Company Blog

Tricks of the (International) Trade

March 27, 2012 at 07:30 PM | from James Frier

Company Blog I learned a little trick recently that I wanted to share with you. It can save you several days of precious time.

As you know, it can be difficult to work with overseas companies because of the time difference between the U.S. west coast and Asian countries. There were many times when I was up at 2AM speaking on the phone to a consignee in Bangkok or a factory manager in Shenzhen, China or a receiving agent in Singapore.

And if you have deadlines to meet, there can be unexpected national holidays that can disrupt even the most carefully planned production schedules. But, recently, I was blindsided by circumstances that I could never have expected: a factory production schedule back-log.

I had been given a huge order. When I phoned the factory in China, the manager informed me that his production schedule was so far back-logged that my usual 30 day delivery date would be extended to 80 days. This made it impossible to meet my customer's deadline. Sadly, I could not accept the order.

In a desperate attempt to source a substitute product from one of the hundreds of consumer electronics factories in China I made contact with another manufacturer one night at 2AM Pacific Time. In order to determine if this substitute product would work I needed to have some samples shipped to me from Shenzhen and then I would have to forward the samples to my customer on the east coast of the US. Time was of the essence.

I contacted the FedEx U.S. International Customer Service in Memphis, Tennessee. They're available 24 hours a day. I told them that I needed to have some samples picked up in Shenzhen, China. I had all of the contact information EXCEPT for the zip code. I was told that, without the zip code, they could not process the request.

I phoned the factory once again and got the zip code. Then it occurred to me to phone the FedEx office in Shenzhen. The first thing they ask you is, "What is your account number?" That is when I learned that a U.S. FedEx account number does not work in China. I told the FedEx customer service person in China - who, by the way, was very helpful - that I wanted to have a package picked up in Shenzhen and I asked her, "How can I make this happen tonight?"

This is the little trick that I learned: She said, "You need to call U.S. FedEx and give them the pick-up location. After he enters the information in the system, ask him for the CONTROL NUMBER. Call back Shenzhen FedEx and give the CONTROL NUMBER and we can process the order directly." Hmmmmm - at that point I wasn't sure what that meant.

At about 2:15AM I phoned the FedEx U.S. International Customer Service in Memphis and I had to give them all of the location info for the pick-up in Shenzhen over again. This time, however, I had the zip code. When the customer service guy was finished entering all of the data into the system he explained to me that it takes up to THREE DAYS for the order to get to China. That means that I would not see the samples for seven days - three days just for the system to transmit the order to China and an additional five days of travel time.

At that point I asked, "Can I have the Control Number?" The FedEx customer service guy responded, "Ooooooh, you know about that." "Yes", I said. He gave me the Control Number and I immediately phoned the Shenzhen FedEx office and when the customer service girl asked me if I had an account number, I said, "No, but I have a Control Number." That is when I learned that the Shenzhen FedEx customer service girl could access the pick-up order in China using the CONTROL NUMBER that had been issued only minutes earlier in the U.S. FedEx order system.

My samples were picked up an hour and a half later and I had them in my hands in five days. Knowing about the Control Number saved me three days of precious time. Unfortunately, the samples were not suitable for my customer's needs and I was not able to come up with a substitute product in time to save the order. However, I did learn about "The Control Number" and I hope this little bit of knowledge will save you some time as well.

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