Amazon Web Services (AWS) this week dedicated a half-day virtual event
to my favorite topic, contact center. First announced
at Enterprise Connect in 2017 (I never tire of saying that!), Amazon Connect has been growing in reputation in the contact center market. It appeared for the first time in industry analyst reports in 2020, notably the Gartner Magic Quadrant
for contact center as a service (CCaaS). Amazon Connect was already one of the fastest-growing AWS services, but like other CCaaS vendors, it saw accelerated growth in 2020 – continuing into 2021 as a result of the pandemic.
Two of the key speakers at the event were customers—and because they often tell a technology story better than anyone else, I’m going to focus my summary of AWS Contact Center Day on their presentations.
Becky Ploeger, global head of Hilton Reservations and customer care, runs an organization with 20 globally deployed contact centers. These are a mix of in-house and business process outsourcer locations that provide sales and service support to all Hilton brands and properties. Service is provided via voice, email, chat, and social media in about 20 languages, and the company handles about 150,000 contacts per day. Those contacts can involve hotel reservations, Hilton Honors loyalty program questions, post-stay guest assistance, as well as a host of other inquiry types.
Hilton’s transformation started like many others, Ploeger began. The hotel company was on “one of the big on-premises telephony providers, the contract was up, and we did our normal evaluation.” Hilton wanted to move to the cloud to reduce what Ploeger called its “technical debt” and wanted to unify channels for a consistent customer experience, while saving expense dollars.
However, as seen in the graphic above, equally important Ploeger described “selecting a partner that would continue to reimagine, or shall I say, reinvent, the tools and techniques that we've been using for many years within the contact center.” For Hilton, Amazon Connect was a way to do all of these things, unifying Hilton’s customer channels at a lower total cost of ownership.
Ploeger reiterated a refrain from so many enterprise customers—that the pandemic has accelerated the need for seamless, personalized, digital experiences. With Amazon Connect in place, she said, “We have a digital-first mindset, providing a click-to-call experience within the frequently asked questions on our support site and within our chatbot.” Ploeger is also confident that AWS will continue to invest in contact center technology over the long term, rethinking the way it's always been done.
Most readers will be familiar with Priceline, a part of Booking Holdings, a global leader in online travel. Priceline has agents that handle customer service contacts and a sales group that assists with hotel bookings in its contact center.
Jennifer Featherling, director, contact center technology, Priceline, explained that in 2018, the company had five different ACDs across four different BPOs. Priceline had an IVR on-premises and “hundreds of different allocators out in Verizon,” i.e., a network-based capability for adjusting the volume of calls sent to any given location. Featherling explained that this often led to having agents sitting available in one location while customers were waiting for service in queue at a different location.
Priceline decided to change its operations and have all of its contact center technology provided by Priceline directly for the outsourced contact centers handling Priceline queries. The project began in October 2018, and all service agents were moved onto Amazon Connect by the end of April 2019. By August 2019, Priceline had also migrated on the onsite IVR to Amazon Connect. The final piece of the project, moving sales agents to Amazon Connect, was completed in April 2020.
One of the biggest customer experience-impacting changes enabled by Amazon Connect is global queues. “I don’t have agents sitting available while I need someone to handle a call,” Featherling explained. To talk through her Amazon Connect deployment, Featherling not only showed the accompanying graphic (below), but easily incorporated AWS service capabilities into her discussion. This idea is something I often hear when Amazon Connect customers talk about their operation – they are very articulate about their use of the broad array of AWS services available to Amazon Connect customers.
“Amazon Polly is probably my best friend right now,” Featherling said – in all seriousness. When there is a storm, whether a hurricane or a winter storm, Priceline constantly updates announcements for customers, letting them know the status of their trip and their options. With Amazon Connect, Featherling explained, it's really simple to do. “I type in the updated messaging that we would like to play, then I save and publish. Usually, within 60 seconds, customers are hearing the update,” Featherling added. Amazon Polly is a text-to-speech service, which means no need for managers to try to do their own recordings on the fly.
Featherling concluded her remarks by discussing the benefits of Amazon Connect’s usage-based pricing. “Being in travel, it's important for us to be able to quickly scale up and scale down our agents to handle our peaks. We wanted to be able to do that without having to be locked into any licenses,” she said.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that some of the other AWS Contact Center Day speakers shared valuable perspectives. For example, Brian Solis
, global innovation evangelist at Salesforce, commented during a fireside chat, "I believe AI and automation can help contact centers and business more generally become more human... I'm a big supporter of using technology to make experiences not more appealing, but enchanting, exciting."
I’m happy to close with that thought – it’s good to hear the industry working toward helping companies make customer experience enchanting and exciting.