Amazon has a reputation for not only delivering excellent customer service, but also continually innovating to make the service experience better and easier for customers. Soon other companies may be able to quite literally borrow from Amazon’s playbook, as the e-commerce giant is rumored to be developing a suite of cloud-based call center tools based on its own proprietary call center technology.
According to a report from The Information, the new technology suite will leverage the artificial intelligence powering Alexa to handle contact center calls and texts, and will also include new tools such as Lex the chatbot and text-to-speech program Polly.
It’s unusual for a technology to take root in consumers’ homes and then transition into the enterprise, but for Amazon, this is a logical progression with Alexa. "Amazon has always been about putting the consumer first to deliver great customer service," says customer service expert and author Shep Hyken. "It makes sense that Alexa started out as a tool for customers, and it'll remain a tool for customers, even as companies put it to use in call centers," he adds.
Though details are still scarce about the actual technology, experts predict it'll likely take over some of the basic functions that call center agents now perform. For example, rather than waiting on hold to speak to an agent, customers will be able to get information about their order, handle billing questions and solve other basic problems through Alexa. The technology will go further than traditional IVR, however.
At its core, Alexa is a document-retrieval tool, but its artificially intelligent layer enables it to learn—that's what makes it fundamentally different than IVR and other automated response systems. "Alexa’s ability to learn makes the technology powerful," Cindy Zhou, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research, says. "She can understand questions and give intelligent responses. She can also make decisions about who to transfer a call to. The experience is much more than just pressing one for billing or two for tech support. It can be conversational, and more of a give and take than what a customer might get from typical IVR interaction."
Alexa's abilities are powerful, but Hyken says the technology is in its infancy and there's still work to be done. Alexa is not as conversational or as contextually aware as Google Assistant, for example.
Once the technology is rolled out in contact centers, it may be able to do more than just handle service requests. It might eventually listen in on conversations between agents and customers to provide recommendations on how to best handle issues, pull up relevant documents and articles instantly, and improve agent-customer engagements in other ways. "We're talking about a technology that, similar to Watson on Jeopardy, can pull up information instantly, faster than a human. That has incredible potential when you think about [the current state of knowledge management technology]," Hyken says.
As for concerns about Alexa replacing customer service agents, Zhou says it’s unlikely. Though Alexa may automate some functions, people will still be needed for more nuanced and complicated customer service requests. Hyken agrees, pointing to an old song by the Buggles. "Did video kill the radio star? Not really. Things change, as they likely will in the contact center, but Alexa will not replace all of the functions that humans can perform," he says.
It's not entirely clear when Amazon Web Services will make specific moves and introduce a contact center product based on Alexa, but The Information reports that it could be before the end of March. Amazon, meanwhile, has remained tight-lipped and has not yet confirmed the rumor.