communication with suppliersDo your suppliers routinely misinterpret your emails and verbal instructions? If so, you are definitely not alone. Just about every factory in China has staff that can communicate with clients in English. Yet innocent typos, outright fraud, and just plain cultural differences crop up all the time, often in subtle ways.

Barrier 1: Beating ‘Round the Bush

One barrier to communication with suppliers you might encounter is when your supplier avoids directly answering an otherwise straightforward question that has a clear purpose. You may want to know the number of days required to complete a task or when something is supposed to arrive or be sent out. What you might hear instead is something vague like “we’ll let you know the soonest” or “please don’t worry, we’ll arrange this for you quickly.” By reading between the lines, we know the supplier has no idea when the requested action will be completed or requested information provided.

The solution: Don’t accept ambiguity. Insist on clarity of procedures and deadlines to make sure you and your supplier are on the same page.

Barrier 2: Lack of Transparency and Cooperation

In a second example of poor communication with suppliers, you might receive an email like the one below after having confirmed and clarified the role of the QC company before placing an order with the supplier:

For the product R&D, I think it is part of our company confidential information, so we do suggest XXXXXX just do the final quality checking after we finish 100% of goods before shipping is better.communication with suppliers

We will control each parts quality in good level. Do not worry.

Hope you could understand and support.


What importer doesn’t want to trust their supplier to adequately control quality? The email sounds simple and straightforward enough. But the reality is that by taking what the supplier has said at face value you put your company’s reputation at great risk. Your supplier may have told you that they would provide full transparency and cooperation as a condition for accepting an order. So a situation where the factory casually suggests skipping all the important steps leading up to the final inspection should be cause for alarm. It is all too common to see this suggestion from a supplier. The consequence is that the results of the final inspection may be less than desirable. Then, once the results are in, the supplier will try to assure the buyer that future orders will be better.

The solution: Unless your expectations were unreasonable to begin with, don’t back down on these important parts of the agreement.

Barrier 3: Give Them an Inch and They’ll Take a Mile

This brings us to the final point which is that future orders don’t automatically improve from the last one. If you accepted a shipment that was clearly less than you bargained for, then your supplier may see that as a sign of your real expectations and fail to pay more attention next time. In the event that you do need corrective action before shipping, you must be explicitly clear about what you want – and then verify it.

Many suppliers are comfortable writing back to you the next day to say that an order has been “re-worked and all defective units sorted.” This statement is generally untrue because it’s often physically impossible. How can 10,000 pieces be re-worked in less than 24 hours? The factory stopped working on all its other orders and worked all night to make sure yours is now perfect? How can you trust that new defects weren’t introduced into the shipment during that process? The factory representative is just saying what they think you want to hear so they can ship the order. The bottom line: don’t be fooled by promises that sound too good to be true.

One alternative here is that the factory is actually talking about its re-work of the sample size that was inspected. If 200 pieces were pulled randomly for inspection, then the factory may just be saying that it replaced the defective units in that sample size. You may see the same language above used in an email to describe this situation. This kind of communication is easier for the factory to justify because less lying may be involved here.

The solution: Protect yourself by always insisting on re-inspection to verify that the factory has made good on its promises of re-work and defect sorting.


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