At Enterprise Connect in March, Amazon announced new functionality in its cloud contact center platform, Amazon Connect. The company is now including a full Workforce Optimization component, which includes built-in forecasting, capacity planning and scheduling capabilities. It's no surprise that Amazon is adding these capabilities, as WFO has become a core component of a complete CCaaS platform.
Debuting in 2017, Amazon Connect is a basic CCaaS platform originally aimed at users keen on developing their own contact center applications. Connect leans heavily on integrations with vendors such as ServiceNow and Salesforce that offer contact center functions but are relatively light on interaction-handling features. It can be adapted to fit a wide variety of needs and contact channels. One of the strengths of Amazon Connect is its use of the Amazon Web Services platform and its underlying artificial intelligence.
Since introduction, Amazon has signed on a significant number of partners, both for integration and deployment services as well as technological integrations. As a result, many small contact centers have been able to develop compatible applications and implement features that might have been too expensive or complex to pursue through traditional means.
Connect was built from the ground up within Amazon, based on its own perception of how it should handle its own enormous customer support needs. Like other tools that were productized after filling an internal use case, Connect stakes out a position in the market separate from its competitors. It mimics AWS’ cloud-services pricing and quick deployment models. And it encourages small organizations to spin up centers and snap in functionality like Lego bricks, either from Amazon or other vendors.
In the Ventana Research Value Index: Contact Center in the Cloud 2021, Amazon was categorized as a Vendor with Merit for its Amazon Connect platform. In that assessment, we noted multiple areas in which Amazon Connect needed improvement, notably in Usability, Adaptability and in how Amazon provides its buyers with information on the platform’s Total Cost of Ownership/Return on Investment. We also identified the need for a workforce optimization component, which the company has now provided.
One interesting feature of Amazon Connect’s Workforce Optimization is Contact Lens, a machine-learning based tool that derives customer sentiment information from caller audio in real time. Sentiment analysis is a feature often found in products aimed at the higher-end contact center, where it can be used for both agent performance tracking and customer behavioral analysis. One additional use case is to have the system automatically transcribe and summarize the content of the interaction, saving the agent significant after-call work making notes. For Amazon to include this in a product aimed at small and developing centers suggests that advanced, automated analysis of call content is rapidly becoming table stakes for centers across the board. Amazon appears to be expanding the level of features those entry-level buyers will come to expect, forcing competitors to keep adding functionality. From the buyer point of view, this is a significant knock-on impact of Amazon being in this market.
Another buyer-friendly element to Amazon Connect is price transparency. It is relatively easy for prospective users to ballpark monthly and ongoing costs for various permutations of Connect using an online pricing calculator that goes into surprising detail.
The new workforce optimization features rolled out this spring include some fundamental elements that should have been included in earlier editions: forecasting future call volumes, for example. Amazon Connect can now forecast both short- and long-term volumes and import existing historical Connect data to include in those forecasts.
A new Capacity Planning feature should appeal to managers tasked with long-term hiring and resource allocation. Planners can run “what-if” scenarios with varying attrition rates, service levels, average speed of answer targets, shrinkages, maximum occupancy, overtime and time off targets to determine staffing requirements 12 months out.
The goal of contact centers has always been to minimize the amount of agent time spent on interactions, deflect as much as possible to automation, and control costs. Amazon Connect’s current trajectory checks all of those boxes, suggesting that the evolution of the generic contact center will be towards automated interactions, with agents as a far last resort.