Yesterday, Amazon launched Amazon Connect, a cloud based contact center offering. Voice only, initially available in the northeastern US. Here’s the press release.
The gap between the vendor’s offerings and effective customer service is in no way closed by Amazon Connect. Saying (and I’m quoting from the main Amazon Connect web page), “the self-service graphical interface in Amazon Connect makes it easy for non-technical users to design contact flows…” And we’ve all heard that promise, from, oh, every call center vendor.
The tools have always been there – it’s the combination of business analysis, call center domain knowledge, and technical acumen needed to design a proper implementation that has been in short supply.
But there are some notable differences between Amazon Connect and what has gone before.
Cloud Done Right
The first one – and this is huge – is that Amazon Connect is the first built-for-web hosted offering that I am aware of that is truly dynamically scalable and behaves like a proper global web app.
I’m reminded of a conversation that I had two years ago with a senior technology leader who was selecting hosted call center technology for his BPO1 to resell. They had tested a number of offerings, and they fell into two categories. Category one was built for the cloud, but, in his words, “fell apart with more than 400 users.”
Category two overlays a cloud multi tenant2 layer on top of an industrial grade enterprise call center system. 400+ agents was no problem. Unfortunately, these enterprise systems have a well-earned reputation for being difficult to configure, and the cloud overlay did not address this. Onboarding new customers to the BPO was, to put it mildly, “non-trivial” and “expensive”.
Amazon Connect addresses the onboarding (self serve, basics up and running in 10 minutes), and dynamic scalability (built on battle tested Amazon Web Services, a.k.a AWS).
AWS Is a Safe Choice
AWS is well understood by IT, and is considered a safe choice. Given how many enterprise contact center sales are driven by IT, Amazon Connect gets a leg up over the existing cloud contact center offerings. I can imagine how a vendor that built their contact center offering on top of AWS must feel today.
Built in Developer Community
Call center vendors have struggled to build a developer community for their products. Invariably, the cost of entry, both in the proprietary learning curve and expensive development infrastructure meant that only companies already in the call center space could justify the investment.
I talked with a buddy of mine who works extensively with AWS. I asked him, “As an AWS developer, would you be willing to take on a call center project based on Amazon Connect?”. His answer was, “Yeah, sure…” It will cost him nothing to get started, and he already has most of the technical skills, as Amazon Connect looks just like all the other AWS services he already knows. Critically, he’s not afraid of it.
Of course, there’s that business acumen, call center domain knowledge, yada, yada that’s missing. There will be some serious trial-by-fire, and customers that will get scorched. But the message here is that there’s a large potential pool of developers at the ready. There are many developers working in enterprises today that know AWS. It’s very rare to find in house developers that really know the traditional call center platforms.
Is Amazon Connect Ready for Prime Time?
I took a look at the documentation for Amazon Connect to see what it could do. Didn’t take long, as the User Manual and Admin Guide combined was less than 60 pages. On the surface, it does have the basics needed to create a viable (voice) call center. I’ve worked with customers that would be fine with the launch feature set.
(I do feel I need to toss in a disclaimer here. The following statements are based on taking Amazon’s claims at face value.)
Could an IT department build a contact center system using Amazon Connect? Yes. It’s easy to set up and the nature of the AWS ecosystem makes it simple for them to learn the technology as they go. Could they build a good one? Odds are against them. Hey, give me a scalpel, some clamps, suture thread, and a “Home Surgery for Dummies” manual, and I could probably take out your kidney. But you might be happier having a trained surgeon manning the knife.
Could “I” build a large contact center system on top of Amazon Connect today that would work well? I believe so, the bones are there. Because, as I’ve repeatedly stated in this space, the purpose of a contact center system is to simply connect a caller with an agent. It does that, and there appears to be enough flexibility in the queuing and IVR functionality to get the job done.
I owe it to myself to get a handle on it. I’ll share the most important stuff I learn in this space.
1BPO – Business Process Outsourcer
2Multitenant – The ability to split one instance of software or one system so multiple tenants (in our case, separate companies) can share it, while thinking they have their own system.