Ciena CIO Craig Williams has an ambitious mission: to deliver a ticket-less help desk experience to the networking systems, services, and software company’s 11,000 customers, employees, and contractors.
The decision to transform Ciena’s support system has meant letting go of its call center partner and instead shifting its operations to Amazon Connect, a cloud contact center service offered by AWS, which is also used by Priceline, CI Financial, Traeger Grill, and Ring.
And by integrating its platform with Connect, Ciena could give its customers not only instant solutions to the majority of help-desk woes — password resets, for one — and near real-time answers for other common inquiries but also access to a host of other AWS services such as the Amazon Lex chatbot, its Wisdom natural language processing capabilities, and Voice ID for providing real-time caller authentication.
“Our goal is to be ticket-less, and we really didn’t have the tooling to get us there,” says Williams. “If you look at the history of the help desk, ticket-less flies in the face of tradition.”
Williams’ hope is that, by going cloud-based, the Hanover, Md.-based company’s contact center will be as quick and easy to use as the Amazon shopping cart.
“Finding a help desk that allows us to get to the 5 to 10 percent of customer challenges that aren’t easy to do in an automated manner is where we need to be, and Amazon is the only vendor I’ve seen which understands that problem,” Williams says.
Cloud partner offers Ciena advanced services
Connect isn’t the only AWS service Ciena is relying on. The company launched its own migration to Amazon’s cloud in March 2020. Following the migration to Amazon Connect in June 2021 and Amazon Connect Self Service six months later, the company has saved $50,000. But the primary driver of adopting the cloud-based service was about enhancing customer service, not cutting costs.
To date, Ciena has eliminated about 50% of tickets and has cut wait times from 10 to 15 minutes down to two minutes, says Williams, who has served as CIO at Ciena for more than five years. Williams attributes the ‘ticket-less’ goal to Ciena’s service desk chief, Lars Enderlein.
The process of getting a Connect call center up and running may take only hours for some customers, but it is not plug and play, and each customer must make modifications to integrate their respective systems, says Williams, whose IT team built customized user interfaces and accessed Amazon Connect APIs to make the integration appear seamless.
Ciena has also enabled integration with ServiceNow and to Amazon Lex for natural language and automated customer interactions, the CIO says.
Additionally, Ciena has integrated its contact center platform with AWS directory services for identity and access management and with Amazon Kinesis for advanced monitoring. Ciena is currently “invoking AWS Lambda functions to perform data dips, to send encrypted customer inputs and other necessary integrations into contact flows,” Williams adds.
Ciena is also exploring the possibility of using voice authentication and hopes to leverage Amazon Quick Sight’s interactive business intelligence dashboards to spot patterns and outliers powered by AWS machine learning capabilities.
Another future goal is to exploit Visual IVR, an interactive voice response system that “will allow us to have mobile customer engagement to guide inbound callers to a web-based support experience,” the CIO says.
Cloud contact centers on the rise
Gartner research director Megan Fernandez expects cloud contact center solutions such as Amazon Connect to benefit from sustained hybrid and remote workplace policies in the wake of the pandemic.
Future innovations in AI and virtual customer assistants with contact center platforms such as Amazon Connect will steer investments away from on-premises implementation and toward cloud solutions, Fernandez says, noting that this shift will translate to big savings as live-agent labor costs can represent 95% of contact center costs.
But there is more work to do to fully automate cloud-based call centers, she adds. “At this stage, the professional services associated with the design, data engineering, machine learning to enable offloading can be complex,” Fernandez notes. “As conversational AI and VCAs [virtual customer assistants] continue to mature and professional services gain experience and resources expand, Gartner expects the ability to offload interactions from agents to significantly accelerate.”
Savvier services of automated cloud-based call center might not just deliver big savings but also revolutionize customer service. For instance, Connect has enabled Ciena to offer “white glove” services to VIPs of its 1,700-plus corporate customers.
Ciena’s Connect implementation has also enabled the company to free up staff to focus on urgent issues such as security and on deploying other emerging technologies as they are served up over the cloud. In the future, the company is looking to use augmented reality in headsets that will enable nontechnical workers to listen to live instructions and act as systems administrators, Williams says, noting that, although he has no current plans for implementing AR with Amazon, Ciena is “pivoting here as an IT service and plan to utilize it in a few areas internally.
“For example, we can send headsets to any of our facilities right now — the person on the other end just has to put the device on and the IT expert can instruct them on what to do remotely,” the CIO adds. “This is great for us because we can keep our highly paid talent at home and can more quickly do installations at our sites. We have also created a POC for our supply chain where they can do the same for QA on the assembly line.”
Williams says efforts such as these are not about subtracting from the bottom line but are about exceeding customer expectations as more sophisticated digital services emerge.
“We’ve had different types of contact centers,” Williams says. “Going to Amazon Connect wasn’t about displacing them, per se, as much as it was about going where the puck is going, not where the puck is at now.”