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Amazon call center service extends AWS tools' reach

A new Amazon call center service represents yet another market for AWS to disrupt, but its real draw could be its integration with existing AWS tools.

A new Amazon call center service continues to push AWS beyond its infrastructure origins -- a familiar pattern that ultimately aims to pull customers deeper into the AWS cloud ecosystem.

Amazon Connect is a contact center service available on AWS and based on technology used by Amazon's own customer service. Like other AWS offerings, it seeks to undercut the existing market through lower prices and a simplified procurement process that can stand up environments faster than more traditional methods. On top of that, it also integrates with a handful of AWS tools to provide analytics and artificial intelligence capabilities.

Users can scale up or down an Amazon call center as needed, and there are no upfront costs. AWS bills customers in a pay-as-you-go model, with one notable difference from other Amazon cloud services: Usage is billed per minute, rather than per hour.

This illustrates how AWS enters new markets -- offer a pay-as-you-go version of something that fills a direct need, and make it sticky with integrations to existing services, said Dave Bartoletti, an infrastructure and operations analyst at Forrester Research.

"They leverage the breadth of the platform to fill an immediate need with a simple solution, then [they] encourage development teams to get creative about how other AWS services can make the new service better, more integrated and offer deeper insights," he said.

Integration opens more options

The new Amazon call center service connects to a range of AWS tools, including Aurora, CloudWatch, Lambda, Lex, Directory Service, DynamoDB, Kinesis, Redshift and Simple Storage Service. It also can link to third-party systems, such as customer relationship management (CRM) or analytics providers, and it already integrates with a number of AWS partners in that space, including Salesforce.

GE Appliances, a Haier company, has moved workloads onto AWS over the past two years, as it shifts to a microservices-oriented architecture. It was prepared to renew its contract with its telephony infrastructure provider, but joined the Amazon Connect private beta in December. It ultimately opted not to renew the contract with its call center company and use the Amazon Connect instead.

Editor's note: GE Appliances declined to identify its previous provider other than as a "very established player."

GE Appliances is a heavy consumer of Lambda, Kinesis, Redshift and Athena, and it plans to link Connect back to those services to improve on its existing system analyses, said Brian Pearson, CTO of GE Appliances.

Pearson plans to use Amazon Lex and Polly, along with Amazon Machine Learning, to develop real-time sentiment analysis for call recording to find trends in consumer problems and gaps in its system. The end goal is to eliminate option menus and instead have the caller describe the problem, so they can be directly routed to the proper person.

He said he sees other potential uses, as well, including the installation of Connect as an internal IT help desk.

Room for improvement in a crowded field

Connect simplifies the purchase and setup of Amazon call center infrastructure, but it's still far from a full end-to-end service, said Kate Leggett, vice president and principal analyst for application development and delivery professionals at Forrester.

For example, Amazon Connect offers interactive voice response, natural language processing, telephony infrastructure, and queuing and routing, but it only supports basic self-service interactions and phone interactions.

"Customers who use this will still need to provide a CRM or customer service agent desktop, customer service agents and workforce management solutions to manage agent staffing," she said.

It's also unclear if context from a self-service interaction is passed to a phone agent, and if there is support for digital interactions, such as chat, email and messaging, Leggett said.

AWS typically rolls out limited versions of services and extends those capabilities over time, based, in part, on customer feedback. However, Pearson pointed out his company used Connect successfully for 15,000 live customer calls during private testing.

"Their initial foray is better than typical bare-bone approach," Pearson said. "It's more of a product than Kinesis or AWS Glue in that it's a bigger release and a fully fledged product."

Trevor Jones is a news writer with SearchCloudComputing and SearchAWS. Contact him at [email protected].

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