not to judge people based on appearances. I was watching a TV show about cops in New York who were explaining to their children that just because someone looks scary that they are not necessarily a bad guy. However, experience has taught me that if there is something scary about you, some negative character trait will turn up somewhere. You might not be a criminal, but some other bad tendency will surface. If you associate with bad people, there will be something bad about you. The apple never falls far from the tree, so people — let’s use our common sense here.
You can learn a lot from the salesperson
So, how does this silly discussion apply to the world of business? Doing business is a little like being a cop. You need to judge your instincts. You need to assess situations and offers. You need to know the right companies to hire. You cannot tell much by talking to the salesperson over the phone. They are always pleasant and up beat. However, if the salesperson can’t answer questions and tells you that everything you want is easily possible, they are probably talking nonsense as I have never seen a company cooperate more then 20% with me in the long run — there are always many snags and limitations.
Communication is the indicator you’ve been waiting for.
If a company sends illiterate looking emails to you, it is a sign that their service is not that good. When I get poorly written emails from companies and then call them, the oral communication is always unbelievably bad. I am not perfect myself, but I judge companies on how good their writing skills are. See how clearly they talk to you. Do they like talking to you? If not, then don’t use them. Some people talk too fast, others mumble, while some garble. Try to find someone who communicates clearly. I deal mostly with foreigners, so they will have accents, but that is okay. If their English is educated sounding and clear, that is the main thing. Additionally, a company with a poor phone line that is so bad that they are constantly making you repeat yourself and then blaming you for not using a better phone — is not a company you should use. So, judge a company by their phone lines, conversation, and emails. But, my favorite indication of a company is their office.
The office is the window to a company’s soul
Charlie Munger always used to do walk arounds in people’s offices. He wanted to know if the company would be a good investment. He could tell a lot by how the employees acted. Did they have good body language? Did they look happy? Did they dress well? Did they slouch? I do many walk arounds at companies. When I ask questions, I seldom get good answers. When I ask people to email me back, I always have to wait for weeks only to get a useless answer. I can tell by the energy of the workers that they are mentally dull most of the time and not interested in their work or in their customers. I am more interested in companies that are alive.
Decor means a lot too
Some offices are not very thoughtfully decorated. Others have cheap or incomplete decor. I went to a spa at the Singapore airport that had nice plants, beautiful tile floors, Japanese sliding paper doors, and aroma therapy. I felt immediately relaxed upon entering. I went to another spa in Los Angeles where they had beautiful pictures of the Buddha, fancy pillows, and plants too. I felt relaxed there too, and their spa services were much better than another spa I went to with cheap looking decor. There was one case of an office with a very plain and inexpensive decor. They offered good service to me for years, but then the boss lost his temper and I stopped using their service. Sometimes there is a delayed reaction in business. If you see a bad sign in someone you’ve hired, it is like a ticking time-bomb. You know something will happen, but you’re not sure when, where or how. In this case it was 17 years before something happened.
How do you judge overseas companies
It is harder to judge a company that you can’t visit. My suggestion is to visit it anyway, or don’t use them. Invest in getting to know people personally. It is too risky to do any type of business with people you aren’t sure about. But, if you use companies that you don’t have time to visit, try to do that office walk around without physically seeing the office. You can learn a lot by interviewing a few of their workers. Instead of seeing haggard looking people slouching around, you can hear the slouching over the phone. You can hear the “I’m tired and want to go home” tone in their voice. Many of the signs are there. Blind people can’t see, but compensate by using their other senses more elaborately. If you can’t see a company you want to work with, try to be like a blind person and learn about them using your other senses.
Remember — Christianity says judge not lest you should be judged. In business you have to judge. So, try to be intelligent about how you judge. Look for the signs, and try to look around in as many ways as you can to see more signs. Additionally, when you compare companies, you might consider comparing hundreds rather than two or three as most companies are not what they are cracked up to be — except for spas in Singapore!