Amazon Connect Gains Confidence at AWS re:Invent 2021

Upgrades galore for the company’s contact-centre service

In early December, at Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) annual customer and partner event, re:Invent, the company announced a range of enhancements to Amazon Connect — its artificial intelligence-driven, cloud-based contact centre application.

Launched in 2017, Amazon Connect marked AWS’ first major foray into business applications, and remains the company’s main employee-facing offering. Based on the technology that AWS built for its Amazon contact centre operations, the product provides an omnichannel solution for businesses to improve agility and scalability by increasing automation of customer journeys and conversations.

Amazon Connect is underpinned by a wealth of machine learning capabilities that provide insights and predictive guidance. Delivered purely in the cloud, it enables customers to get up and running in minutes, offering them tools to create a highly customized application that meets their specific needs and that’s tightly integrated with their broader technology stack.

Its biggest differentiator is its pricing based on monthly usage, charging customers only for the functionality they use for as long as they use it, meaning businesses don’t have to maintain costly annual licences for capacity they only need at peak times. It also allows contact centre operators to add functionality on demand, enabling them to evaluate its business benefit rather than committing to pay for features they don’t use.

As in previous years, news from re:Invent 2021 for Amazon Connect focussed heavily on using artificial intelligence and machine learning to deepen the service’s capabilities, improving the experience for contact centre agents and technical teams. Below we outline the main announcements.

Call Summarization in Contact Lens for Amazon Connect

The biggest announcement for Amazon Connect was the introduction of summarization capabilities in its Contact Lens module. Launched at the event in 2019, Contact Lens for Amazon Connect provides contact centre managers with real-time insights into the sentiment and trends in customer conversations by applying machine learning to transcripts.

Since then, the capability has become a focal point for the artificial intelligence-based positioning of Amazon Connect. The new summarization feature automatically identifies the most important parts of customer conversations such as the customer problem, the outcome or the resulting action, and generates a summary that’s then included in the customer record. This enables contact centre agents to stay focussed on helping customers, rather than on documenting the minutes of each call.

Amazon Lex Automated Chatbot Designer

AWS also launched a preview of an automated chat bot designer for Amazon Lex, a cloud-based tool for building conversational voice and text interfaces that uses the same deep learning technology as Amazon Alexa. For customers of Amazon Connect, the automated chat bot designer can dramatically speed the process of customer service automation by using machine learning and natural language understanding to analyse large volumes of call transcripts, then identify and group common customer intents and resolution information in the source data.

The tool then automatically generates an initial chat bot design that incorporates this information and can then be refined using Amazon Lex’s editor before being deployed with Amazon Connect. AWS says this can shorten the initial design time to a matter of hours, rather than the weeks it could take for a designer to manually read through conversation transcripts. Although it’s positioned by AWS as a capability for developers rather than non-technical users, this new tool takes the heavy lifting out of chat bot creation and will undoubtedly be well-received by existing and potential customers.

Upgrades to Amazon Connect Customer Profiles

The company also introduced several new capabilities that build on Amazon Connect Customer Profiles, an add-on module that combines data from contact centre interactions and third-party systems such as customer relationship management (CRM) solutions to provide a single view of the customer. A new Identity Resolution feature uses machine learning to identify duplicate profiles based on customer metadata, merging them into one profile to save agents time.

In addition, AWS announced the ability for technical users to create modules that allow the reuse of blocks of repeatable business logic in Amazon Connect contact flows, saving time and improving consistency in contact centre workflows. For example, using the new Customer Profiles contact block, contact centre managers can create personalised experiences such as greeting the customer by name in a chat, or routing customers to different queues based on their address. The company also announced new integrations, with support for ingestion of customer data from Segment and Shopify.

New Unified Agent Experience

One of the most interesting announcements is the introduction of a new, unified user experience for contact centre agents (see image below). This creates a more cohesive application by bringing together the formerly distinct widgets of Amazon Connect Customer Profiles, caller identification module Amazon Connect VoiceID, knowledge base and next-best action module Amazon Connect Wisdom and the central agent user interface Amazon Connect Contact Control Panel.

This move, alongside the continued investment in Customer Profiles, sees AWS taking a more confident and direct role in building the identity and presence of Amazon Connect in the contact centre applications market. Until now, AWS has leaned more into embedding the various widgets into external systems such as CRM, or providing them as building blocks to allow customers or solution provider partners to create their own custom agent application. The unified agent application also provides a platform for AWS to further expand the capabilities of Amazon Connect, and we believe this could herald a new stage in the product’s evolution and Amazon’s investment in this area of the business applications market.

A New Path for AWS in Business Transformation

Despite early scepticism about AWS’s ability to contest such an established and competitive market, the company has shown its ability to disrupt this area. Tens of thousands of businesses have now deployed Amazon Connect, according to AWS, with these deployments collectively supporting more than 10 million customer interactions per day.

The product’s success has undoubtedly been bolstered by the shift to remote working during the pandemic and the ensuing urgency in many businesses to move their contact centre operations to the cloud, and to a more flexible, scalable and customizable solution. AWS has said that from March to April 2020 alone, it signed 5,000 new Amazon Connect customers as the pandemic first started to affect businesses.

What’s also interesting is the make-up of Amazon Connect’s customers, ranging from very small businesses to large enterprises and spanning all sorts of industries: retail, hospitality, financial services, utilities, government, education and more. Customers’ stories also paint a good picture; for example, the NHS Business Services Authority in the UK said it has reduced contact centre traffic by 26% thanks to chat bots in Amazon Connect, and Los Angeles County said it has cut costs by 60%, reduced call volumes by 17% and cut peak hold times from 45 minutes to just 3.5 minutes. These stories show that Amazon Connect is about more than just moving contact centres to the cloud; the success comes from transforming contact centres and customer experiences aided by automation, analytics and machine learning.

We’ve long argued that AWS needs a convincing business applications strategy if it is to shift its perception among senior leaders to become a strategic partner for business transformation. The company still has much work to do, and faces continued challenges to shift its overall corporate positioning to appeal to business decision-makers, not just technical leaders.

However, the growing success of Amazon Connect and its investment in the product show that AWS is making important headway in changing these perceptions. With a clear and cross-industry business problem to address, and armed with the company’s applied artificial intelligence and cloud capabilities, against the odds Amazon Connect is paving the way for a new wave of opportunity for AWS in enabling strategic business transformation.