Bringing Amazon Lex into your Amazon Connect flows

In this blog we’ll continue our discussion around Amazon Lex. Talk about a few things to keep in mind when integrating your Amazon Lex bot with your Amazon Connect flow. In my particular use case I wanted to use Amazon Lex to look at my Gmail calendar and book a meeting if I’m available. If you want to skip to the very end you can see the end result via video. You’ll see one video of the voice interaction and one of the Facebook Messenger interaction.

First, you might want to reference my previous post around Lex validation. Now let’s talk about our use case:

  • Lex easily allows you to build a bot which understand both voice and text, so our bot needs to handle calls into our call center as well as Facebook Messenger interactions.
  • Bot needs to to ask a few question in order to find out what time the user would like to meet.
  • Bot should only schedule calls between Monday-Friday and 10 AM – 4 PM Easter Time
  • Bot (using Lambda) should schedule a meeting and if slot already taken then suggest an alternate time to meet.

Second, let’s take a quick look at the Lex screen. The bot I created is very simple and it follows closely the Flowers example provided by Amazon. These are the slots I’m requiring my bot to confirm.

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I used two different Lambda functions. One for validation and one for fulfillment. While most examples seem to focus on using the same function for both, for me it was easier to have different code bases for each with the added benefit of keeping the code manageable. As it is both validation and fulfillment both came in at around 250 lines of code, but fulfillment had around 9 megabytes of dependencies.

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Finally, here are sample utterances I used for the main intent.

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What this gets us is the following. The first video is the voice interaction. I went about it the long way to show some of the validation rules being set by the bot, such as no weekend meetings and no meetings too early in the day. At the end of the video you see I refresh the Gmail calendar to show the new appointment has been saved.

In the second video I go through the same Lex bot using Facebook Messenger and then show the calendar to prove that the appointment was saved.

Ultimately, Amazon makes it extremely easy to create a mutli channel bot, however the integration to back end systems is the tricky part. This bot needs a lot of tuning to make it more natural, but for just a few hours of work there’s very little out there that can get your call center to have some bot integration for self service.

~david

Right way to block ANIs using Amazon Connect

In this blog I’ll cover a potential financial issue you might face if you try to ANI block customers and they are calling you through a SIP trunk.

As I continue my journey of getting familiar with Amazon Connect I ran into an interesting and a bit worrisome issue. The use case I was working on was to create a table which blocks or allows specific ANIs to call in. Ultimately, when a blocked caller came in I wanted to just hang up on the call. My original flow looked like this:

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Pretty straight forward, invoke Lambda, check attribute and if blocked = true, disconnect the call. When calling from my cellphone this worked great. However, when calling from my home phone (using a Flowroute SIP trunk) I got a nice surprise in the logs:

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What you’re seeing is a partial log of my home phone constantly retrying to connect to Amazon Connect and generating a new call each time. Since there was no prompt play and no ring back heard I assume the network believes there as a connection issue and continues to try and connect. Which means that you could easily incur a huge expense both on your phone provider and on your Amazon AWS bill.

The way to fix this was to play a 1 second of silence prompt before disconnecting the call.

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~david

Amazon Connect and Sticky Queue

In this blog I’ll discuss how to achieve a sticky queue using Amazon Connect.

When a customer calls back within a short amount of time, it’s fairly safe to assume they are calling back for the same reason as before. This is often referred as sticky agent or sticky queue. Because you’re trying to “stick” a queue or agent to a specific customer. As a best practice avoid using anything sticky as it could force your customer down the wrong path or create long hold times when too many callers are stuck to a single agent or queue, but for my use case it’s safe to use because I want to use it. :)

I assume you already have a Lambda function or two working with your flow, if you don’t then you might want to skip this functionality until you get that working. The first thing you need to do is find the ARN for your queues. I’m going to be honest, this is not intuitive at all and I wish the Connect team would allow you to retrieve this information via the flow without having to do the following steps.

To get your Queue ARN go to your queues via https://<your instance>.awsapps.com/connect/queues, select a single queue, and notice the bold section of the url https://<your instance>.awsapps.com/connect/queues/edit?id=arn:aws:connect:us-east-1:64:instance/4d92ab25-8XXX-4bXX-aXXX-XXXXXXX/queue/XXXXXX-2022-XXXX-a275-xxXXXXxxxXXX That’s your queue’s ARN.

– Set an attribute (e.g. Queue) with your ARN.
– Set your queue name to the attribute you just set.

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– Save your attribute to your DB.

Next time your customer calls, you can retrieve the last queue they went through and give them the option to go to that queue again, hopefully saving your customer some frustration.

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~david

Amazon Connect Flow Designer Review

I’m trying to capture my initial notes and reactions to Amazon’s contact center offering. In this blog I’m going to focus solely on their flow designer tool. I’ll provide a brief overview of the tool, some best practices I’ve come up with, as well as some things I wish were different. Remember that I come from the Cisco contact center world, so my view is slightly tainted and what I’ve lived and loved has been the Cisco tools.

Amazon Connect provides a web based call flow tool called flow designer. Those of you familiar with ICM Script Editor and CVP Studio will feel at home. Below is one of the flows I’ve created. Note that the designer allows you to snap steps or what Amazon calls “action blocks” into the grid for cleaner looking flows.

Flow designer with flow

In the left hand side of the designer is your “palette” you can find an explanation of each action block here.

Flow Designer Palete

Building your first flow is truly easy and requires very little technical knowledge. The Play prompt block allows both playing audio files as well as text-to-speech (TTS) in a variety of voices and languages. Setting a queue and building a queue is just as easy.

Now a few items which bother me about contact flow as well as some best practices I’ve found. I touched on a few of these in my earlier post.

  • DO NOT hit the back button or navigate away from the flow designer without saving. There is no auto save!
  • You can’t copy and paste a block. You must build a block from scratch every time. I keep a file with Lambda names and variables I’m using for easy copy/paste.
  • You can’t have the block properties of multiple blocks open at the same time.
  • There is no move of multiple blocks. You must move each one at a time.
  • Build your flow strictly with TTS and only add audio files once you’re happy with the product. If you’re using dynamic speech you’ll have a better sense of what the audio files need to say.
  • Plan your error conditions flow early. This is important when handling error/default/timeout from menus, but applies across multiple different types of blocks. You should come up with a few standard error correction flows and branch out all your error conditions appropriately based on where you are in the flow. This will also avoid a spider web flow.
  • No easy way to get from flow to flow. Once you’re in the designer, you click the back button in your browser or go through the main menu to jump to another flow. Ideally Amazon provides a drop down in the designer to switch between flows to save a few clicks.
  • No infinite scroll. Specifically you can’t scroll and build your flow up or to the left. This means that you should think of starting your flows somewhere in the middle of your screen to give you a bit of real estate for last minutes changes/branches. When you create a new flow Amazon “conveniently” starts you off like in the left image, but you should move your fist block off to the right a bit, like right image. Also make sure you immediately enable “Snap to grid” for cleaner looking flows.

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  • You are able to move blocks behind the unmovable left hand margin. The only reason I discovered this is because I wanted to add a log block and didn’t want to pile up blocks on top of each other.

Flow designer with nodes hidden.

  • You need to be aware of where your lines are going and try to avoid overlap and tight spaces, specially when using the Get customer input block. Trying to modify a line in the middle of the block can be difficult and will require for you to delete other lines to get to the line you want to delete or modify.

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  • DO NOT hit the back button or navigate away from the flow designer without saving. There is no auto save! Yes, it’s a repeat, happened to me multiple times.
  • When saving a flow or publishing a flow you get the same confirmation. It would be nice to be reminded what was the last action you took for those of us who are jumping from screen to screen.

Flow designer save message.

~david

Initial Observations of Amazon Connect

If you don’t know what Amazon Connect is and you’re in the contact center world, you might want to consider a new career path. Amazon Connect is AWS’s answer to the Ciscos, Genesys, Avayas of the world. Not only that, but also a competitor for Twilio, Microsoft, and anyone who carries voice from point A to point B. Needless to say, when the Amazon giant moves everyone pays attention. A lot of these are just a brain dump so pardon the brevity. I’m still trying to dig a bit deeper and come up with specific ideas to blog specially comparing Amazon’s solutions with Cisco’s offering(s).

Things which are awesome:

– Agent logs are in JSON format, holy crap that’s awesome!
– Hours of operations are available out of the box and are granular to the minute. Ability to add exceptions for the same day is a nice touch.
– If you associate an email with your agent your agent can reset their own password.

Things which are strange:

– Can’t change agent state while reserved or talking.
– If you use a desk phone, you can’t reject the call.  
– Changes take about a minute or two to propagate and there’s no notification if your changes are live or not.      
– If you create a new agent and then login as that agent using the same browser as before your admin session will be moved over to the new agent credentials. Painful when trying to test permissions on agents.     
– You can’t re-route a connector by clicking on the start point, you must first delete the existing line and then create your new connector.

Things which absolutely make no sense:

– Every step should have a Lambda invocation option. This would make the scripting a lot cleaner.
– If you reject a call and you’re the only agent you’re automatically set back to ready. Queue must be drained before last agent can change states out of available.
– No default routing? I disabled the only queue and calls just dropped when I tried to route to that queue. You would think that the system would force some sort of default routing option just in case you make a mistake.  
– Contact flow editor, no easy way to get back to all your contact flows.
– Agent auto accept takes about 12 seconds to trigger using softphone, this would impact agent stats and I really don’t see the point of having this feature if it’s going to take this long to connect an agent.
– When you save or publish a contact flow you get the same message "Contact flow saved successfully!" Different message for publish would be nice.
– No easy way to move the whole script. Work area should have infinite scroll to all sides.
– You can’t select multiple nodes and move them, you must move one by one.
– Flows don’t auto save drafts, if for some reason you don’t remember to save you’re SOL.
– How draft flows and published flows are handled is confusing. Not very user friendly.
– Checking contact attributes doesn’t offer a NULL or NOT NULL condition check.
– When a connector goes behind a flow node, you can’t delete the connector.
– No way to duplicate nodes. You must configure a new node from scratch every time.   

~david