More and more Chinese suppliers put their customers directly in contact with a quality manager, an assistant quality manager, or something of the sort. However, most of the time, you are not communicating with whom you think…
It usually takes one of the two forms I describe below.
Situation 1: the final QC supervisor
In many factories, we see more than 20% of the staff works on inspection and rework activities. They wait until products are finished, sort out the bad stuff, re-process it, then check it again…
After that, the customer-nominated inspectors come in, check quality, reject some batches, and it all starts over.
The main representatives of customers are the inspectors they send in factories!!
Remember, Chinese students all study in order to pass the exam. A very cynical attitude prevails here. Same thing for quality control — ‘if it passes the buyer’s inspection, we pass’.
Therefore, the quality department is often seen as part of the sales department (let’s keep the current customers happy) or part of the shipping department (let’s make sure the customer’s inspectors don’t stop shipment and we get paid soon).
It is NOT what you might expect — the department that helps production get better. (This might include mistake-proofing processes, developing work instructions, training the staff, and so on.)
So, if you are in contact with someone from the quality department and that person only talks about inspection, you are talking to a sales rep.
Situation 2: the “inconvenient paperwork” handler
There is a serious quality issue. A customer wants to know exactly what made it possible, and what changes the factory will implement to avoid recurrence of that specific issue.
A very common troubleshooting form is the corrective action plan. Here is a simplified example:
The two areas that 99% of Chinese manufacturers NEVER do right:
- Root cause analysis — they often remain at a superficial level.
- Followup — finding what to do is great, but will it really be done consistently?
Now let’s break the problem down and see why the customer is so often disappointed by Chinese manufacturers:
- Will the production department explain what happened? Yes, and hopefully it is the truth. Will they communicate in English? Probably not. In English and in written form? No! They have to make their numbers today. In 95% of cases, their only incentives are linked to the number of pieces made — they might not even know the customer’s name. So, at best, you are relying on a salesperson’s translation of a technical issue she might not understand.
- Will the production department, the engineering department, a sub-supplier, or whatever party is most directly concerned, work on finding the root cause(s) that need to be addressed to prevent recurrence? Based my own 11-year experience in this field, very seldom.
- Will the party most directly concerned make the required changes? They might show some goodwill and do something. But, since they haven’t done the hard work of uncovering the root cause(s), it will often be useless.
In this context, manufacturers that work for large customers and MUST report on what happened and how it is being fixed have to find solutions. One common fix is to hire some people in the quality department who will fill out the paperwork the customer wants (typically a corrective action plan, a FMEA, a control plan, etc.)
Will production even read those documents? Maybe yes… and usually not. Take them with a grain of salt. They are probably written to make you feel good!
What do you think? Is this conform to your experiences?