Customers: Not Always Dealt with as Kings

November 21 , 2018
By Eden Sahle ( Eden Sahle is founder and CEO of Yada Technology Plc. She has studied law with a focus on international economic law. She can be reached at )

Like many Ethiopians, I have tremendous admiration and respect for the national flag carrier, Ethiopian Airlines. It practices high standards of safety and imparts integrity, skill and commitment to most of its staff members. Emphasis should be put on the “most” part though.

I was about to travel to Tanzania with a referral visa last Sunday when I found myself in a confrontation with the airline staff.

I approached a ticket officer to collect my boarding pass and presented all the travel and supporting documents I had, including the referral visa. But the officer was not aware of such a thing, which I explained is a clearance that allows me to get a visa upon arrival in Tanzania.

Ethiopians are required to get visas from the Tanzanian embassy in Addis Abeba in the absence of a referral visa permit from the Tanzanian Emigration Office. The junior ticket officer heard me out but needed a go-ahead from his supervisor.

But that supervisor did not know either what a referral visa was and then went as far as to declare the documents I was holding to be possibly forged. Staggered by the supervisor’s lack of unprofessionalism and ethics, which he was displaying in front of a large waiting crowd and his insistence to keep a deaf ear, I demanded to speak to his superiors.

The case was transferred to Immigration & National Affairs without any luck on my side. My trip was about to be canceled, and I was less infuriated by this than puzzled by the fact that the staff at the airline and the Immigration Office do not know what a referral visa is. Even the official email correspondence I had with officials in Tanzania and presented as evidence did not matter. They maintained that there was no such thing.

I was almost giving up and prepared to cancel my prepaid round-trip ticket when another ticket office supervisor who knew about referral visas helped me out. It only took her to review my official referral visa document to issue my boarding pass. She apologised for the mistreatment I received h even as I presented an official and legal document.

I was speechless as much as I was grateful for her. I was able to board the plane just in time before the plane took off.

When I arrived and received my visa upon arrival in Tanzania, I mentioned my experience at Ethiopian Airlines to the Tanzanian immigration officer when he asked how my flight was. He was astonished that the legal document of my referral visa was doubted and that I was ill-treated for legally requesting service.

It is hard to justify ignorance and unprofessionalism and is more irritating when it comes from the organisation one admires and has been a loyal customer to. As much as the airline makes sure employees have well-defined roles and responsibilities at the workplace, they should also be required to update their skills and knowledge about the industry they operate in. At the very least, they need to be able to listen. This is a disease that runs in many of our state-owned enterprises.

Individuals working for giant enterprises such as the Ethiopian Airlines carry and represent the name of the organisation. It takes decades of hard work and unwavering service to build a name; it takes a few bad apples to sour the name of an institution even as respected as that of Ethiopian Airlines.

Individuals serving customers need to be clear on assigned activities to contribute best and know all the skills that would help them perform better. They need to be aware of their duties and key areas of responsibility, including each country’s visa options. Ticket officer’s knowledge about their work should go beyond just booking and printing out tickets and approving visas stamped on passports.

This will create efficiency and avoid friction with customers. Responsibilities and positions ought to be assigned according to expertise, knowledge and experience. When performances and positions are mismatched, they lead to confusion and poor service.

Staff serving large numbers of customers would also benefit from having soft skills. These enable them to turn a negative customer experience into an interaction that leaves everybody feeling valued and respected. Acting unethically and unprofessionally damages the airline’s reputation and chokes its growth.

But customers that have been served well with courtesy and respect, even if denied the service in the end, are loyal. They come back for more and they promote the airline through word-of-mouth.

Understandably, dealing with large numbers of customers from different parts of the world with differing values, tastes and expectations, could be exhausting. However, efficiency and knowledge could go a long way in making life easier for customers as well the employees themselves.

PUBLISHED ON Nov 21,2018 [ VOL 19 , NO 969]

Eden Sahle is founder and CEO of Yada Technology Plc. She has studied law with a focus on international economic law. She can be reached at

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 0 / 5. Vote count: 0

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Put your comments here

Editors' Pick


Fortune news