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David Sims - TMCnet CRM Alert Columnist[March 28, 2005]

Chinas TOM Counts on IVR

By David Sims, TMCnet CRM Alert Columnist


Chinese wireless Internet service provider TOM Online is seeking to improve its performance in this quarter after a slowdown.

And they know IVR is going to be a big part of it.

“Interactive voice response, wireless application protocol, and ringback tones will be three pillars for the company this year,” said company CEO Wang Lei Lei in an interview in Beijing today reported in People’s Daily Online.

Tom Online’s businesses had stabilized in the fourth quarter over the slowdown of the previous quarters, and the momentum was likely to continue in this quarter Leilei said.

The Hong Kong Growth Enterprise Market and NASDAQ-listed company saw its revenues in the fourth quarter grow by 13 per cent to $31.95 million over the third quarter. Quarter-on-quarter growth rates were 1.6 per cent and 17 per cent respectively in the second and third quarters.

Wang said the growth will mainly come from voice-based IVR, personalized mobile ringtone downloads, and wireless Internet surfing and downloading WAP, which contributed 65 per cent of Tom Online’s revenues in the past quarter.

While many people believe the traditional text messaging service known as SMS will keep declining in China, Wang said it is “just a good opportunity. When SMS revenues of other companies are falling, ours will grow and more importantly we will use this platform to promote our new services,” he said.

He didn’t spell out exactly how TOM would prosper while others withered. Maybe their success is in the stars?

TOM Online Inc. announced a week ago the launch of Star Catcher, according to company officials a “fun and interactive astrological service delivered to the mobile device of its users,” featuring Asia’s pop music idol Jay Chou as its ambassador.

All China Mobile users will be given a star of their own along with a certificate when they subscribe to the wireless Internet service by sending a text message “S” to 3883281. They will also receive their star’s information which is exclusively provided by the National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Jay Chou, one of China’s biggest names in music, will play the role of TOM Online’s resident astrologer and answer users’ questions by text messaging. In addition, once a month, subscribers can nominate and vote for the person whom they think is the most representative of the star sign of that month.

“The demand for wireless Internet entertainment services is growing stronger each day among the young and trendy generation of mobile phone users in China,” Lei Lei believes. “Star Catcher offers precisely the kind of fun and interactive services our users are looking for.”

TOM Online is controlled by Asia’s richest businessman Li Ka-shing and is known for its aggressiveness in acquisitions. It will focus on entertainment and sports content providers this year, however, according to Wang.

Last October TOM Online partnered with Skype Technologies S.A. to bring to Chinese Internet users peer-to-peer and instant messaging service. Co-branded as TOM-Skype in China, the service was launched on October 25 through TOM Online.

Net profits for TOM reached $33.90 million in 2004, 70 per cent higher than those for 2003. Full year revenues in 2004 also more than doubled to $112.88 million. As of December 31, 2004, TOM Online is the only portal in China to score a top three ranking in every wireless internet service segment.


David Sims is contributing editor and CRM Alert columnist for TMCnet.

To discover how contact centers can save money and increase productivity by making the switch to IP Telephony, be sure to attend TMC's IP Contact Center Summit May 24-26, 2005, in Dallas, Texas.


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