A Guide to Call Routing Technologies and Best Practices

Highlights

  • Call center call routing technologies use rules-based decision engines or algorithms to transfer each caller to the best fit customer service representative.
  • These technologies lower contact center cost by prescribing an optimal distribution of customers to agents in ways that leverage agent skills and increase staff productivity.
  • Optimized call distributions can increase agent productivity by 5 to 7 percent and lower contact center costs by 2 to 4 percent.
Johnny Grow Revenue Growth Consulting

Call center call routing systems manage the interaction between the telephone network and agents that receive calls. The combination of call distribution methods and technologies can be designed to enhance the customer experience, improve agent productivity and lower call center costs.

Call Routing Methods

Call routing methods, technologies and best practices to enhance the customer experience, improve agent productivity and lower cost to serve.

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The most used call center systems include ACD, CCIM, IVR and CTI. The most useful system for your customer service operation will depend on your transfer methods, channels, staffing model and goals. Here we provide a guide with the essential information for each technology along with some best practices that can be used to drive  performance improvements.

Automatic Call Distributor (ACD)

ACD is a telephony system that answers and routes incoming calls to designated departments or agents.

It normally works with Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems to programmatically route incoming callers to the best equipped destination.

Most ACD systems simply route the longest-waiting customer to the next available customer support representative (CSR). However, when more sophisticated call routing methods are used, contact centers can optimize routing to lower hold times, transfer times, first contact resolution (FCR), speed of answer (SoA) and cost per contact while increasing customer satisfaction (CSAT).

Callers may choose from menu options to identify the reason for their call. The ACD collects data and routes the call to a queue or destination. These systems may also offer capabilities for call monitoring agent coaching and other call center management functions.

ACD Best Practices

With the right ACD system wait times are lowered, transfers are reduced, FCR is increased and CSAT rises. Here are some call routing best practices to ensure ACD results.

  • ACD systems carry with them a connotation of legacy hardware and limited support for voice. A relatively new breed of solution referred to as Contact Center Interaction Management (CCIM) is eclipsing traditional ACD systems. CCIM solutions queue and route calls across channels, offer easier to manage system integration and better call management reporting. CCIM systems may replace or work alongside ACD, IVR and CTI systems.
  • Integrate your ACD with your CRM application. This can instantly authentic the customer and deliver screen pops with customer or case history upon accepting the call. It can also deliver key messages regarding the customer or any products which they have purchased. CRM integration also helps keep the agent in the CRM software system, instead of having to navigate among multiple applications.
  • Don't limit ACD systems to just call transfers. Take advantage of more advanced features such as call monitoring, call recording, intelligent call scripts, scheduling based on ACD activities and analytics.
  • Most importantly, routinely test your system. Put yourself in the customers shoes and test every scenario.

Interactive Voice Response (IVR)

IVR systems allow incoming callers to respond to a menu of prompts with a touch-tone keypad or voice so the system can route the caller to the best destination. They facilitate call distribution without having to talk to a person.

IVR voice-based input uses speech recognition or natural language processing (NLP). Different IVR systems have different levels of natural language speech recognition or accuracy. Most speech recognition software account for grammar, annunciation and different dialects. Most also use advanced options such as silence periods or barge-in conversation interrupts.

When well designed, IVR systems enable the caller to easily get to their desired destination and decrease multiple call transfers. When poorly designed, IVR systems confuse callers by presenting too many options, unclear options or missing options. This results in callers being transferred to wrong places, and increases hold time and transfers, and decreases customer satisfaction.

A challenge for IVR systems with speech recognition is cost. The better the NLP the higher the cost. That results in many contact centers avoiding speech recognition and relying on touchtone. But the biggest challenge for IVR systems is customer satisfaction.

To be blunt, most customers dislike or hate most IVR systems. And for valid reasons. They hate being forced to enter responses to unclear prompts, having to listen to irrelevant prompts and trying to make sense of too many, seemingly endless prompts. They view IVR technology as a tool to lower customer service cost at the expense of the customers time and sanity. The good news is that challenges with IVR systems are not with the technology but with the design.

IVR Best Practices

In our experience of driving customer service improvements for over three decades, we've found that IVR design is critical to improve CSAT and achieve customer support performance improvements. Here are several IVR best practices that we've learned along the way.

  • Provide callers with a live agent option.
  • Don't force customers to listen to irrelevant audio before or between prompts, especially advertising or marketing offers. When customers incur problems, the last thing they want is to be sold to.
  • Also eliminate superfluous informational messages. For example, if you haven't changed your prompts recently, don't play the overused message "listen carefully as we have changed our prompts." And don't spend an inordinate amount of time sharing your business hours, address or other information that stands in the way of why the majority of callers call. Irrelevant messages cause customers to tune out which makes any subsequent navigation useless.
  • Keep IVR menu options and prompts clear and concise. Too many options and overly long prompts confuse customers.
  • Voice prompts should sound like a person, not a machine. Prompts should say exactly what your best agents would say when answering the call.
  • Don't repeat the same user error message multiple times. If the caller didn't figure out what the error message was advising the first time, they probably won't figure it out the second or third times. Rephrase error messages to describe the error or proper use with different descriptions.
  • During peak periods or when incurring long hold times, offer the customer a call-back option or alternative support source such as self-service.
  • Distribute all customer entered information to the agent that receives the call. Repeating information previously provided is one of the top 3 complaints that infuriate customers.
  • The best IVR systems preempt prompts and responses by identifying the customer, integrating to the CRM system, and looking for open cases or other customer data that will designate the best agent to receive the call.

Computer Telephony Integration

A computer telephony integration system (CTI) connects ACD, IVR or CCIM call transfer systems to other applications such as CRM software or customer case management systems.

It enables CRM software for contact centers to access the customer record and display a screen pop of customer information as soon as the customer is connected to an agent. This eliminates the time required to access customer accounts and search through customer or case history.

CTI systems also support predictive dialing, click-to-call and other tasks where the phone is integrated with the CRM or case management application. In short, CTI enables your agents to receive calls, make calls and perform other tasks directly from their CRM software, and not have to navigate among other apps.

Cloud-based CTI systems have evolved to work with cloud CRM systems. Where CTI systems were previously managed by IT staff, newer telephony applications are much easier to use and can be configured or modified by contact center managers.

CTI software is increasingly being absorbed into CCIM software. However, standalone CTI software solutions will continue to be built for popular CRM applications such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Salesforce. These CRM specific solutions provide packaged integration and deeper capabilities that leverage more of the CRM software.

CTI Best Practices

Meeting customers where they reside lowers Customer Effort (CES) and improves CSAT. Omnichannel support is the clear future, so ensure your CTI is omnichannel ready, and supports social network integration, messaging apps, SMS, webchat and video for co-browse support.

Also ensure deep integration with your CRM system. Most CTI software will display customer dashboards or screen pops with case history or user defined customer vitals. Whatever you choose to display should be configurable by call type, customer type or agent.

Confirm the CTI software includes capabilities that are proven to improve the agent experience and productivity, such as:

  • Customer identification via the caller’s number (ANI), number dialed (DNIS) or account integration
  • Streamlined customer authentication by contact or account
  • Automated dialing, including preview, fast dial and predictive dial
  • Customer data transfers when the call is transferred to another agent
  • Call recording for coaching and quality assurance
  • Call tracking analytics