Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Factory Communication 101: Read, Analyze, Feedback

If pics from factory not presentable to your customer (like this one):
instruct factory on what you need to see
I noticed a key cause to a lot of production problems.  It may not be a root cause, but a cause nonetheless.  An avoidable cause at that. 

 Buyers are not properly checking, reading and analyzing info that is sent from production side.  Whether it is something written in an email, a clause in the invoice or closely analyzing inspection photos sent from the factory….buyers are missing things.  I’ve even seen cases of physical samples being sent to the customer for sign-off;  sign-off was made and then problems later discovered.

It boils down to classic cases of carelessness.  Can speculate on a couple of reasons.

  • Buyer was too busy to take a deep breath, sit down and properly analyze info in light of other info. 
  • Buyer assumed because they gave an instruction to the factory then it was automatically implemented and accomplished. 
Factories get blamed for a lot and a lot of that is justified.  But, I wonder how many of the product recalls we saw on the news were because an account manager somewhere overseas didn’t read their email? Didn’t answer the factory?  Didn’t properly consider what the factory was trying to communicate? 

I’ve seen cases in my own company where we send images over to a buyer, buyer has confirms the images (whether print, color, whatever) and then later a problem comes up.  Although the visuals were confirmed; they were not confirmed accurately enough. 

Now for the case of JLmade; we endeavor to work in such a way that when we send images, it isn’t for you to catch our mistakes but to show the production control process and to allow buyers to be just as much a part of the process as we are. 

This further helps to educate the buyer, allowing them to know what’s happening with their production, which in turn allows them to sell better to their brands, retail chains, etc….

The rare case does happen where something may be different than confirmed or just flat-out wrong and in showing the buyer the visuals, we’re hoping they can also help out and catch anything we may have missed.  I’ve learned through the years that hoping the buyer will catch something is not likely.  We’re not here to play “You-didn’t-catch-the-problem-and-already-confirmed-game”.  This doesn’t benefit anybody and in the end, the buyer / brand needs the correct merchandise, regardless.

But what about other suppliers and the case of factory-direct?  Are you putting trust in them to do the job right?  And is your trust causing you to quickly skim over emails, visuals or not closely confirm a sample?  If this is the case, you’re heading down the wrong path…

When factories or suppliers, for the most part, send you images, they’re hoping to get a confirmation, so that they’re further affirmed to be on the right path. 

Their end-goal isn’t to do the product correct.

Their end-goal is to get your confirmation. 

I know they sound similar enough but there is a subtle difference that places all quality control on your shoulders and whilst you’re not in the factory but abroad. 

How to avoid?  The following answers are all 101 basic, but we’ve all gotten too big-for-our-britches in this iPhone, blackberry, quickie email age, that when dealing with an overseas factory, we’re not covering our bases.

Read:  read your emails from the supplier.  Take time to sit down and closely read the email.  Understand what they are saying and try to figure out what they’re not saying.  I know many buyers don’t read their emails, invoices or quotes because they turn right around and ask questions that are covered in the material.  It’s OK when you do this with JLmade, but when you’re working with a factory, it could lead to disaster. 

Understand what’s not being said.  If they keep mentioning how tight the delivery time is; they’re hinting on the eventual delay they’re going to hit you with.  If they repeatedly refer to a “difficult process”, they’re gearing you up to be ready when you receive an inferior quality product.

Be prompt in confirmations: production lines
are like machines and have to keep rolling 
Analyze the photos sent:  Take time to carefully view any pics the factory sends down the line.  They’re sending them for your confirmation and when dealing with a factory, they’re not saying, “we did this correct, now please note”, they’re saying, “Is this correct?”.  Another subtle difference.

Also may be a good idea to send the photos to your buyer.  The more eyes, the better.  Show the images to your buyer, let them know you wanted them to better understand the process and to please take a moment to analyze the images. 

“By the way,  although we’ve analyzed the images and everything is on track, please take a moment to check everything out as well in case we did miss something”

You’re buyer is not going to be angry if you say this and they may appreciate the empowering call to action to assist…. I think a lot of distributers and suppliers are scared to sneeze around their brands and buyers;  relax, they’re human and they’re not going to mind you asking them to check a few photos.  Better than them receiving wrong production. 

Feedback on Your Email:  After you’ve gone over the material (email, document or photo), comment on what you just saw. 

If you find something suspicious; ask about it!  Don’t let it fester…ask right away.  Test the supplier to see if they can further backup what they informed you.  Have them show further evidence and inform them when you expect their next update. 

Don’t be timid to ask the obvious. 

In China, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask the obvious, to ask the same question more than once to ask someone to give you proof; you won’t be offending anybody.

Also, if they asked questions in their email or there is a call-to-action with some info or act pending from you side, be sure you do it.  If the delivery time is urgent and they’re waiting for an answer, they will eventually choose and option whether it was the one you wanted or not.  Factories wait for no man, woman or beast once the goods have gone into production.

Treat the communication coming over from the supply side seriously.  Don’t take the images for granted.  You worked so hard to get the production going, once it goes into production, is not the time to let your guard down.  Stay vigilant up until the end and you’ll find the percentage of problems take a nosedive.

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