In the days of Private Branch Exchange (PBX) systems and switchboards, it was normal for your first point of contact when calling up an organisation’s main number to be a human operator. They would then direct your call to the relevant person or department.
These days, with more and more businesses abandoning old-fashioned PBX in favor of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) systems, custom call routing, also known as automatic call distribution, is emerging as the preferred means of directing incoming calls.
Much like the switchboard operators of the past, an automated call routing system passes incoming phone calls through a routing engine until they reach their final destination. There are various options as to what that destination might be. Some of the options your call routing service can be programmed for include:
With modern call routing systems, the routing process is divided into three phases.
In the first phase, calls are sent to an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) unit. This determines what the caller needs and who they need to talk to, usually via a series of pre-recorded questions.
IVR systems can be set up to respond either to voice or to Dual-Tone Multi-Frequency signaling (DTMF) tones input via the caller’s keypad. You will likely be familiar with the second option if you have had the need to call your bank recently. Familiar menu options like, “Press 1 to report a lost or stolen card”, have significantly streamlined the process of incoming calls.
In the second phase, the caller is forwarded to the Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) where they’re put in a call queue. ACDs direct calls based on factors such as caller request, contact staff skills, waiting times, departments, talk-time distribution, or any other determinant established by the contact center.
In the final phase of the routing process, known as the call distribution phase, the customer is connected to an agent, having been directed to the appropriate line by the ACD.
Once connected, the contact center agent takes over from the call routing system and is able to further forward the call if needed.
Once it has been established what the caller needs and they are in the relevant call queue, there are different routing options available. The factors that dictate ACD routing strategy will of course depend on the nature of the organisation.
Sales-focused contact centers will want to minimize hold time as this can be a major factor in people hanging up and them losing a lead. Customer support centers on the other hand are more likely to opt for skills-based routing, which prioritizes sending calls to the members of staff most qualified to assist the caller according to their specific needs.
The main call routing strategies to consider are regular, round-robin, uniform, simultaneous, and weighted.
The regular type of call routing requires a specified order of agents. For example, If there are three agents assigned to the call center, the policy will route in chronological order: if agents one and two are unavailable, calls will be directed to the third agent.
Round-robin call routing distributes calls in an equal fashion among a set team of agents. It is a slightly more intelligent version of regular routing that avoids calls being passed needlessly between colleagues.
The uniform type of call routing routes calls to whichever agent has been available for the longest. Once they accept a call, they are now at the back of the queue again until they have been idle for the longest amount of time.
This call routing type is set up so that all agents’ phones ring at the same time, directing the call to whoever picks up first. Routing calls this way is preferred by call centers that prioritize speed.
Weighted call routing lets a contact center set a ratio of calls to be routed to each agent. For example, if a center with three live agents weighted at 80%, 15%, and 5% call distributions, and 100 calls come through, the call routing policy would deliver them 80, 15, and five calls respectively.
If you employ a comprehensive VoIP service, there is a good chance your incoming calls are already being routed in some way. In its simplest form, this could just be phone forwarding services that connect calls to a main number to a specific department or individual.
If you haven’t already implemented it, call routing is one of the best things you can do to improve your customer’s experience and optimise the productivity of your contact center agents.