A remedy for ill communications

Here is a template (forged with my own blood sweat and tears) to improve e-mail correspondence among your staff / suppliers in China.

If you communicate globally via email with co-workers or suppliers in China, you probably have at some point become frustrated by the amount of time it takes to get an answer to what you consider a simple question. Part of the reason is language and culture, but dealing in multiple time zones plays a big role too.

For example, if you are in N. America and sending e-mails to China, it is essential to have clear and effective communications because there is very little overlap of working hours in the two places. Should you get an unclear response to your question, you have to wait another 24 hours to ask and hear back.  This cycle can go on for days and somehow a simple question like “did the samples arrive and get sent to the suppliers?” takes 2 weeks to answer.


Monday USA

USA Question: Did the samples arrive and get sent to the suppliers?


Tuesday USA time

China Answer: Many boxes arrived, which samples?


Wednesday USA Time

USA Question: Did the red samples of part #682 arrive?


Thursday USA Time

China Answer: I’m out of the office on a factory visit; my assistant at the office says some of the red samples arrived. I’m sending her spreadsheet with the details.


Friday USA time

USA Question: The spreadsheet was in Chinese, can’t understand. I sent 10 samples, did you get at least 6 so you can send 2 to each of the 3 suppliers?


Monday USA time

China Answer: No answer


Tuesday USA time

China Answer: Sorry, I sent the email to the wrong address. We got 5 and I wasn’t sure which supplier you wanted me to send them to, please advise.


Wednesday USA time

USA Question: F*%$ it, we don’t have time left to make the parts and deliver them.


Thursday USA time

China: Which parts are you talking about?


Time: 10 days   Progress: 0


Even simple communications get mucked up over email, so to help improve things around my office; about 4 years ago I created the following protocol for all my China side staff.  It proved so effective, now all staff regardless of nationality have a laminated copy of it attached to every monitor in my organization.


Copy provided below.


Couple of notes:

1.    ACE is the project management software we use at the office. It is not an understatement to say that moving from a spreadsheet based system to proper project management software has changed my life as a manager.  We made this change when we had about 50 staff. Today we have 200 and I know I would have hung myself had I not had this software in place. More on Ace in a future blog post.


2.    Make sure your staff have English spell check on their computers. Some China computers don’t have this out of the box, but installing it is easy.

3.    You need to have some incentive in place for people to follow and respect the rules. At my shop anybody that breaks the protocol has to buy me a beer. And I like expensive imported stuff from Belgium!


4.    Many of the points are obvious, but unless your suppliers or China side co-workers are trained up, you will run into problems.  So take a minute to go over the protocol and make sure everybody signs off. I am providing my protocol below in bilingual format so you can cut and paste and share among your team.



Wishing you successful China Sourcing!

Mike Bellamy

Author, “The Essential Reference Guide to China Sourcing” (chinasourcinginfo.org/book/)

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