Call Centers

Amazon Strikes Contact Center Market

Amazon Web Services on Tuesday announced Amazon Connect, a self-service contact center solution based on the same cloud technology used by Amazon customer service associates worldwide.

It offers phone numbers throughout the United States and 18 countries in Europe, with more coming soon.

“The opportunity for cloud contact centers is significant,” said Rebecca Wettemann, VP of research at Nucleus Research.

Customers are moving away from “inflexible” on-premises solutions, she told CRM Buyer, “to cloud solutions that offer lower initial and ongoing costs, greater flexibility, and the ability to extend to remote agents seamlessly.”

Amazon Connect will hit the legacy communications and handset desk phone providers hardest, suggested Cindy Zhou, a principal analyst at Constellation Research.

“The trend is moving to all mobile-device integration with no desk phones,” she told CRM Buyer.

Amazon Connect’s Feature Set

Nontechnical users can use Amazon Connect’s self-serve GUI to manage agents, track performance metrics, and design contact flows that adapt to the caller experience.

Contact flows can change based on information Amazon Connect retrieves from AWS services — such as Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon Redshift and Amazon Aurora — or third-party CRM or analytics solutions.

Customers can build natural language contact flows with Amazon’s Lex AI service, which uses the automatic speech recognition technology and natural language understanding that power Amazon’s Alexa. Callers simply say what they want, instead of having to go through the usual interactive voice recognition process, choosing from lists of options and pressing buttons to progress.

Amazon Connect integrates with various AWS tools and infrastructure, including Amazon Kinesis, Amazon Redshift, Amazon QuickSight and AWS Directory Service.

“Amazon is taking technology they used in-house successfully and is now commercializing it for customers,” noted Constellation’s Zhou.

Using Alexa’s AI offers a competitive advantage, and “the future applications of using Alexa for basic customer questions is exciting,” she added.

Amazon Connect also integrates with CRM Workforce Management, Analytics and help desk products from players including Appian, Calabrio, CRMNEXT, Salesforce, SugarCRM, Zendesk and Zoho,

“Given Amazon’s partnerships with Salesforce and others, a contact center app play is not surprising,” Nucleus Research’s Wettemann said.

“With Avaya fading, there’s a lot of opportunity in the market, and price pressure from Amazon with a core offering will be attractive for customers not looking for all the bells and whistles — and related price tag — of some other applications on the market,” she pointed out.

“Competing with Amazon at any scale is very difficult,” observed Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“The price and reach of Amazon Connect out of the box is unprecedented; it’s also surprisingly rich for a new service,” he told CRM Buyer.

Setting Up, Costs and Other Details

Users can set up Amazon Connect with a few clicks in the AWS Management Console, and agents can begin taking calls within minutes.

Support for custom integrations is available from AWS Partner Network Consulting Partners, including 1Strategy, Accenture and Wipro.

There are no upfront payments or long-term commitments. Customers pay 1.8 cents per minute for usage, and they also pay for any associated telephony services.

As part of the AWS Free Tier, users get two phone numbers (direct inward dialing and toll-free), and 30 minutes each of DID calls, inbound toll-free calls and outbound calls per month, for one year.

Pros and Cons of Amazon Connect

The main benefits Amazon Connect offers are size and geographic coverage, noted Enderle, while the downside is “the dependency on /AWS, which has had reliability issues.”

AWS has experienced several crashes, he said — the most recent one being earlier this month — and “losing a call center, particularly if you are having a product quality issue, can quickly become a company killer,” he cautioned.

“This uptime concern,” Enderle said, “is likely one of the biggest tactical reasons to avoid this offering.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology. Email Richard.

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