AWS Announces Amazon Connect

Amazon selected Enterprise Connect as the launching pad for its entry into the contact center market when Gene Farrell, VP Enterprise Applications and Tom Weiland, VP Worldwide Customer Service of Amazon took the keynote stage Tuesday morning. Unlike many new contact center offerings, I was not pre-briefed on the solution, but have watched the buzz grow over the past couple of weeks. My views here are based on Amazon's press release, Farrell's presentation, as well as an interview with the CEO of an early Amazon Connect partner, Joe Salesky of CRMNEXT.

Weiland said that Amazon Connect was built out of the belief that "traditional contact center solutions were unable to meet our demanding requirements." They were complex, with multiple components from multiple vendors. The tools were cumbersome, requiring niche expertise, and they were in proprietary environments requiring "esoteric" skills. Along with other drawbacks, existing solutions were described as having complex pricing requiring long-term commitments.

Amazon needed a better solution, and so they built it -- and now they are making it available as a CCaaS application. Weiland reports that tens of thousands of agents used Amazon's version of Connect during the 2016 holiday shopping season.

Over 50 groups and businesses within Amazon use Connect, including subsidiaries like Zappos and Audible. Attributes of Amazon Connect, which became generally available upon yesterday's announcement, include self-service configuration, dynamic, personal, and natural contact flows built on an open platform. In addition, Weiland described an Alexa-like artificial intelligence feature using natural language understanding and speech recognition, Lex, which he reported is currently in beta and will be available in the future. The agent desktop experience is shown below.

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Weiland then introduced Brian Pearson, CTO of GE Appliances, where a three-month proof of concept (POC) of Amazon Connect was conducted. The slide below was used by Pearson as he described the difference between how GE Appliances is able to operate in its current multi-vendor, complex environment with the experience using Amazon Connect. Note that many contact center POCs take place with relatively few live production calls being taken. Pearson emphasized that while GE Appliances initially used Amazon Connect for the internal help desk, as part of the trial they took 15,000 live production calls.

portable

Amazon concluded its keynote presentation talking about the partners it is already working with to build and extend Connect. For example, Twilio brings some of the voice capabilities to Connect, and Calabrio can be integrated for workforce optimization.

portable

Note that as discussed in the press release and presentation, Amazon Connect is a voice-only solution, e.g., live calls and IVR. One way for customers to add channels like email, Web chat and social would by combining Connect with Salesforce, Zendesk or the other CRM vendors listed. Joe Salesky, CEO at CRMNEXT, was at Enterprise Connect, and I had a chance to sit down with him to discuss Amazon Connect. CRMNEXT is a banking-specific CRM platform that Salesky described as supporting a billion banking customers and a million bankers.

To say Salesky was enthusiastic about Amazon Connect would be an understatement. One of his first comments was, "This is an historic announcement," Amazon moving from services and infrastructure to applications. I noted that Amazon Chime was also announced last month, but Salesky clearly thinks that Connect has the opportunity to make a much bigger impact in the market. Salesky said that it took CRMNEXT's team one day to do the integration with Amazon Connect.

How does Amazon Connect fit with the CRMNEXT portfolio? Similar to the alliance between Salesforce and Cisco announced in September 2016, where Cisco brings the voice and the routing and Salesforce brings the desktop and digital channels, Amazon would bring the voice and CRMNEXT the other channels. The difference I would note is that in the Cisco/Salesforce case, artificial intelligence is primarily brought to the alliance by the CRM vendor (Salesforce), and in the Amazon Connect case, AI is brought by the contact center solution (Amazon Connect).

Last week on a call with contact center analysts, Genesys CEO Paul Segre was asked about a rumored Amazon contact center solution -- Genesys PureCloud runs on AWS. His sage response was, "We've been expecting Amazon to enter at some point, and so there is no surprise there. ... It's a complicated world that we live in, we think they are going to raise the bar and get people to start thinking about digital use cases. It frankly benefits our business."

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