Dialog, My Favorite Sri Lankan Company

Dialog Logo

Dialog Logo

I fell in love with three Sri Lankan companies ever since I had some experience with them. This is about the third company I admire a lot and recommend for other young people to work at (or do business with.) (This is not a paid advertisement, I write this on my own free will.) I am listing the three companies only in chronological order of me meeting with them, not according to the order of my preferences.

Read about my other preferences at these links.

  1. https://wanni.wordpress.com/2016/10/15/sampath-bank-my-favorite-sri-lankan-company/
  2. https://wanni.wordpress.com/2016/11/02/masholdingsmyfavoritesrilankancompany/
  3. Dialog Axiata www.dialog.lk

Dialog was the 4th entrant to mobile telephony industry in Sri Lanka. The first entrant was Celltel (present day Etisalat) and people termed all other late entrants Celltel as it was the first cellular operator here.  Other operators such as CallLink, Mobitel were there, but Celltel was the pioneer and they had the biggest chunk of the cellular market.

Dialog was the fourth entrant to the mobile market in Sri Lanka after Celltel (1989,) CallLink (1992,) and Mobitel (1993.) Dialog was launched in 1995 and the fifth and final entrant being Airtel in 2009. (Get more details at http://newsbuzz.kathabuzz.com/evolution-sri-lankan-telecommunication-industry.)

To be frank, I did not like the Dialog brand name at first. I was taught British English and the American English spelling in Dialog did not go down well with me. But what I liked most about Dialog was its attractive advertising campaign with cool images of young people. Still nobody including me expected Dialog to be this big in mobile telephony as Celltel was the undisputed market leader.  A fourth entrant had no chance according to many.

But Dialog surprised the mobile telephony market introducing a lot of new technologies before other operators even thought of introducing them to Sri Lanka. As a result, Dialog became the market leader in no time. Dialog became a household brand even in places they had no coverage. Everybody’s dream was to buy a Dialog mobile connection and was eagerly waiting till they got coverage. Dialog published advertisements whenever they covered a new city or a small town with a “COVERED” stamp on a billboard in those cities and small towns. They also published the same stamp in the media implying your town or village will be covered next.

I first visited the Dialog Head Office in Colombo 02 for a small conference held there as a representative from Slimline (MAS Holding) in 2001. I was amazed to see the futuristic interior design and the attractive posters inside the Dialog head office. There were smiling young staff members everywhere. By this time, I needed mobile coverage to my village Mahawilachchiya in Anuradhapura badly, as Horizon Lanka was flourishing but its growth was affected without telephone access. Internet access was only a dream those days as the only way to get internet access was having a fixed telephone line, which was not in any telephone operator’s plans those days. Anyway, at the conference I questioned the Dialog staff as to why they did not cover places like my village. (I did not know much about business plans and sustainability of a business those days so did not understand the logic behind why they did not extend their services to villages like ours.) I met a young man called Supun Weerasinghe and we had a chat as to how to extend Dialog’s coverage to Mahawilachchiya. (Supun Weerasinghe is tipped to be Dialog’s Group CEO from next year when the incumbent GCEO takes up a bigger position in the Axiata Group at regional level.)

In late 2001, there was an offer from a mobile phone sales company for Slimline (MAS Holdings) employees to buy a mobile device with an easy payment scheme. But I was not interested as I thought it was a hassle to have a mobile phone as my other colleagues who had them were in great trouble as they kept getting calls even during non-working hours. Besides, you had to pay even for incoming calls those days. So, it was not in my plan to buy such a nuisance that was coupled with heavy bills.

But I had to change my hostile attitude towards mobile phones when I fell in love with my sweet girlfriend within few weeks of refusing the mobile phone. I immediately bought an Ericsson mobile phone. The first present I gave to my girlfriend was another mobile phone, because I knew that communication was essential in love.

I left Slimline in May 2002 and returned to my village to work full time for my own organization, Horizon Lanka. Though I had my mobile phone, there was no mobile signal in the village.

Dr. Hans Wijesuriya, CEO of Dialog Axita

Dr. Hans Wijesuriya, CEO of Dialog Axita

Once there was a presentation at JAIC Hilton, Colombo held jointly by my former boss Dian Gomes and Dr. Hans Wijayasuriya, the Group CEO of Dialog. After Dr. Wijayasuriya’s presentation I got up and questioned him at length as to why Dialog neglects villages like ours and why they can’t cut down expenses on huge billboards installed around cities and invest that money instead on villages like ours. Then he explained why these every aspect of a business was equally important – and that while the company did invest heavily in rural expansion, billboards and other marketing initiatives were equally important and how it is was imperative to stick to a business plan. I was no businessman but understood what he explained.

But I was pleasantly surprised when I got an email from Mr. Mothilal de Silva, the then General Manager of Dialog. He wrote to me saying that he was coming to Mahawilachchiya to see if Dialog can at least provide us temporary connectivity. They ensured it happened and there were very strong Dialog mobile signals in a 50-meter radius around an antenna they fixed on the Horizon Lanka computer lab roof. This operation did not cost Horizon Lanka any money and Dialog installed the equipment at their cost. We could use mobile phones easily from the lab and the immediate environs of it. The villagers also came to the close vicinity of Horizon Lanka to make calls with their mobile phones. (My intention here is not to tell the story of how Dialog helped my organization. If you are interested in learning about it more, please click here.)

Dialog introduced a lot of cutting-edge new technologies to Sri Lanka, far before they were introduced to India, the bigger market. Some say that this was due to the reason that Sri Lanka is a considerably small island and big telcos found it easy to test new technologies in Sri Lanka. But the why did Dialog do it, and why not other mobile companies? There must have been something that attracted Dialog’s investors, and they live up to their promise of delivering ‘The Future. Today’. And ultimately we, the consumers, benefitted.

A Dialog Advertisement

A Dialog Advertisement

Dialog also offered competitive prices with different packages for different walks of lives. The “KIT” (shortened for Keep in Touch) package was one such major step. The KIT package became very popular among youths and low income groups. The demand for this package was so high that Dialog had to pause issuing new connections during some periods. This, in Dialog CEO’s words, was dubbed as “You have to be strong enough to say NO at times”, which I learnt from him. In parallel to this, Celltel issued a very weak product called “Tango” to rural areas, which required users to put an antenna. Still people hardly got any signals as the company issued more connections than they could manage. Celltel’s good name was tarnished beyond repair among rural folks due to the inability to say NO when it mattered most.

Dialog changed their company name from Dialog GSM to Dialog Telekom and then to Dialog Axiata due to changes at parent company level, but this did not discourage Dialog customers or would-be-customers to change their loyalty to the company.

Dialog has stiff competition from Mobitel, a fully-owned subsidiary of Sri Lanka Telecom since it purchased Mobitel from its former owners in 2002. Dialog may have lost a considerable chunk of market share as the former, being a government and private venture, had the upper hand in attracting government servants and pensioners – which is a huge number in Sri Lankan context – with their ‘Upahara’ and similar attractive packages. But Dialog was proactive in introducing the Blaster package which offered 1000 minutes of free calls to other Dialog subscribers.  Since Dialog was already widely available network, even a considerable number of government servants and pensioners stuck to their good old Dialog package or converted their package to Blaster. Blaster package with its 1,000 minute free calls within the network was a huge impact in the local mobile market hitherto unknown in this part of the world I guess. Even the new entrant Airtel, the local subsidiary of India’s mobile giant Bharti Airtel, was no match for the pricing and marketing of Dialog. Airtel’s entrance was an anti-climax and even those who were given free Airtel SIMs (I was given two when I bought a mosquito net from a shop in Anuradhapura J) threw them away and stuck to their first, second, third or fourth love in Dialog’s case.

This post became lengthier than it should have been. So, to conclude this, I would jot down the reasons I admire Dialog Axiata:

  1. Simplicity of the Dialog logo
  2. Cool and excellent customer service 24X7 (Others have different opinions about this but me being a priority customer, I get VIP service.)
  3. Attractive advertising
  4. Corporate Social Responsibility (Sustainability) projects
  5. Ethical business (as far as I know)
  6. Speed in providing services, and above all…
  7. Futuristic leadership