When you’re a part of an international supply chain (as all freight forwarders are), it can be easy to overlook how local culture factors into your everyday workflow. Essential logistics activities, like rate negotiations or freight pickups, are difficult enough without the added layers of language barriers, varying service expectations, country-specific documentation, and complicated regulations involved in international operations.
This challenge is never greater than for freight forwarders working to coordinate shipments from many parts of Asia. It’s not enough to be an expert in solely U.S.- or European-based practices anymore. Companies that operate globally also demand flexibility, so they need logistics partners who can help them with location-specific solutions.
When you’re managing global supply chains, however, it doesn’t just call for the ability to schedule pickups and deliveries. This is why it’s important to develop social awareness and demonstrate cultural respect. As a freight forwarder, having specialized knowledge of the cultures surrounding your business can place you in a unique position that will differentiate you from your less aware competition.
Many businesses make the mistake of assuming that what works in one place will work in another despite the dissimilarities and nuances between different countries. Here are some ideas that can help freight forwarders understand and overcome critical global barriers in order to provide the best service possible.
Forming new relationships
In some countries, the way you form new business relationships requires an understanding of what method is appropriate for a specific culture. For example, the pace at which you can conduct business in the U.S. is a lot faster and less about building up trust than it typically is in certain parts of Asia. Key nuances like this matter because you could end up driving away profitable business due to a lack of patience and understanding.
Internal workflow expectations
Another potential barrier that freight forwarders may not take into account is how certain employees will mesh in an international setting that is unlike their normal work environment. Before assigning individuals to new locations, make sure their workflow expectations align with the locals in that area. It’s hard to quantify in advance, but chemistry can make or break how well people work together.
There are many things related to supply chain management that don’t really change from culture to culture, but even something as simple as a pallet can take on a new meaning when applied to a European standard versus a U.S. standard. Companies need to keep track of how warehousing capacity or weight measurement specifications change according to every country’s particular standards. For instance, verifying whether or not you should be using pounds or kilos is an important metric that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
When it comes to Trans-Pac freight communications, U.S. agents sometimes fall into the habit of taking a more reactive approach by expecting agents from other countries to automatically say or clarify exactly what they mean. U.S. agents additionally assume that foreign agents will immediately understand American lingo without the need for further explanation. In reality, someone from another country, such as China, may not be familiar with what seems like an everyday acronym or expression to you. One of the main reasons why foreign agents tend to better represent their own countries and provide superior service in comparison is because they will typically adopt a more proactive approach to avoid making common assumptions like these.
The Big Picture
Ultimately, freight forwarders need to focus on accommodating local culture while also thinking of the big picture. Flexibility is crucial for achieving international standardization that also accounts for regional nuances. Companies, like Blinkfreight, that have irreplaceable local knowledge are able to proactively identify and address cultural gaps, so their customers can benefit from the most seamless interactions.
Respect goes both ways. While there aren’t really any shortcuts for becoming globally savvy, putting in the groundwork by researching, getting involved, and staying away from generalizations will be worth it for your freight forwarding business in the long run.