Since its foundation in 1993, Sri Lankan mobile operator Dialog has gone from upstart underdog to the country’s leading communications brand. Dialog - a part of the Axiata Group, a pan-Asian telecommunications conglomerate operating in seven countries - grew its position throughout the decades by outperforming the competition in a few key areas which have formed the keystone values underpinning everything the company does.
“People come first, but technology is a close second,” says Sandra De Zoysa, Group Chief Customer Officer at Dialog Axiata. “We believe that people come first - our customers and employees and regardless of what area of the business you are involved in - be it engineering, legal, marketing, or any other – all employees need to find a way to connect back to the customers we serve.”
De Zoysa, who has been a part of the team at Dialog Axiata since 1997, has played an instrumental role in delivering on that ethos for more than two decades. We sat down with her to discuss her insights into leveraging the latest technologies, strategies and operational practices into a customer experience that will ensure Dialog Axiata continues “to be not only the most valuable brand, but the most loved brand in Sri Lanka.”
Digital Transformation from Top to Bottom
“Our digital transformation journey started over five years ago. This initiative was envisioned by Axiata and then passed down across the whole subsidiary group,” explains De Zoysa. Axiata gathered together the senior leadership teams responsible for its brands in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Nepal, for a series of workshops and seminars that not only laid out a roadmap for the coming years, but helped to instill a unified digital mindset that its executive teams are continuing to disseminate throughout their organisations.
“Looking back on those workshops five years later, they helped us so much,” recalls De Zoysa. “As a team, we had a cohesive vision and tackled the project in sync. We all knew what we were supposed to do. We all knew what we had to achieve. We understood our budgets and how to spend it. And we all had the same level of understanding and knowledge of how to set about the process.”
Throughout Dialog’s own digital transformation, De Zoysa reflects that both Axiata and the other brands within the family have been an immensely valuable resource, as they have learned from one another’s failures and challenges, shared information and technology, and collaborated on creating market leading standards for customer experience. “We're really in sync with Axiata in terms of our goals and approach. The relationship between Dialog, Axiata and the other companies within our organisation is so close that sometimes you forget you're talking and working with people in other countries and markets because it all feels so collaborative and cooperative,” De Zoysa says. “We share innovations and technologies throughout Axiata. If something works at Dialog, it will likely be tweaked a little bit and then implemented somewhere else in the group. It is as good as plug-and-play, which reduces the workload and time to market. At the same time, we all learn from one another’s challenges and failures, because we're all part of the same ecosystem, which is really wonderful.”
Service From the Heart
At the core of Dialog Axiata’s approach to delivering truly seamless, enjoyable customer experiences is the company’s core ethos of “Service From the Heart”. “It stands for approaching every customer interaction with passion. It stands for being sincere and putting the customer first, not just paying lip service to the idea,” says De Zoysa. “We've really worked hard over the years on this culture transformation initiative.”
The idea of not only talking the talk, but walking the walk, is one that’s deeply important to De Zoysa. One of the more unique ways in which she and the whole Dialog leadership team are backing up this commitment can be found in the “Contact Us” section of their site.
“If you go on our website, you can find the contact information for our CEO, the CMO, many of the people on our leadership team, and me,” De Zoysa says. “My mobile number can be accessed. You can call and, if I'm not sleeping, there's a good chance I will answer and be able to talk to you about whatever is troubling you in case there is a lapse in service. It's our way of putting our money where our mouth is, and really walking the walk. I don't think there's much point in saying that you're a customer-centric business if your customers can't actually reach you.”
Dialog has invested heavily over the years in training staff throughout the business to fully embody the ethos of Service From the Heart, constantly reworking and developing processes in order to “cut away barriers between us and our customers, and work to find solutions - even when there are difficulties and trouble.” De Zoysa adds that, “There's a lot of education involved, focused on instilling cultural change, rewiring our employees to really embrace the Service From the Heart ethos, as well as bringing them along with us on our journey as we digitally transform the business and Sri Lanka through our technology and processes.”
Technology is a powerful tool at Dialog Axiata, one that De Zoysa stresses must work in tandem with and in support of the core of the business: people. “Technology plays a very vital role for us,” she explains. “We are leveraging a multitude of technologies to support our staff to work better and more efficiently. We want to use these technologies to make life easier for the people within our organisation. If we can make the employee experience frictionless, they can get on with better serving the customer.”
From an external point of view, Dialog employs a wide range of customer channels to ensure that people can access the services they need, whenever, wherever, and however they prefer. Though a lot of these preferences are linked across generational lines, with “millennial customers preferring self service and digital channels, as opposed to older customers who would rather speak to someone on the phone or face to face,” De Zoysa adds that “more and more, we're seeing people from older generations realise that it is in fact faster to use a self-service channel to pay your bill. We try to make sure that, whatever channel you want to use, is available to you. And then of course we work to gently educate our customers and nudge them towards more efficient social and digital channels.”
Partnering for Success
Partnerships are also of paramount importance to De Zoysa and Dialog as a whole. “We have very strong ties with our long term business partners who together with us ensure our business success,” she explains. “They are all part of our wider Dialog family, who help in managing our customer channels efficiently.” Dialog manages its contact center in collaboration with its key partner, Startek. “They ensure that our customers are connected to our brand,” says De Zoysa, adding that, “Locobuzz is our social media contact management solution provider. They help us manage all our social channels on a 24/7 basis. Zilione is a Sri Lankan company that Dialog has worked with for well over two decades, and their Customer point of sale management keeps the customer experience across the country connected efficiently in order to handle all our customer experience transactions with ease. Dialog has worked with Verint in the contact management space for over two decades and helps Dialog Business Services with voice logging and associate quality management as well as a robust workforce management solution.” Together with its extensive network of partners, Dialog continues to grow and improve the range of digital channels it uses to connect with its millions-strong customer base.
These digital channels have proven to be particularly essential during the COVID-19 pandemic, but De Zyosa adds that, as the crisis passes, she expects its effect on the digitalisation of Sri Lankan society to remain. “In this post-COVID, work-from-home era, data is like oxygen. Without connectivity, you're in deep trouble,” she says. “During the pandemic, the program has been all about engagement, looking at how we continuously build engagement between our employees and our customers - looking at how we keep that flame alive during times like these when physical engagement is no longer an option.”
Staying on Top
As Dialog Axiata enters Q2 of 2021, De Zoysa is excited to continue building on the company’s relationship with over 16mn Sri Lankans as part of her role as the company’s “custodian of customers,” concluding that, “We want to continue helping our customers adapt to a digital lifestyle and help them carry on experiencing those benefits long after the pandemic has passed.”