Today we’re excited to announce the general availability of Service Cloud Voice and are thrilled to be partnering with AWS to offer Amazon Connect for pre-integrated, out of the box telephony so companies can digitize their call centers fast and provide flexible phone support from the home or office.
First announced at Dreamforce 2019, Service Cloud Voice brings together phone, digital channels, and data from the world’s #1 CRM data into one unified console. When a phone call is routed to a service agent, it appears directly within the agent’s workspace so the agent doesn’t need to jump between systems. This central console acts as a hub for managing customer data and interaction histories, and delivering service across channels. Service Cloud Voice also gives managers the ability to view calls in real-time, so they can step in and provide coaching to service agents when needed, from anywhere.
However, since this launch, the world has changed. COVID-19 has drastically impacted every business, and call centers have become more important than ever before as consumers seek more help in these unfamiliar circumstances. A recent survey uncovered that 30% of consumers are contacting customer service centers more than they did before the pandemic.
This influx of service requests places increased pressure on service agents as they help customers navigate the uncertainty of COVID-19. It has also forced the call centers themselves to undergo rapid change, shifting to a remote work model overnight and turning to new digital tools to handle this heightened demand.
GE Appliances, a Haier Company, and Remitly, a digital international money transfer service, realized the need for speed and flexibility when responding to customers’ needs:
“As one of the largest American appliance manufacturers, it is important to us that we are putting our consumers’ needs first, since our products are at the heart of our consumers’ daily lives,” said Eddie Delic, Senior Director of Ownership Experience GE Appliances. “With around 1,600 call center agents and 50,000 incoming calls a day, the need to innovate and scale, while maintaining a singular view of the customer is imperative. With the power of Amazon Connect and Service Cloud, we can deliver faster, more personalized service to improve our consumers’ lives at home.”
“Remitly focuses on giving our customers peace of mind as they send money home to their families and communities. And because great customer service is a huge part of that promise, we’re looking to the combined power of Service Cloud and Amazon Connect to help us serve our customers faster and resolve their issues right in the app,” said Rene Yoakum, Chief Customer & People Officer, Remitly. “Building on our other digital tools like chat and bots, Service Cloud Voice will provide our agents new workflow and knowledge tools during the call, boosting their quality and productivity as they empathetically serve our customers.”
To learn more about this partnership and how it will impact our customers, we sat down with Bill Patterson, EVP and General Manager of CRM Applications at Salesforce, and Pasquale DeMaio, General Manager of Amazon Connect at AWS, to discuss the Service Cloud Voice launch, the evolution of the contact center in the face of COVID-19, and the new all-digital, work-from-anywhere norm.
Q. I’d like to hear about how the Service Cloud + Amazon Connect partnership came together. Why did you choose to integrate Amazon Connect first?
Bill: The phone has been the last piece of customer service technology to modernize. We’ve seen the rise of digital, which includes online, social media, email, and modern messaging channels like chat or Twitter. But the phone has largely stayed stagnant, which is surprising because it’s still the primary way most customers prefer to get support — especially for highly personal interactions.
We saw Amazon transform telephony infrastructures to be powered by the cloud, giving organizations access to high-quality, consistent voice services across different contact centers regardless of where the customer service agents were located. It just made sense for us to partner with Amazon, as both companies had a joint vision of helping customers modernize the contact center.
Q. Tell me about Amazon Connect. What makes it unique?
Pasquale: Over 12 years ago, Amazon needed a contact center that would give our customers personal, dynamic, and natural experiences and would scale to the largest workloads securely and reliably. We couldn’t find one that met our needs, so we built it. We’ve now made this available for all businesses, and today thousands of companies use Amazon Connect to serve millions of customers daily. Amazon Connect is AI-enabled, allowing customer service agents to immediately use AWS AI services with Amazon Connect to automate interactions and improve customer service.
With Amazon Connect you can scale your contact center up or down to any size, onboarding tens of thousands of agents in response to normal business cycles or unplanned events. As part of the AWS cloud, you can support your customers by accessing Amazon Connect from anywhere in the world securely and reliably. Agents and managers just need a supported web browser and an internet connection to engage with customers from anywhere.
Q. What was the customer response when Salesforce first announced Service Cloud Voice with the Amazon Connect integration?
Bill: Hugely positive — our customers were very excited. Like I said, where most services have already transformed to digital, the phone has remained analog. Now that voice can easily be digitized, organizations have an amazing opportunity to standardize and streamline their contact centers, especially because Amazon can deliver at global scale. It’s not uncommon that service centers today are made up of many regional physical contact centers, so the ability for organizations to move away from regional servers to one global cloud gives them an opportunity to drive consistency and resiliency in their operations, and save money while doing so.
Pasquale: From the first days of Amazon Connect we knew that CRM and contact centers were better together. Customer data combined with smart workflows and an intelligent contact center makes for a better customer experience. We continue to see a very positive response from the launch of integrating Amazon Connect into Service Cloud Voice. In fact, we have seen adoption from large customers and success stories like John Hancock, who leveraged Amazon Connect to improve the experience of their customers, making communication easier and clearer, enabling them to respond to them more quickly. The interest and traction continues, especially as we see cloud adoption grow during this time.
Q. The pandemic brought new challenges to organizations in every industry. How did your team work to ensure companies could stay connected to their customers, employees and partners during COVID-19?
Bill: At the initial onset of the crisis, we introduced a set of free rapid response solutions called Salesforce Care to help companies quickly communicate with customers and employees — it included out-of-the-box solutions like an employee help center, as well as free technology tailored for emergency response teams and small businesses. More than 62,000 companies took advantage of these free solutions. We also provided 300 U.S. small businesses with $10,000 in grants to stay afloat and help them pivot and adapt their businesses. Since then we’ve introduced Work.com to help business and community leaders around the world reopen safely, with tools like contact tracing and a command center to make decisions based on employee and regional health data.
Specific to service, COVID-19 transformed the contact center overnight from one central, physical location to a remote, dispersed workforce serving customers from their living rooms and kitchens – basically anywhere with an internet connection. Because our technology is based in the cloud, we were able to help organizations make this transition virtually overnight.
Q. We understand Amazon partnered with Salesforce to offer customers help shortly after COVID-19 hit. How and why did you get involved?
Pasquale: AWS, like Salesforce, recognized that our customers needed help as they had to react quickly due to COVID to keep their employees, students, and citizens safe. Service teams had to leave traditional contact centers to work remotely and promote social distancing. Staying connected and responsive to customers under these circumstances is incredibly important but can be challenging; access to a cloud-based contact center can be critical to resolving the new influx of cases and maintaining business continuity.
In addition to providing free Amazon Connect credits for organization who needed to set up contacts centers quickly, Amazon also launched the $20 million AWS Diagnostic Initiative to accelerate COVID-19 research. In Europe, we committed €21 million (almost $23 million USD) to support those most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Q. How has the role and importance of contact centers shifted during COVID-19?
Bill: It’s only natural that during times of great change and uncertainty people will have questions, so the need for customer service has certainly grown. The contact center itself had to change because most organizations need employees to be physically distanced, but at the same time they need their agents to be available anytime, anywhere for customers to answer their questions. It also means that customers are facing their own challenges and want to be able to reach out on the channel most convenient for them, but still get a timely response.
Pasquale: Business everywhere was disrupted but customer experience needed to stay top of mind, with more customer service interactions than ever before across every channel including voice/telephony. Historically, the majority of contact centers were physical buildings that housed service agents, but in March and April, over 5,000 virtual contact centers were set up on Amazon Connect. Not only were these companies able to quickly set up the necessary hotlines to answer pressing questions from customer, employees, and citizens, but they were able to help handle the unprecedented call volume though AI powered self-service and other Connect best practices.
Q. What is the significance of telephony in today’s contact center? How has it evolved in recent years?
Bill: A lot of people have written about the death of the phone, and yet, if I have a question about a payment for my mortgage, I’m not going to ask that over Twitter or chat. The phone is still the most trusted channel, especially for important, highly personal interactions.
This means the phone must move from analog to digital, so if I’m an agent working at home, those calls can still route to me. Our partnership with Amazon provides the highest quality phone coverage, the highest global scale to run this offering from, that works on the most trusted leader in customer service technology. That’s why today’s announcement is momentous for the industry.
When voice is captured in a digital format, it becomes easier to introduce AI into the interaction. Amazon Connect’s AI enables transcription during the interaction, so Salesforce’s Einstein can then help the agent solve customers’ questions in the moment, or train them how to better handle a situation in the future. Service agents can eliminate lower-level tasks and focus their efforts on more complex problems that require a level of empathy that only humans can provide.
Pasquale: Over the years, telephony has evolved and adapted to today’s needs. We are no longer just waiting on hold for long periods of time. The power of AI saves call center agents time, and enables them to better engage with customers and provide recommendations on the next best action.
Amazon Connect is AI-enabled by default, allowing agents to immediately use AWS AI services with Amazon Connect to automate interactions and improve customer service. Amazon Connect has natural text-to-speech built-in so you can create personalized messages in real-time and with Amazon Lex, an Amazon service that builds conversational interfaces into any application with speech-to-text and Natural Language Understanding (NLU), you can use the same powerful technology that powers Alexa across voice and chat, easing the handoff between agents with context. Amazon Connect also leverages AI to transcribe calls and show caller sentiment in real-time, and also surface insights and spot trends over time.
Q. What are some of the benefits of moving contact centers to the cloud?
Bill: In the past, organizations have been fearful of moving to the cloud because of concerns around voice quality. It used to be the case that the closer you were to the physical infrastructure that makes up the telephony platform, the better voice quality you would have. It’s also not uncommon to have regionally based technologies from different vendors that you need to maintain and manage yourself.
Now that Amazon has entered the space, the global-scale network they’ve created ensures that quality is consistent across the board, and enterprises can manage their contact center in a globalized way with one platform that serves all agents across the company. We’ve seen organizations with hundreds of thousands of users working on this platform, all simultaneously, without any resulting quality degradation. Speed is also a factor, as it’s easier and faster to spin up a call center in the cloud than align many separate regional centers.
Pasquale: Organizations can no longer delay the move to cloud. Cloud means more agility, scalability, the flexibility to work from anywhere, without sacrificing security. We’ve seen that is more important than ever in recent times.
Amazon Connect is so simple to set-up and use, you can increase your speed of innovation. With only a few clicks, you can set up an omnichannel contact center and agents can begin talking and messaging with customers. You can also reuse the same automated interactions you already have to create chat flows. Making changes is easy with an intuitive UI that allows you to create voice and chat contact flows, without any coding, rather than custom development that can take months and cost millions of dollars. Amazon Connect also costs less than legacy contact center systems.
Q. Cloud contact centers are a drastic shift for service leaders and IT teams, but what does this shift to cloud mean for service agents in their day to day roles?
Bill: When I started my career in customer service, I remember toggling between systems all day, usually multiple times within one customer interaction. It’s not uncommon for an agent to have multiple screens in order to find the answer to common customer questions. Service Cloud Voice is the next evolution of the cloud contact center because it brings together everything you need as an agent in one place — different channels, customer information in the CRM, knowledge sources, and telephony service.
It’s our goal to eliminate searching for information altogether. With the power of digital voice, we can now use technology like AI to offer up information and shave valuable seconds or even minutes off each interaction, which makes agents more successful when they can deliver an answer the moment the customer asks.
Q. What is something you both think is misunderstood about today’s contact centers
Bill: It’s assumed that today’s contact centers only exist because customers expect a phone number to be available, so organizations are using them to check a box rather than provide a valuable interaction.
The real opportunity for the future of contact centers is to think of them as a value-added service: answering the questions that customers haven’t yet asked, teaching them about how to use a product in a better way, or providing additional products or services to actually enrich the customer experience. Businesses have the opportunity to evolve the contact center from simply providing transactional questions and answers, to a place that fundamentally transforms their relationship with customers.
Pasquale: There’s a misconception that new technologies make service in contact centers less personal when in fact the opposite is happening. AI and other technologies including the integration of Service Cloud and Amazon Connect make service more personal. It cuts wait times and allows agents to spend more time with customers, focus on empathy and solve complex problems Innovation is also occurring at a rapid place in the contact center – because of the agility and scalability of the cloud, what contact centers looked like just a few years ago is very different from what it is today, and what we expect it to be in the future.
Q. What will the contact center of the future look like?
Bill: We are likely finished with the days of the massive call center with endless rows of desks. In the future we’re going to see a combination of in-office and at-home agents, with some agents working directly from mobile devices.
Right now, customer service professionals are probably the least empowered professionals in the industry. I started my career as an agent and remember too many times being told to stick to the script. I hope we’ll see this notion of the super agent come into play, where technology empowers them with the right tools, information and training to deliver personalized, world-class service every time.
Pasquale: We expect to see a mixture of both in-office and remote workforce. We need to empower super agents – by providing technologies to allow service agents to solve complex problems efficiently, focus on the customer, and foster long-term relationships. We also expect to see the contact center become channel-less, where customer experience won’t be limited by how they initiate conversations, but instead on what best modalities are to deliver the right outcome for the agent.
Q. Before I let you go, what else is happening on the partnership front between Salesforce and Amazon?
Bill: We’ve had so much come out of this partnership beyond Service Cloud Voice. The latest have been our Private Connect integration between AWS Cloud and our Salesforce infrastructure that lets organizations connect securely to their data; as well as bringing Government Cloud Plus to market, obtaining a FedRAMP High authority to allow governmental organizations in the United States to safely and securely move to the cloud. We’ve also been developing the next set of skills around AWS Cloud Practitioner Essentials on Trailhead.
To me, this shows that when like-minded companies get together, we can do amazing things for our customers.
Q. Anything to add about the partnership?
Pasquale: For years AWS and Salesforce have had a deep relationship, and we share a commitment to integrate our services to provide customers with industry leading, enhanced solutions. We are delighted that Salesforce has chosen Amazon Connect as its preferred contact center technology and with Service Cloud Voice we are continuing to enable businesses to leverage the full power of both platforms to provide world-class customer service.