In China, suppliers seldom speak out about their most important concerns, but they usually do something about it. Many importers feel that factories make them pay, in one way or another, for everything they resent. A few examples:
- A shipment delay due to an out-of-the-ordinary complexity in the breakdown of the orders,
- Slow sampling and a “can’t do” attitude because the buyer wants something they have never done before,
- A price increase because the buyer insists on sending quality control inspectors who piss everybody off (that’s what I pay “paying twice for quality control”, and I know that some importers are afraid of it).
When you make small cultural mistakes like not using the public chopsticks or bowing (Chinese don’t bow) or slapping a female co-worker on the shoulder or a million other little things you’ll be completely forgiven. It’ll just be chalked up to “stupid foreigner.” But when you make demands on a broken contract or hold people accountable in public for personal mistakes or force specific processes to get things done you will be punished for it. I promise.
Does it mean that buyers should avoid doing anything that displeases their Chinese suppliers? Should they forget about quality control, as some small buyers do? Certainly not. As Dayton also writes in the same article:
If you’re not here, it doesn’t matter what you want or what you say.
Factories themselves tell us this ALL THE TIME! The client places an order, doesn’t hire any 3PQ and the factory is just left to produce product on their own. Sure, most of the time they don’t produce complete crap, but who is deciding what’s crap and what’s not? Yup, the very people who stand to make the most money from doing as little QC as possible.
Then the real issue is: how to avoid “paying twice for quality control”, and more generally all kinds of hidden punishments?
1. Basic diplomacy
If you come on site, make sure you don’t piss off the middle managers in the factory, because they are the ones you really need–see my previous post: How to behave in a Chinese factory.
If you are particularly unpleasant, or point to certain people’s faults, you are making yourself some enemies. Don’t do it, unless you have a big problem to solve right now.
This is one of the advantages of third-party service providers: they only produce a report for the buyer–they don’t cause anyone to lose face publicly.
2. Quality inspections are “company policy”
Make sure the suppliers see that quality control is part of your work process and that it is not negotiable. Equally important, never waive it to avoid a shipping delay, except maybe with suppliers who have proved to be both helpful and reliable.
If you give a supplier the impression that a QC inspection was booked exceptionally for his order, he will feel cheated and he might retaliate in one way or another.
Extra reading >> If you’d like to learn even more about QC, read our detailed Quality Control basic concepts post here.
3. Let factories work the way they prefer
Sending your own technicians, or engineers from an independent company, can be very helpful… If the factory is used to it and understands from the start that it is indispensable to get your business. This is common for complex industrial products, for instance.
When it comes to consumer goods, factories are not used to seeing somebody coming in and showing them how to process a particular batch. You might be able to twist their arm and get what you want (as long as you have a presence in the factory), but you might well run into other problems that are seemingly unrelated.
The key is to choose the right factory from the start. “Right” means “small enough to value our orders” but also “already close to where we need them to be”.
4. Quality control is a tool and inspectors take no decision
Do not EVER threaten to cancel the order or to ask for a discount “if the inspection is failed”.
Do you like to get a speeding ticket? No, and neither does the factory. Avoid putting unnecessary pressure.
5. Jump on problems and ask the tough questions immediately
Do not systematically ask for re-inspections when something is off spec.
Some buyers have this reflex when they are not in a hurry–after all, they re-invoice the costs to their supplier. Last month we did a 2nd, a 3rd, a 4th, and a 5th inspection on the same production run. There was always something wrong, and the trading company just couldn’t get the manufacturer to do something serious about it.
If a bad situation drags on and on, and the factory sees inspectors coming regularly, of course they will think QC is the source of all problems. Do not ever get to that point…