(This article originally appeared in Forbes)
Did you know that Amazon has a customer relationship management system for sale? It does. It’s called Amazon Connect. And it costs about $2.50 a day, according to one analysis. But before we get into the details, a few caveats.
Amazon Connect is not a full CRM. It’s a contact and call center solution. Its target market is call centers and businesses that provide customer support. If that’s something you’re considering then you’ll be pretty amazed by the platform’s breadth of features. I was.
The application provides telephony services using its own built-in softphone. It will send email and SMS messages to customers. It will handle appointments and billing reminders. It does predictive dialing, using machine learning technology to determine between a live customer, a voicemail greeting or a busy signal. It comes with chat, contact routing, queuing, analytics, and case management. It will manage customer profiles, service forecasting, capacity planning and scheduling. There are rules, automation, AI and other workflow tools. I’m leaving out many other features. You can find them all here.
Because it’s a customer contact and call center platform Amazon Connect is missing the CRM functionality that’s usually needed by sales and marketing teams, like lead, contact, opportunity and campaign management. But it does integrate with other CRMs that provide these features, including Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics and Zoho.
And just this past week, Amazon announced new applications for its Amazon Connect contact center platform including Amazon Connect Cases (where cases are automatically created to track all related calls, chats, and tasks when a customer calls or messages with a new issue), Amazon Connect outbound campaigns (which helps contact centers create machine learning-powered outbound campaigns across voice, SMS, and email for marketing promotions, appointment reminders, and upcoming delivery notifications) and Amazon Lex Automated Chatbot Designer (which uses advanced natural language to help contact centers build, test, and deploy conversational voice and text chatbots).
So you can see the platform is slowly moving towards a full blown CRM that I’m betting one day will compete with the very CRM applications it now integrates with.
At first I thought this was a product for big companies. But an analysis in 2020 done by Cevo, an Australian-based Amazon Web Services consulting partner, found that for ten internal queues (assume this means reps or users) that each have a direct dial and a single toll free number that takes all the inbound calls with 20 hours a day call volume, the costs are in the realms of $2.50 a day. There are many other factors to consider so your best bet is to look at the pricing Amazon provides here. Be warned that these costs can spiral if usage increases. But for the most part, this seems like a product that any sized company with a customer service focus can afford.
And it is about customers, right? For so long “CRM” has focused on sales people. But my better clients have realized that the best way to grow your company is not just by obtaining new customers, but retaining your existing customer base while expanding the products and services you provide to them. There is a strong argument to make that investing in a call center product like Amazon Connect is a better marketing strategy than only focusing on the sales and marketing features of a CRM. CRM does stand for Customer Relationship Management, right?
Amazon Connect is built on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud platform and leverages all of the tools and apps AWS makes available. The call center application was launched in 2017 and the software was originally developed to be used internally by Amazon because of the company’s dissatisfaction with existing call center and CRM tools available. As far as I can tell, it’s still widely used within the company.
There some downsides to Amazon Connect. Technology solution provider Comstice says that there are “quite a few” call center features missing in this service including “no wrap up code (which records basic customer information so that the agent doesn’t have to manually enter) and no teaming (to allow better collaboration).” Comstice also says that agent and supervisor interfaces are very basic as is the reporting and that its telephony tools “may not be suitable for enterprise companies” because “you cannot make agent to agent calls without going through the public telephony network and often the user interface piece is missing.”
I have another reservation and that’s implementation. Amazon Connect touts itself as being very easy to setup and get started and maybe that’s the case. But, as I wrote here back in 2021, I would have concerns relying on Amazon to help me implement and provide support for what could be a mission critical business system. The answer to that, of course, is to work with a technology partner that specializes in Amazon Connect. These partners are few and far between and may be too costly for a small to mid-sized company, so do your research.
I usually run across two types of companies in my CRM work. One is sales and marketing focused where the CRM decision is driven by sales and marketing managers. The other is service driven where the CRM decision is driven by customer service managers. If you’re the former then go ahead and get a mainstream CRM and you can add service features to it eventually. But if you’re more service-driven then strongly consider a call center product like Amazon Connect and at some point, add a mainstream CRM to appease your sales people.
But whatever you do, don’t do it alone.