Most people dread calling their airline, bank, insurance company or other customer service lines only to go through a litany of “press one for…” prompts before hanging up in frustration – often without getting their questions answered or grievances resolved.
Enter VoiceFoundry, which is banking on organizations placing increasing value on their customer experiences.
The Amazon Web Services Advanced Consulting Partner’s entire business is focused on Amazon Connect — AWS’ cloud-based contact center for voice and chat that’s designed to help companies improve customer engagement at lower costs — and the services that orbit it.
“Think of Connect as the sun, and Earth, Venus and Mars are like Lex and Polly and Lambda and SageMaker and other things that make the whole experience more impactful,” VoiceFoundry CEO John Marino said, referring to AWS services for building conversation bots, text-to-speech, serverless compute and machine learning services. “But Connect is the sun to every engagement we do.”
AWS launched Amazon Connect – which is used by Amazon.com’s online retail site – in early 2017. Tulsa, Okla.-based VoiceFoundry launched alongside its release at the Enterprise Connect show, backed by 20-plus years of contact center expertise as part Waterfield Technologies’ portfolio of companies.
“We thought, wow, if (AWS is) going to get in this industry, this is going to be very disruptive…and having focused attention around it – given that the technicians and the skills level is really quite different than anything our industry has seen — was going to be paramount to driving customer focus and success,” Marino said. “Most consumers’ perspective is I hate calling customer service, I hate the IVRs (interactive voice responses) — the ‘press one, press two, press three’ things — it’s just a bad experience,” Marino said. “Nobody’s like, ‘Oh, sweet, I can’t wait to call.’ It’s usually painful, and they dread it.”
Customer contact centers are primed for technology and cost improvements given the dated nature of old models from legacy companies, according to Marino.
“Now we have the opportunity to have a whole toolbox that I think is really a difference-maker in our industry. We’re seeing major enterprises starved for a change really embrace it, candidly, much faster than I ever thought they would. Just being able to connect to people through a phone line isn’t where the bar of success is anymore. The bar of success is now, ‘Have I made my life better as a consumer? Am I doing things differently as a consumer?’ Our belief is that those consumers will stay with the businesses more because they appreciate that. You see it at Southwest Airlines, you see it at…Nordstrom, you see it at Zappos.”
Contact centers are being “radically reshaped” by cloud technologies as enterprises shift from deploying on-premise contact center agents to cloud agents, according to a Synergy Research Group report released last week. Cloud agents have passed the 5 million mark, but they’ve penetrated just 18 percent of the total contact center market, demonstrating its strong growth potential, it said.
“The total number of contact center agents is growing by five percent per year, due to the combination of the high-growth cloud segment and the premise-based segment which is still growing, albeit only marginally,” the report states. “In part due to its acquisition of BroadSoft, Cisco is the first vendor to have over a million cloud agents and is now the market leader in that segment, followed by NICE, Genesys, Enghouse and Five9. The lead vendors in the premise-based segment are Avaya, Cisco and NEC.”
VoiceFoundry has seen 400 percent to 600 percent year-over-year growth in its Amazon Connect business since its launch, with satellite offices in Singapore, Sydney and London. Agero, American Red Cross, AWS HR Services and Kemper Financial are among its Amazon Connect customers in addition to top U.S. banks.
Amazon Connect, which provides a single unified contact center for voice and web and mobile chat capabilities, is managed as a service with pay-by-the-minute usage fees. It leverages AWS artificial intelligence (AI) services to automate interactions, use text-to-speech to create personalized messages in real time, transcribe calls, show caller sentiment in real-time and analyze customer data.
AWS CEO Andy Jassy, in an interview with CRN last year, highlighted Amazon Connect as one of the areas in which the cloud provider plans big technology investments this year. AWS last month announced Contact Lens for Amazon Connect, a new analytics capability powered by machine learning that makes it easier for organizations to identify customer issues and trends, search call and chat transcripts and improve their agents’ performances.
“One of the things I’m most excited about is that with AWS, we’re going to have ready access to a whole fleet of AI and machine learning technologies,” Marino said. “Even if you take some of the neural-like versions of Lex that are coming out that make automated, synthesized speech sound better than human speech — to be able to use those to drive differentiated experiences might make me less dread calling the bank.”
While Amazon Connect likely won’t stop companies from outsourcing their customer service outside the United States to call centers in India or elsewhere, it has a “very real play there,” according to Marino.
“Connect is tied in because AWS’ global presence, in many ways, is important to these big enterprises that do outsource to big BPOs (business process outsourcers),” he said. “If their agents are in the Philippines or Bangalore or wherever they are, being able to easily route calls between international geographies is immensely important.”
Author Credit: Donna Goodison, CRN