With Amazon Web Services (AWS) releasing Amazon Connect earlier this year, the tech giant is entering the call center space and is ready to disrupt the market by leveraging new technologies. It is touted to be a “scalable and reliable service” for running call center stations, with Amazon claiming that the cloud-based technology would use Automatic Speech Recognition and Artificial Intelligence to manage calls. The system is poised to remove the cumbersome and complex infrastructure existing in current age call center frameworks. The graphical user interface (GUI) is designed in a way that aids even amateur users to feel at ease with the interface. Designing contact flows (conceptually similar to Interactive Voice Response), managing agents and tracking performance metrics is going to be an easy task with the new and enhanced system.
It will also incorporate Amazon Lex, which is a natural language processing technology based on Amazon’s AI bot – Alexa. This will allow the system to have in-built automated responses and customers will not require to undergo long menus. The integration with other Amazon Web Services incentivizes the product as a whole. Amazon Connect can be integrated with other AWS services such as Amazon Simple Storage (Amazon S3) for recording calls, Amazon QuickSight for data visualization and Amazon RedShift for an external Data Warehouse solution, etc. It can be integrated with external Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platforms as well, with the likes of Calabrio, CRMNEXT, Zendesk and Zoho.
Amazon claims that anybody having AWS subscription can set up the Amazon Connect cloud platform in five minutes. Since there is no infrastructure needed on premises, it is highly scalable to suit an organization’s needs. However, Amazon is set to face competition from Gartner’s Contact Center as a Service, Five9, inContact, Twilio and Genesys’s cloud contact center offerings. The most common operating model used by these vendors is based on purchasing software licenses. Amazon connect on the other hand is not based on any contract, but will function based on a ‘pay by minute’ model. The usage charges are 1.8 cents/minute for the software services and an additional 1.2 cents/minute for inbound toll free calls. From the total cost of ownership perspective, the usage based (pay per minute) model seems very effective since companies do not have to deal with the maintenance cost of servers or the cost of software licensing.
Nevertheless, Amazon Connect has its own shortcomings. Though claimed by Amazon that Connect can be set up in five minutes, it requires AWS subscription which needs a technically skilled person to deploy, making the so called self-service model not entirely self-service. The pricing charges are lucrative for midsized companies; but for companies making large volume calls, it provides minimal cost effectiveness. This is anticipated to serve as a barrier in encouraging enterprise-wide adoption. Another disadvantage is that Amazon Connect comes with only voice based systems, providing no omnichannel offering. Major cloud contact service providers, like Twilio provide communication systems across platforms such as SMS, video and chat services.
The Communication Platform as a Service (CPaaS) market is still evolving with few takers, but growing at a steady pace. It is estimated (by IDC) that the revenue of contact center applications was $5.8 billion in 2016 for on-premises and for cloud applications it was $1.9 billion. The cloud applications are forecasted to be at $4.3 billion by 2020, showing a compounded growth rate of 22.9 percent compared to a marginal drop of 1 percent for on-premises applications.
The aggressive pricing strategy is tipped to bring down the setup costs for many call centers that adopt it and in turn bring down the overall cost of call center outsourcing, for corporations. The pay per minute model would possibly disrupt the existing contract based models. Amazon’s Alexa and AI expertise provides the contact center industry with technology to develop efficient chatbots and automated response systems, which would further reduce the need for manpower requirements, which remains to be a big cost contributor in the current set up. Buyers can look at the emergence of Amazon Connect and other cloud contact centers with an optimistic note. Combining Connect with any other technology offering, such as Twilio or Zoho would get the best out of it.
The entry of a technology giant in the contact center space is momentous. Amazon, however, misses certain key service offerings as compared to its competitors. If they are willing to incrementally work around shortcomings that cripple their path to success, Amazon Connect has the potential to come out as a top disruptor in this field.