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With Amazon Connect, AWS puts experience to work in contact center space

By offering an inexpensive cloud-based contact center product, Amazon hopes to monetize its own software in a new growing market.

Alexa can now man your call center's front line, with the introduction of Amazon Web Services' Amazon Connect,...

a cloud-based contact center.

The move into contact center software is Amazon's latest foray into a busy market, but the Seattle-based company hopes its pricing structure and popularity of AWS sways customers to give Amazon Connect a shot.

"Amazon is a part of this cloud disruption in the contact center space," said Cindy Zhou, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research Inc. "Amazon has been using its own technology to power its own service and contact centers for the past few years, and now they're commercializing that and offering it to a broader base of customers."

The cloud-hosted contact center will join others, including Zendesk, Talkdesk, inContact and Five9 in the crowded contact center market, which is expected to approach $10 billion by 2019, according to a 2016 report by Technavio.

Amazon promises quick and inexpensive startups for Connect, claiming that customers can set up a "virtual contact center" in minutes with no special training. There are no upfront costs or long-term contracts; users are charged per minute. The cost of Amazon Connect may be one of the bigger deciding factors when a business considers transitioning to AWS' offering.

"You look at traditional offerings, the monthly cost [of contact center software] is expensive," Zhou said. "Providers are charging by the minute, and with different tiers and package plans. Amazon plans to simplify the pricing, and being cloud-based, they have the flexibility to do that. It's an attractive pricing offer."

The cloud-based infrastructure and per minute pricing could be enticing for users with short-term promotions, seasonal upticks or new product launches. Amazon will also be able to integrate its own technology into Amazon Connect -- for example, Alexa, Amazon's AI-powered assistant, will be able to answer routine contact center calls and allow contact agents to focus on more complicated customer calls. While Alexa's technology is most commonly associated with a personal speaker sitting in your living room, the natural language processing software has more uses, including acting as the AI for call centers, replacing the outdated and annoying "Press 1 for ..." process.

You look at Amazon's history; they have a record of partnering with customers and next thing you know they're in that space.
Cindy Zhouvice president and principal analyst, Constellation Research Inc.

A cloud-based contact center could also attract legacy contact center customers, because on-premises infrastructure and upkeep is often costly.

To build off its new partnership with Salesforce, Amazon Connect will be integrated with Salesforce's Service Cloud Einstein, which will help provide insight to customer data from Salesforce's CRM software.

"Amazon Connect and Salesforce Service Cloud Einstein are a natural fit because they're both focused on helping businesses create more intelligent and personalized interactions with their customers," said Terry Wise, vice president of the worldwide partner ecosystem at AWS.

It's the connection with CRM data that Zhou sees as the greatest benefit for Amazon Connect.

"The CRM connection can enable a unified view of a customer's activity," Zhou said. "You can do data mining and see their previous interactions and when they visited your site."

Because Amazon Connect is such a new offering, it's unclear how much disruption will occur in the cloud-based contact center market, but companies that offer similar products and that are built on the AWS cloud, could have cause for concern.

"You look at Amazon's history; they have a record of partnering with customers and next thing you know they're in that space," Zhou said. "As a partner, I'd remain cautiously optimistic. From an infrastructure cost perspective, [Amazon Connect] is very attractive, but it's so new that time will tell what its impact is."

Amazon Connect is priced on a per minute basis, at $0.018 per minute, as well as telephony pricing that differs depending on the country and whether it's an inbound or outbound call. 

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