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Amazon contact center now supports real-time voice streaming

The Amazon contact center, Amazon Connect, now supports real-time voice streaming, a feature that opens the door to several emerging applications of AI.

The Amazon contact center platform, Amazon Connect, now lets businesses stream the audio of customer phone calls in real time. Previously, such voice recordings were only available for data mining after the calls were completed.

The feature will enable businesses to run the audio from ongoing calls through apps from Amazon and third parties -- a first step toward giving customer service agents access to AI-powered assistance in real time.

Amazon contact center customers could use the service to route voice data through third-party customer relationship management and workforce management software, some of which provide real-time agent assistance. The voice streams can also be fed into Amazon's speech-to-text platform, Amazon Transcribe.

Other third-party services could use a customer's voice to verify identity without requiring the customer to provide a password or additional personal information.

Amazon Connect generally requires more developer know-how than other contact center platforms, and the new voice streaming feature is no exception, said Jon Arnold, principal at J Arnold and Associates in Toronto.

"They aren't offering a full solution here," Arnold said of real-time voice streaming. "This is just a feature for an application that a developer could use."

Without real-time audio streaming, Amazon would risk falling behind competitors in the cloud contact center market. Vendors in that segment raced to add real-time AI tools to their platforms in 2018, although most of those technologies are still in the early stages of adoption.

Last year, cloud contact center vendors -- including Five9, 8x8 and Talkdesk -- touted new AI technologies that monitor customer calls and chats in order to provide agents with suggested actions and contextual information.

Amazon's real-time audio stream works during all stages of a customer call, including when it's being handled by an interactive voice response system. Businesses can decide at what stage in the process to begin streaming the audio.

Amazon entered the contact center market with the release of Amazon Connect in March 2017. The vendor sought to differentiate the platform through ease of deployment and an aggressive pricing scheme. Rather than charging a monthly fee per user, Amazon bills Connect customers based on calling minutes.

Amazon made a big splash when it released the platform, but the company hasn't announced many significant new features since then, Arnold said. "So, it's really hard to tell what kind of traction they are getting in the contact center."

Amazon turned out to be the first in a series of nontraditional vendors to enter the market. Twilio, which makes developer tools for building communications apps, released its first prebuilt cloud contact center last year, called Twilio Flex.

Also last year, Google, the main rival of Amazon Web Services, partnered with several established vendors in releasing an AI platform for contact centers that includes AI-powered assistance for agents.

The entrance of competitors like Amazon and Twilio, combined with the growth of pure-cloud vendors like Five9 and Nice inContact, is putting increasing pressure to innovate on legacy contact center vendors, such as Avaya and Cisco.

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