Documents get goods moving
At the time of writing (February 2021), many exporters and importers in the UK are facing delays to shipments that can only be described as “random”. The frequency with which delays are taking place right now is due to new processes that traders, transporters and customs alike are getting to grips with. Much of this will settle down in the coming weeks and then we will be left with the real issues that cause delays.
So, today’s pain is about real issue plus teething issues…
Control the controllable
Time will resolve the teething issues, and many are out of the control of traders. But make no mistake – there are real issues leading to delays that are in the hands of Traders.
This is good news!
If you, as a trader, can get your house in order, you can reduce the likelihood of delays and when the teething issues are resolved, maximise the chance of your goods getting through quickly.
Documents are your most important tools
In the mission to get goods from A to B, documents are the most important tools that you have. They travel with your goods and oil the wheels of the journey. Things are not working properly if your carrier or customs agent is on the phone or sending you an email to ask questions. It means your documents are incomplete or – as common – unclear. Or, to put it another way, your tools are not doing the job properly.
Time to fix the tools
We are often asked to review documents, and very rarely do we see a document that can’t be improved a little. Surprisingly frequently, we see documents that need a lot of work to get them up to scratch. I don’t blame any of the companies I work with – they are all professional and successful companies. But perhaps their documents haven’t been reviewed in recent times, or are something of an afterthought once high quality products are delivered with wonderful customer service.
Documents are reviewed by many different people along the journey of an import or export and those people are reviewing thousands of documents. They are looking at different formats, with a dizzying array of disparate information and they are transporters or customs specialists, not experts in you, your products or your customers and suppliers.
Content and Clarity
For your documents to do their job, they must help everyone who is likely to read them. That means that they must include all the content that is required and be stated and laid out with as much clarity as possible. Ask yourself, is all the information there and is it super easy to read? In other words, are your tools of the best quality and in the best condition? Ask any craftsperson, gardener, builder, carpenter, and so on, their skill is important, but they never undervalue the importance of investing in the best tools. Happily, it costs a great deal less to get your invoice up to scratch than it does to invest in expensive building tools!
Content includes names, addresses, contact details, EORI numbers, Incoterm rule, etc., etc. All stated clearly and correctly. Product information is critical – commodity codes, country of origin, price and meaningful descriptions. By all means include technical specification if that’s needed for you or your customer. But also make sure there are descriptive words to show what your particular widgets are. Technical specifications mean absolutely nothing to anyone except you and your customer.
Clarity is just as important as content. Having to read down to page 5 of the Commercial Invoice to find out the Incoterm rule is not going to help a customs agent trying to figure out who to contact when there is import VAT to be paid.
Sharpen Your Tools
A small investment of time and money spent on reviewing and improving your documents can deliver a dramatic return on that investment if it helps products arrive on time. That has a direct impact on cashflow, customer satisfaction, internal administrative time and energy, and ultimately how you are viewed by your customers and your staff.
We can service your tools for you
Customers of our Export Manager Service frequently include document reviews in the tasks they ask us to undertake. From time to time our training customers will also have documents reviewed. It is always a valuable process and provides practical measures that you can take to help your goods travel more smoothly. Please let us know if that is something you’d like to explore – the small investment required for a document review will be repaid potentially many times over.
By Frances Fawcett, Export Coach and International Trade Specialist