Amazon’s AWS Connect Contact Center – A Possible Industry Disruptor
On March 29 at Enterprise Connect, Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced Amazon Connect. According to Amazon, Amazon Connect is a simple to use, cloud-based contact center service for customers to deliver better customer service at a lower cost point. It is based on the same contact center technology used by Amazon customer service. According to Amazon, setting up a cloud-based contact center with Amazon Connect is a few clicks in the AWS Management Console, and agents can begin taking calls within minutes.
This new offering from Amazon could be a disruptor to the industry for the following reasons:
- Like other AWS services, Amazon Connect is a pay-as-you-go service on the AWS platform
- Amazon Connect also charges on a per minute basis (vs. a per seat basis), meaning the lower the total minutes count in a given period, the lower the cost from Amazon. This one point alone is a driver for delivering customers the experience using self-service tools such as IVR and web forms vs. voice calls. According to Amazon, there are no up-front payments or long-term commitments and no infrastructure to manage; and as part of the “AWS Free Usage Tier,” you can get started with Amazon Connect for free. At the moment, Amazon is offering a voice-centric channel, and as the product evolves will likely eventually address other channels such as email, web forms, web chat, video chat (video as with Amazon Mayday button used on Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets), and social media.
- Amazon’s focus will be high voice quality (they have done this well to this point via Amazon’s Contact Center experience and Amazon’s Mayday button experience).
- According to Amazon, “Amazon Connect’s self-service graphical interface makes it easy for non-technical users to design contact flows, manage agents, and track performance metrics – no specialized skills required.”
- According to Amazon, Connect offers DID numbers and 800 numbers in the United States and in 18 countries in Europe.
- Amazon Connect provides the ability to design contact flows that adapt the caller experience, adapting based on information retrieved from AWS services, i.e., Amazon Redshift, or third-party CRM or analytics solutions. During their Enterprise Connect demo, Amazon Connect provided speech-enabled real-time status of an airline departure change to a customer calling in for that reason. This single app alone can manage the length of calls and personalize the likely reasons why customers are calling in.
- The Contact Center space has used CTI for over 20 years to speed customer calls along with a screen pop, and providing the customer service rep key information as to why the customer is likely calling. CTI has commonly reduced call lengths by as much as 20-25% by helping the CSR get to the heart of the matter quickly. In their demo, the automated response anticipates the customer need, utilizes AI and self-service, and manages the total length of the call, getting the customer the answer they were seeking in less than one minute.
- Natural language contact flows can be built, according to Amazon, with Amazon Lex, an AI service that has the same automatic speech recognition / natural language understanding that powers Amazon Alexa. Truly, Amazon is taking the Alexa AI interface used successfully in the consumer space (yes, I own two Amazon Echos) into the real-time commercial communications space.
- Amazon has also stated that Connect integrates with AWS tools and infrastructure to (a) record calls in Amazon S3, (b) stream contact center metrics to Amazon Redshift or an external data warehouse solution using Amazon Kinesis, (c) utilize data visualization and analytics via Amazon QuickSight, and (d) utilize AWS Directory Service to allow agents to log in with their credentials. In addition, Amazon has stated that Connect integrates with leading CRM, Workforce Management, Analytics and Helpdesk offerings, thereby helping the customer embed the Amazon Connect agent with the CRM app already in use. The details around such third party CRM integration has yet to be detailed. One CRM partnership announced, though, is Salesforce. Amazon Connect will be integrated with Salesforce's Service Cloud Einstein, whose purpose is to help provide insight to customer data via Salesforce's CRM platform.
Some observations, areas to look for, and unknowns about Amazon’s Connect Contact Center solution include:
- QoS, Voice Quality – Is paramount for a successful voice-channel Contact Center experience. Without such, the ability for Amazon to penetrate the Contact Center market will likely be minimal in my opinion. I have not identified any design documents from Amazon as yet regarding QoS (private WAN, SDN connection and PSTN access) to support such, something key for consideration.
- Scale – The ability to scale has yet to be detailed, but in my estimation, as with other AWS products, I am sure Amazon will scale to most customer requirements. The real question is, is your organization willing to take on an enterprise level solution with a new service offered through Amazon Connect?
- PCI, HIPAA Compliancy – Enterprise customers, especially in Financial Services and Healthcare, will require a Contact Center that is PCI or HIPAA compliant respectively. Details about such are still unknown.
- Amazon’s Call Flows GUI – Amazon’s call flows GUI may be an easy-to-use interface according to Amazon; however, the skill sets typically required to create strong customer-centric call flows is a different set of skills altogether. These skills are usually provided by an internal or external SME to fulfill that requirement.
- Multi-Channel – Multi-channel has yet to be announced (to be fair the product was just announced and in its first release) and I am sure will be as the Connect solution matures. If you have need for such, I recommend getting a sense from Amazon ETAs for such announcements.
- Guaranteed Uptime and Associated SLAs – It is yet unclear what the guaranteed uptime for Amazon’s Connect product and where SLAs and associated with the call experience, including application outages, will land, along with associated penalties for performing at the customer’s expected production levels.
- IVR – Amazon’s call flows are its answer to complex IVR solutions. As this is an early announcement, “the jury is still out” at the moment regarding Amazon’s call flows capability as a replacement to traditional IVR. Key questions – are Amazon’s call flows as robust as traditional IVR? Can call flows be created similar to the complex IVR call flows current in many enterprise environments?
- Other Contact Center Tools – Other Necessary Contact Center features users ask for include callback, WorkForce Management, speech analytics, text analytics, multi-channel (email, texting, web chat, video, social media), score cards, post call survey, and social media tools. We will have to see when and in what format future Contact Center offerings will be available from Amazon Connect.
- Amazon Connect Compared with Other Cloud Solutions – Is still early. A full comparison with other competitors is in order if considering this model as a possibility for your Contact Center environment. They include Genesys PureCloud, InContact, Zendesk, Five 9s, and others.
All in all, what I saw from Amazon was impressive. If considering such, I would get under the covers further to identify guaranteed uptime, SLAs for non-performance, QoS, release dates for future offerings, and comparing Amazon Connect with other cloud-based solutions. Amazon has a history of strong products at announcement with strong partnerships, and I would expect similar announcements and experience here as well. Amazon’s Connect is a bit different than the typical cloud Contact Center offering with its integration with other AWS offerings out of the “gate” and a differentiator. With their pay-as-you-go and per minute model, this could be another disruptor in the Cloud Contact Center market. We’ll have to see.