Amazon Connect Is Disruptive, But Its Self-Service Nature Could Favor The Channel For Custom Integration, Support

Amazon's new cloud-based contact center, Amazon Connect, is a self-service offering that ties into Amazon's other storage and compute products and can scale on demand. And that's both a blessing and a curse, partners said.

"I think the big companies always make it seem so easy, but the reality is, most people don't know how to set up or manage a contact center." Don Gulling, president of Verteks Consulting, an Ocala, Fla.-based solution provider. "This could be a good channel opportunity because I can't imagine a real-world contact center with more than just a few people who would be able totally self-service the contact center."

While Amazon Connect could shake up the contact center space, it's still underdeveloped compared to industry-leading contact center products. Partners said the Internet giant also needs to engage the channel with this service because many businesses today are relying on VARs to manage their contact centers.

[Related: AWS Enters The Contact Center Customer Service Arena With Amazon Connect]

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Amazon said that Connect users who need help with custom integration could work with partners in the AWS Partner Network, calling out several partners, including Accenture, Aria Solutions, Persistent Systems, and Wipro.

"Even though its intuitive and there's no coding, there's still always the need for custom development and tying apps to the service," said Joe Rittenhouse, president of business development and managing partner for Converged Technology Professionals, a Crystal Lake, Ill.-based solution provider. "[Amazon Connect] sounds like it has the potential to be very robust and disruptive."

How disruptive? The business model for Amazon Connect is what you'd expect to see in an on-demand world. The service can be spun up in "minutes" using the AWS Management Console, according to the company. Users will pay for Amazon Connect usage by the minute, plus any associated telephony services.

The real value, said Verteks' Gulling, is that Amazon Connect can link to other Amazon services, including DynamoDB, Redshift, and Amazon S3. Amazon Connect also can be connected to third-party CRM tools from the likes of Appian, Calabrio, and Twilio.

"That's intriguing because it lets businesses use Amazon's storage and database, so I could see the potential is being up to scale up contact centers rapidly – like if you are an insurance company dealing with an influx of claims post-hurricane, but you don't need dedicated call center capacity for 1,000 agents all the time," Gulling said.

World-class contact centers are highly personalized, meaning a user can reach a live person that can quickly address a customer's needs. That's not the usual customer service approach used by webscale companies such as Amazon, Google, and Facebook, said Gary Berzack, CTO and COO of New York-based solution provider eTribeca.

"For the likes of those companies, customer service tends to be, at all costs, 'do not speak to the end user.' After all, does anyone know Facebook's phone number?" Berzack said.

But because Amazon Connect includes Amazon Lex, the speech recognition and natural language engine powering Amazon's "Alexa," the offering has the potential to enable advanced customer contact center services with the 'feel' of a live person at the other end, Berzack added.

Indeed, Amazon Connect could help "enhance" the interaction that goes on between a customer and the automated system before the call gets to an agent, Rittenhouse said, adding that the new service can help bring awareness to how the contact center space is changing.

While the product won't threaten traditional contact center vendors, it could put pressure on players like Twilio, which offers developers the platform for building SMS, voice, and messaging applications, he said.

"Interactions are becoming more and more important, from voice recognition to self-help automation. Amazon is putting together a full-blown, intelligent solution for contact centers on architecture that exists, versus a platform you have to develop on your own," Rittenhouse said.

While it may threaten platform providers, Amazon Connect is still an immature offering, Gulling said. "Unless Amazon goes on a buying spree and acquires some of these companies, [Amazon Connect] isn't going to have the features that businesses are wanting," he said. "It won't really compete with a ShoreTel or a Cisco product for a while."

The contact center market is highly specialized, and many channel partners aren't engaged in this space today. But if developed correctly, Amazon's foray into this space could encourage more partners to consider adding contact center solutions to their repertoires, eTribeca's Berzack said.

"Perhaps if this is implemented well and easily by Amazon, it could be another checkmark for a larger group of partners."