Sandra De Zoysa, Group Chief Customer Officer, Dialog Axiata PLC

Sandra De Zoysa is the Group Chief Customer Officer of Dialog Axiata, Chairperson of the Digital Customer Experience Expert Working Group for Axiata and Director of Dialog Business Services. In addition to her role at Dialog, she is a founding member and the first Chairperson of SLASSCOM – the national IT/BPM chamber in Sri Lanka, a founding Board Member of the Women’s Chamber for Digital Sri Lanka and a founding member and past Vice President of Sri Lanka Institute of Service Management, Inaugural member of the Customer Advisory Board of CX Network, IQPC UK and visiting lecturer at the University of Colombo School of Computing since 2009. Sandra is a fellow of BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, Lean Six Sigma Black Belt practitioner and Scrum Master. She serves on the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) Asia Regional Leadership Council and is the only Certified Customer Experience Professional and Recognized Training provider in Sri Lanka for CXPA.

 Sandra’s experience spans over 30 years in the ICT Industry during which she has been the recipient of multiple global and local awards for her thought leadership and contribution in the sphere of Customer Experience and Women in Leadership – both which she is passionate about. Women in IT Asia recognised her as the winner of “the lifetime achievement” award in June 2023 and EQUALS in Tech Awarded by the International Telecommunications Union Geneva recognized her as the winner of Leadership in Tech category in November 2022, SAARC Emerging Leader Award – CIO Information & Technology Awards 2021 Presented by CIO in 2021 and Sri Lanka “Vanithabhimana” Award Winner, Information Technology Category in 2022. She is an avid global speaker, she has represented Dialog at over 300 global events.

What do you see as the main challenges facing the global telecom industry today?

This industry faces several significant challenges in today’s fast-paced digital landscape. One of the foremost challenges is the constant need for network infrastructure upgrades. As the demand for faster and more reliable connectivity continues to rise, telecom companies must invest in expanding and modernizing their networks to accommodate data-intensive applications and emerging technologies such as 5G, IoT, and AI. Spectrum allocation and availability present another obstacle, as the finite resource needs to be efficiently distributed among various technologies and service providers to meet the growing wireless connectivity demands. Cybersecurity and data privacy pose critical concerns, with telecom providers having to safeguard their networks, infrastructure, and customer data from growing security threats. Adhering to complex regulatory frameworks, which vary across countries, adds to the challenges faced by the industry. Telcos must navigate these regulations, ensure compliance, and adapt their strategies accordingly. Also, fierce competition and market consolidation demand constant innovation and adaptation to maintain profitability and sustain growth. The industry grapples with the task of achieving digital inclusion and improving broadband accessibility to bridge the digital divide. Lastly, meeting evolving customer expectations for seamless connectivity, personalized experiences, and competitive pricing requires ongoing innovation and customer-centric solutions.

Sandra, please tell us about your background path to your current role.

I have been a part of the mobile phone industry since 1989. Looking back, I realize that I am as old as the mobile phone industry in the country, making me the longest tenured employee and first female in the industry, accumulating a wealth of experience throughout my career spanning 33 years and the same goes for my knowledge and experience within the customer service and experience industry.

I am a founder member of SLASSCOM (Sri Lanka Association of Software and Service Companies) and the first female to be appointed to its Board. I subsequently served as the first Chairperson of SLASSCOM. During my 14 years of volunteering at the national industry chamber for IT and BPM export, I had the privilege of initiating and leading many expert working groups in the likes of Quality Assurance, Branding and Communications, TechKidz and Women Technopreneurs, SLASSCOM Academy, ESG and SLASSCOM Foundation.

Promoting the tech, digital and the service industry amongst women, youth and children are causes that I am passionate about, therefore I find gratification in volunteering my time mentoring young adults, female entrepreneurs and emerging leaders through local/ global, formal/ informal programmes such as GMI, Hatch, WIM, Dialog, SLASSCOM and Sabrina Yusoof Foundation etc.

Since joining Dialog Axiata in 1997, I have been a part of the senior leadership team. My role as the Group Chief Customer Officer, Director of Dialog Business Services and Chairperson of the Digital Customer Experience Expert Working Group of Axiata gives me the opportunity to make a significant contribution to drive digital transformation and improve our customer’s communication experience.

As Sri Lanka’s flagship telecommunications service provider, what do you think has been and will continue to be the key to Dialog Axiata PLC’s success?

Dialog’s success can be attributed to its technological leadership, broad product portfolio, affordable pricing, customer-centric approach, strong partnerships, positive social and environment impact and commitment to bringing the best of innovation to Sri Lankan consumers and enterprises. Guided by our unwavering purpose to empower and enrich Sri Lankan lives and enterprises, we strive to build sustainable digital ecosystems while propelling our nation’s transformation into a thriving digital society.

In addition, Dialog’s relentless focus on customer experience has won the hearts and minds of Sri Lankan consumers which has helped Dialog to remain the market leader for over 2 decades, making us the Most Valuable Brand in the country year after year, as affirmed by Brand Finance. The most recent award by Forrester as APAC’s Customer Obsessed Enterprise is a testimony to our commitment to our core value of ‘Service from the Heart’.  Further, in line with our commitment to delivering ‘The Future. Today’, we remain committed to delivering cutting-edge technology and connectivity that is affordable, inclusive, and available to everyone. By investing in network infrastructure and adopting cutting-edge technologies, we ensure widest coverage, superior speed and connectivity. Our diverse range of products and services cater to all customer segments, ensuring that we offer something for everyone and making Dialog the most popular choice within every Sri Lankan home and enterprise. Enabled by all this, I believe we are well-positioned to maintain our flagship position and retain market leadership.

Driven by our purpose of Empowering and Enriching Sri Lankan Lives and Enterprises, we are committed to building sustainable digital ecosystems that will benefit all stakeholders while propelling our country’s transformation into a thriving digital nation. Staying true to our brand promise, “The Future. Today.”, we remain resolute in delivering state-of-the-art technology and connectivity that is inclusive, affordable, and accessible to all.  We believe that the trust and confidence placed on us by more than 17 million Sri Lankans for over two decades is a testament to this ethos.

This trajectory has also culminated in Dialog being named ‘Sri Lanka’s Most Valuable Brand’ by Brand Finance for the fifth consecutive year, with a brand value of Rs. 52 billion and a AAA+ brand rating. In addition, a 16-year stronghold as the ‘Most Valuable Telecommunications Brand’ stands as a testament to Dialog’s relentless endeavors in uplifting Sri Lanka and its people.

To meet the evolving needs of customers, we have extended our digital care offerings to Viber, WhatsApp and Instagram, introducing the virtual interactive assistant, ‘DIA,’ for personalised support. Our ‘MyDialog’ Web and App enable seamless transitions between digital channels, offering a superior experience as the most downloaded telecom application in Sri Lanka. We continued to prioritise exceptional customer experience by integrating Google Assistant, providing voice assistance for a range of Dialog products and services.

You were the First Chief Customer Officer to be appointed to the role in APAC and have been part of Dialog Axiata since 1997. Can you tell us what factors have made your almost three decades of journey successful? Also, tell us about your current roles and responsibilities as the Group CCO.

Yes, I have the distinction of being the first Chief Customer Officer in the APAC region and amongst the first 10 Customer Experience Management professionals globally to be appointed to the C-Suite. Firstly, my commitment to understanding our customers’ needs and aspirations, willingness to resolve issues and find solutions to customer problems and to always ensure that our customers, employees and partners have positive experiences with Dialog are factors that have contributed to my career success.

By remaining sensitive to our customers’ evolving needs, fostering a culture of customer-centric innovation and continuous improvement, we have been able to provide solutions that resonate well with their expectations. Embracing new technologies, trends and driving digital transformation within the organization has allowed us to always stay ahead of the game. I can confidently claim that Team Dialog from top to bottom are fully aligned and live by our corporate values, the first of it being “Service from the heart” by cultivating a customer-centric culture within the organization, fostering a deep understanding of customer needs among our employees at all levels and by championing a customer-centric mindset, we aim to create a seamless and personalized customer experience across our multiple touchpoints, products and services.

In my role as the Group Chief Customer Officer, my responsibilities are multifaceted. I am the chief proponent of customer experience management and my team and I represent our customers within the organisation. Our teams in the frontline are the face and voice of the organisation and in turn they are entrusted with delivering service with care by ensuring that the “voice of the customer” is at the forefront of the decision-making processes across the entire organisation, and this helps us to focus on implementing initiatives that enhance customer experience, thereby improve retention and loyalty.

What are your thoughts on diversity and inclusion? How important is it to have authentic conversations with leaders, professionals, and changemakers to create more acceptance across the globe?

Diversity and inclusion are crucial aspects within any organization, society and country. In fact, the starting point of this conversation should be within the family in all our homes where we as parents or responsible adults should “walk the talk” and help everyone understand, show and practice acceptance when it comes to all forms of diversity which is not limited to simply gender, race and religion. Embracing diversity means acknowledging and celebrating the unique perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds that individuals bring to the table. Inclusion goes a step further by ensuring that everyone feels valued, respected, and empowered to be the best version of themselves regardless of gender, race, religion, level of education, wealth, social status, sexual orientation and other cultural biases.

Having authentic conversations with leaders, professionals, and changemakers allow us to break down barriers, challenge biases, and promote understanding. By engaging in open and honest dialogue, we can address systemic issues, dismantle discriminatory practices, and create environments that foster equal opportunities for all, especially in the workplace and communities that we live in. Authentic conversations serve as catalysts for change. They enable leaders and professionals to gain firsthand insights into the challenges faced by marginalized groups and identify opportunities for change and growth and even prosperity. By actively seeking diverse perspectives, organizations and societies can foster innovation, creativity, and better decision-making, ultimately leading to more inclusive outcomes.

As professionals we have an important responsibility to actively engage in discussions, challenge biases, and advocate for inclusive practices within the workplace. By encouraging changemakers, who often emerge from marginalized communities themselves, bring unique experiences and perspectives that can drive meaningful societal transformation which is why we must as leaders remain open to change ourselves and act with humility when it comes to encouraging and embracing change and listening to all our team members and employees alike knowing that all ideas are of some value. By doing so, we can collectively work towards a more accepting and harmonious global community.

You have been a recipient of several prestigious awards and accolades over the years. Our readers would love to know the secret sauce behind your success.

As an extrovert, I seek out every challenge and opportunity to learn from others and share my own experiences.  I love to create and experiment without fear of failure, I am humble enough to be gutsy and not be embarrassed to make a fool of myself.  When I am convinced that an idea/ initiative will be good – for our customers, employees or myself, I go all out to make it happen.

I understand that change is always for the better and that growth comes through discomfort and challenging the status quo therefore I am comfortable with being uncomfortable. I never take ‘no’ for an answer and I am persistent yet very open to other people’s views and implementing good ideas which may come from a customer as VoC or from an employee as VoE or from anyone, anywhere.

I am grateful that I have been blessed with a very talented and capable team and a boss as well as colleagues but more importantly, friends and family, that support, inspire and celebrate the “little success” I have been able to achieve by the grace of god – so that’s my “secret sauce” and you can see that there are dozens of wonderful ingredients that go into making my secret sauce.

Where or whom do you seek motivation and inspiration from? How?

I find motivation and inspiration from a diverse range of sources and individuals. One significant source would be people/ service centric leaders whose success has been achieved by impacting women, children, young adults etc. and those who do this engaging communities of volunteers within their countries or globally. Their stories of perseverance and impact inspire me to push my boundaries and strive for excellence. Additionally, I draw inspiration from my colleagues and peers, as their passion and unique perspectives challenge me to think differently and foster a spirit of healthy competition. Books, blogs, and podcasts are also valuable resources for me, providing knowledge and fresh ideas across various topics. Travel and meeting people, seeing new places energizes me, allowing me to find inspiration in the wonders of the world including making new friends and trying different cuisines. Personal reflection helps me tap into my inner thoughts and values, guiding me towards growth, aligned to my goals and aspirations. By seeking motivation from these diverse sources, I maintain a well-rounded perspective that fuels my creativity, resilience, and passion for achieving meaningful outcomes related to the larger purpose in life that helps to create a legacy to inspire the next generation and that my own can be proud of.

What’s are some leadership lessons that you’ve learnt as a female leader?

As a female leader, one unique leadership lesson I have learned is the importance of breaking through gender stereotypes and challenging societal expectations. Throughout my career, I have encountered challenging circumstances where assumptions or biases of various different types, including gender, have influenced the perceptions of leadership. Therefore, I am cognizant of such situations that led to negative experiences made me sad, unhappy or frustrated and I work consciously towards eliminating such barriers for others where I have the ability to directly or indirectly influence a positive outcome. I also believe that leaders should adopt a “servant leadership” approach because as leaders our everyday task is to focus on facilitate and enable others to achieve the best results at work but also, be the best version of themselves from a personal achievement standpoint.  I have no inhibitions when it comes to transparency and I don’t feel the need to juggle with multiple personas because I am comfortable and happy with being who I am with all my faults and flaws, because that is who I am, and I don’t wish to project a picture of perfection – it is what I call the power of authenticity. By embracing my unique strengths, perspectives, and experiences as a woman, I have been able to redefine leadership in my own terms and inspire others to do the same. This has taught me the significance of empowering and uplifting other women in the workplace, fostering an inclusive environment where everyone’s voices are heard and valued. I have learned to navigate and overcome gender-related challenges by building strong networks, seeking mentorship especially from my male allies and my sisterhood – they motivate me and inspire me to keep moving forward, especially when it comes to dealing with my challenges and failures but also celebrating my little successes. Ultimately, all of life’s lessons have reinforced my belief that human beings cannot exist without multisensory and emotional connection and that the majority are kind and helpful.  Also, I believe that “what goes around, comes around”, therefore it would be wise to give generously of your time, knowledge and other resources if you want to ensure what you get in return is all good.  From a professional point of view, I encourage others to accept (or if not, tolerate) differences and diverse perspectives, as it is essential for driving innovation, fostering collaboration, and achieving long-term success.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

My vision for the next five years revolves around actively advocating for enhancing the customer experience management profession and supporting women tech entrepreneurs while nurturing emerging leaders across diverse sectors, sharing my knowledge and experience through workshops, seminars, and one-on-one coaching, consulting and mentoring with the objective of guiding and hand holding service professionals, women and youth to overcome challenges, drive business results and of course achieve their fullest potential.

What advice would you give to women who want to pursue a career in the telecom industry?

Firstly, believe in oneself and recognize the unique perspectives and skills bring to the table. Have confidence in your abilities and be resilient in the face of challenges. Secondly, prioritize knowledge and skill development. Stay updated on the latest trends, technologies, and regulations through relevant education, certifications, and training opportunities. This will enhance your expertise and make you stand out against competition. Build a strong network by connecting with professionals, joining industry associations, and networking events. These connections can help to expand your circle of influence and visibility and help advance one’s business/ career prospects. Seek out male/ female mentors and role models who have excelled within the industry of choice. Embrace opportunities and take risks that challenge and stretch one’s abilities, whether it’s working on cross-functional teams, exploring different areas of technology, or taking on leadership roles. Be your own advocate by showcasing confidence in your field of expertise, don’t shy away from speaking about your achievements, skills, and career aspirations or negotiating for opportunities and fair compensation. Lastly, collaborate with and support other likeminded professionals, especially women within the industry. By creating a supportive environment and uplifting fellow female professionals, we can collectively drive positive change and create more inclusive workplaces. The telecom industry offers vast possibilities, and with dedication, perseverance, and continuous learning, women can thrive and make significant contributions in this dynamic field – to me there’s no better industry and it’s the best choice I have made.

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