5 Steps to Effective Communication with Chinese Suppliers
Global business can be tricky, especially when you are not familiar with your business partner’s culture. A normally friendly gesture used in American business can offend someone from another country while idioms can be lost in translation and be easily misinterpreted. It’s no news that China is a huge exporting hub. Conducting business with your Chinese supplier is already difficult with language, but it doesn’t stop there. Mix in the cultural differences and it can get even more complicated. Here are some tips to give you guidance on how to effectively communicate with your supplier.
Be concise in your planning
Don’t be surprised if your contact isn’t fluent in English. Most factories will have at least one English speaking staff member, but certain words and phrases can’t be perfectly translated and understood. When laying out your plans and designs, make sure you are as concise as possible. Try using lists to explain your ideas rather than packing information into a paragraph that can make it difficult for your supplier to decipher. Stick to clear short sentences that are easy to understand and avoid complicated terms and vocabulary.
Be direct in your communication
Be honest and clear about what you like and don’t like. The more you go back and forth with your supplier, the longer it will take for the production and shipment process to go through. You need to make sure that you provide all the necessary information to your supplier so there is no confusion in the manufacturing and shipping process. You need to take charge of the business relationship. It’s common for Chinese suppliers to withhold bad news by not responding to an email because they don’t want to “lose face.” In general, take the silence as a way of your supplier saying there’s a problem or a need for clarification. Either way, make sure you reach out to them as soon as possible.
Be respectful of hierarchies
Like most Asian cultures, China is a high-context culture meaning communication is indirect and requires a deep understanding of cultural context to interpret what others are saying properly. The last thing you want to do is offend your supplier with a simple gesture or comment. The Chinese adhere to a hierarchy system and tend to be more courteous to elders and those of higher rank. If you have an issue, try to find a solution through your contact first before asking to speak to a superior.
Find alternative ways to communicate
Communication is tough when both parties reside in different time zones. Also, Chinese sales reps do not practice the same email etiquette as their customers. Applications like Skype, QQ (Chinese version of Skype) and WeChat are very popular in China and may be another good way to communicate.
Keep in mind that China’s time zone is not the same as the U.S.’s. For example, there is a 16-hour difference between Shanghai and Los Angeles. So, when it is 6 am in Shanghai, it is 2 pm in Los Angeles. Geographically, China spans five time zones, but officially follows a single standard time zone (UTC+08:00). Plan a few hours in the evening of your time zone to send emails or make phone calls so it will reach your supplier during their morning time.
Accept that not everything is going to go your way. Manufacturing is complicated and many unforeseen factors can creep up at any given time. Flexibility and understanding of market conditions are important. Of course, there are limitations as to what you should accept, but you should still expect and be able to tolerate minor delays and price adjustments.
You have heard interesting stories of manufacturing products in China. The import business is definitely challenging, but there are several ways to ease the pain of communicating with your supplier. Like any business project, you should expect product quality and timely shipments. Following these steps will go a long way in making sure you and your supplier are on the same page in meeting your expectations.
Pro tip: In China, business cards are considered an extension of you, so always carry business cards with you to meetings (make sure they’re translated into Mandarin). Give and receive business cards with two hands and take a moment to study your Chinese counterpart’s card to show respect.