AWS Contact Center

Amazon Connect is changing expectations with customer relationships

Contact centers are commonly seen as cost centers—and have evolved over the last few years into multichannel customer service platforms that also drive service and sales. Organizations try to optimize the costs of running contact centers down to fractions of percentage points. The largest expense is usually human cost, a blend of employee salaries and the physical infrastructure that houses employees. Traditionally, contact centers have operated in physical buildings outside major city centers, and high turn-over presents the challenge of attraction talent to these locations.

Customer service remains the primary focus of contact centers, and we’ve seen the COVID-19 pandemic affect the way the customer service industry gets work done. Safety restrictions and other COVID-related changes have forced the industry to reconsider asking employees to work in a traditional contact center setting. Before COVID, work-from-home scenarios were not the norm in the customer service industry. Most solutions that enable work-from-home are not designed to facilitate contact center staff to work remotely, and administrators often need to be creative to make their on-premises infrastructure work at all. Contact center managers spend a lot of money shipping encrypted laptops, and once the equipment is delivered, the setup and connectivity is complex and laborious with the security of these devices being an afterthought.

Some on-premises infrastructure solutions require routing phone calls to private phone lines. On-prem solutions can also require a virtual private network (VPN), essentially an encrypted tunnel established on both ends, to connect at-home devices to the office network. Agents often require training and assistance to learn this technology, an added expense that is often unaccounted. Many other contact center agents struggled to setup their home-based workspaces without the help of onsite professionals. On top of these requirements, contact center employees need office equipment and strong internet connections to support customers remotely.

Using cloud-based contact centers to quickly adapt to changes

Cloud-based solutions naturally solve many of the problems associated with establishing virtual contact centers to support agents working from home. These solutions simplify contact center operations and improve agent productivity for superior customer service. Amazon Connect offers pay-as-you-go pricing so that organizations can reap the benefits of cloud-based contact centers at a lower cost and without up-front commitment. Cloud-based contact centers are simple and inexpensive to try, with the ability to scale up and down with fluctuations in demand. Customers don’t have to purchase a one-time annual amount in order to operate during peak demand. This model is customer focused and companies pay for what they use rather than having to manage seats around for team members. Organizations can access Amazon Connect through any web browser, enabling agents to quickly set up and start taking calls. It’s highly secure and does not require any installation, which enabled organizations to rapidly set up remote operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Organizations are often shocked at the flexibility of a cloud-based contact center. Using solutions such as Amazon Connect, they can, in minutes, remotely set up a contact center that can scale to support millions of customers. Customers are not just implementing a contact center, they are also able to take advantage of the global infrastructure of AWS, meaning they can take advantage of deep integrations, virtual customer assistance, and zero planned downtime or maintenance.

For example, when the pandemic began, the City of Johns Creek in Georgia was able to support its citizens by transitioning its virtual after-hours call center into a 24/7 automated response system. Since the city had already established a virtual contact center on Amazon Connect, this process took all of five minutes. The city was able to respond immediately to its citizens’ changing needs by configuring their existing chatbots to their regular contact center hours enabling the city to continue to support its residents and provide a steady, calming presence during a time of crisis.

Hiring flexibility

Cloud-based contact centers also provide greater flexibility in their hiring and recruitment processes. With these solutions, organizations are no longer limited to one physical location and can search for talent outside of their regions—even globally. They can be more creative with staffing their contact centers and take advantage of gig economies, in which flexible, temporary, or freelance jobs are the norm.

Easily order office supplies

But many contact center agents are not set up to work from home and need the right home office equipment. To support customers remotely, an agent needs a quality headset, monitor, keyboard, mouse, and possibly even a desk and chair to work ergonomically from home. Using Amazon Business, Amazon Connect customers can find the supplies that agents need to provide great customer service from anywhere. They can easily create a curated list of the approved supplies and invite their agents to select which products they want. Then Amazon Business ships those products directly to their homes.

Fast contact center innovations

Cloud-based solutions are not only easier to access and use remotely, but they also enable contact centers to use innovations more quickly and pivot for changing customer service needs. Every organization wants better customer service, whether it’s for internal employees seeking information technology (IT) help, customers inquiring about orders, or citizens looking for local information. Artificial intelligence–powered chatbots, natural language understanding interactive voice responses (IVRs), and sentiment analysis can improve customer service, but contact centers often don’t have the time or budget to make changes. Cloud-based solutions allow agents to onboard anywhere, only requiring internet, a headset, and 20 minutes or less to complete the training.

Contact centers on Amazon Connect address a major pain point by enabling organizations to easily add more customer service capabilities into their contact centers at a flexible cost. Organizations take on lower risk by not paying up-front to enable new innovations and capabilities, with the added option to roll those capabilities back if they are not fit for their agents. Managers can use the simple user interface to launch a contact center in a no-code environment and adjust it intuitively—and they can do so remotely. Additionally, the solution scales up and down to meet demand and optimize costs since you only pay for what you use.

Considerations for the future of customer service

I believe the term “contact center” is very limiting. Cloud-based contact centers can be used in many types of use cases, which have never been more apparent than during the COVID-19 pandemic. Connect strives to help agents quickly get up to speed, assists to quickly get the right answers to customer questions, and enables agents to focus on their relationships with customers. We are seeing state, local, and national public-sector organizations setting up hotlines for citizens to get information about COVID-19 testing. We are seeing dental offices enabling remote call centers so that patients can schedule visits. Restaurants are even taking orders from home using Amazon Connect. Today it’s not just a contact center—it’s a customer service center. Using Amazon Connect, organizations can do more than continue service in unprecedented situations—they can also improve and innovate customer service.

If you’re a contact center owner thinking about making the move from an on-premises solution to a cloud-based one, here are five things I encourage you to think about:

1.     Are my customers getting the information they need quickly today? Start with your customer and work backwards by analyzing service tickets. Do your agents consistently provide your customers with the information they need the first time, no matter what happens? Think about what changes you can make to meet your customers’ needs.

2.     Do I need to pay for a contact center office building? What else could I do with that spending? Take stock of what you’re spending on a physical infrastructure to house contact center agents and how those funds could be redirected to improve customer experience.

3.     Am I protecting my corporation’s intellectual property (IP) when people work from home? Without the proper security, remote work can leave sensitive company information vulnerable to leaks. What mechanisms do you have in place to protect critical data?

4.     How can I most effectively equip contact center agents to help customers efficiently? Agents needs tools to help customers remotely, and there are options to help them get what they need. Invest in the right infrastructure, from the right headset to cloud services.

5.     Is my contact center equipped to meet changing customer needs?  Contact centers should be designed to be flexible. This allows managers to quickly adapt and iterate operations as customer needs change.

This post is part of a new Reimagining the Workforce Blog series where AWS and Amazon executives are sharing their experiences and insights during the pandemic. If you’d like to see other posts from the series, click here.