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As call centers deal with increasingly high call volumes, automatic call distribution (or ACD) has become an increasingly vital contact center tool. And as customers' expectations have grown, so has the impact of ACD on the quality of the customer experience.

If your organization has a call center, then ACD is likely a core component of your customer experience management. Read on to learn how to use it to your best advantage.

What Is Automatic Call Distribution?

An automatic call distribution system is a type of virtual phone system that intelligently routes inbound calls to agents. The goal of this software? To improve call center efficiency while enhancing customer experience by getting customers the answers they need faster.

When customers call contact centers, they’re usually facing some kind of frustrating issue that they’ve been unable to resolve through self-service. As such, they’re not often in a patient mood. 90% of them think it’s vital for agents to respond to them immediately, and 83% of customers expect the first agent they speak with to be able to solve their issue.

Modern ACD systems can quickly route customers to specific agents based on the nature of their inquiry. ACD tools have up-to-the-second data on agent availability, and use AI and performance metrics to decide which calls to route to which agents based on their skill sets. Customer preferences, past customer service interactions, time of day, and the type of service request might also factor into the equation.

For example, in a SaaS context ACD routing might look like:

  • Directing customers to agents specialized in the specific SaaS product they need support on based on IVR selections.
  • Matching higher-value accounts to more senior reps to drive retention.
  • Routing calls back to the last agent who helped the customer for better context.
  • Using skills-based routing to route complex issues to Tier 3 product experts.

The result is a personalized, efficient experience where customers get their SaaS issues addressed by the rep best equipped to help them. This reduces unnecessary call transfers, minimizes customer hold times, and increases first-contact resolution rates.

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How ACD Call Routing Works

In order to make smart routing decisions, ACD collects information about both the caller and the available pool of agents. Interactive voice response (IVR) systems are used to gather caller information, and the activities and availability of call center agents are followed closely using call monitoring technology.

With all this data at hand, automatic call distributors can match an incoming call with the ideal person to handle it. That doesn’t mean every caller gets instant assistance: callers typically land in queues first to avoid sudden spikes in call center volume. ACD then uses pre-programmed routing logic to connect callers to the appropriate agent.

On the software side, you can configure workflows to determine how, and under what circumstances, calls are directed to IVR menus and certain teams. Using if/then variables and multiple branches, you can smoothly direct callers to available agents with the right skills.

For example, here’s one possible workflow using MightyCall’s ACD system:

mightycall's acd system
Image from MightyCall

ACD may route calls based on wide range of criteria including:

  • Requested agent or team
  • Issue type (billing, tech support, etc)
  • Customer value/loyalty tier
  • Preferred language
  • Agent experience level
  • Predicted issue complexity
  • Estimated handling time
  • Geographic location

The result is fast resolution of support issues, driving customer satisfaction and reducing churn risk.

The Business Case For ACD

Implementing ACD leads to improved customer satisfaction, greater profitability, increased agent productivity, and higher retention for call centers. The bottom line? ACD pays for itself.

  • Improved Customer Satisfaction: Customers hate being transferred, they hate being put on hold, and they hate repeating themselves again and again to multiple agents. ACD is designed to prevent frustrating games of “phone tag” by avoiding all of these annoyances. The result? A jump in first call resolution (FCR) rates and a decrease in hold times, which boosts customer satisfaction and loyalty. Higher FCR rates are also good for contact center agents, who are less likely to encounter agitated repeat callers.
  • Greater Profitability: Repeat calls make up 23% of call center budgets. Since fewer customers need to call back when ACD is implemented, lower operating costs are a natural outcome. The increased agent efficiency enabled by ACD also leads to lower costs and boosts profitability.
  • Increased Productivity: 79% of customers say efficient service is critical for call centers. So when it comes to customer satisfaction, there’s little that’s more important. With ACD, reps spend less time with inquiries they aren’t well-equipped to solve, and more time handling issues they’re familiar with. Multiply this “agent specialization” effect throughout your call center, and you get greater efficiency and productivity.
  • Higher Retention: 95% of customers whose inquiries are resolved within their first call will keep doing business with a company. But if those customers have to call back a second time, the picture isn’t so pretty: 23% will consider no longer doing business with you. By providing personalized service, increasing first-call resolution rates, and sending VIP customers to priority queues, companies can improve CX and boost retention rates.

Implementing ACD In Your Organization

Putting automatic call distribution into action isn’t only about picking the right software providers—though that’s certainly a key part of the process. You’ll also need to design a positive customer experience for callers while carefully balancing the priorities of speed and personalization.

1. Choose the Right ACD Solution

As you evaluate call center software options, look in-depth at the ACD functionality of each. Make sure the routing logic can be adapted to your specific priorities using variables like agent skills, caller location, business hours, and VIP status. Investigate whether your CRM software is supported as an external integration, so you can benefit from customers’ history of past interaction.

Analytics are another big factor. You’ll want to have real-time visibility into activity trends, queue management KPIs, and agent performance. By using automated reporting, you’ll avoid manual analysis and be able to make better decisions on the fly.

For example, Talkdesk’s ACD-connected analytics give you dynamic insight into what’s happening across your call center, including the current longest wait time and the number of total contacts.

talkdesk's analytics example
Image from Talkdesk

2. Balancing Speed and Personalization

At most call centers, speed and personalization are competing objectives: 38% of customers expect reps to immediately understand the full context of their inquiry, yet most customer service agents have difficulty balancing speed and quality.

ACD can help call centers achieve both priorities. Speed is critical: since 20% of customers won’t wait on hold more than five minutes, most systems default to sending callers to the next available agent. But your routing strategy may also justify longer hold times in some cases; it can be worthwhile to wait a bit longer to route customers to specific agents who are better-equipped to help them, which can help avoid transfers, repeat phone calls, and additional hold time.

Where possible, use customer data and phone numbers to connect high-value customers directly to agents who are familiar with their accounts. A higher level of service may also be warranted for repeat callers, who need to be handled delicately and if possible, should be routed to the last rep who assisted them. Finally, certain categories of inquiry can be routed directly to the relevant teams to avoid unnecessary transfers: complaints should go to the managers with the power to resolve them, for example, while technical issues need to be routed to specialized teams.

3. Managing from a CX Design Perspective

In some ways, keeping customers happy is pretty simple (though hard to execute): don’t put them on hold, and solve their issue ASAP. Long hold times are the most frustrating part of calling a business, according to 57% of customers.

Of course, ACD can minimize hold times by routing callers quickly to the right agent, and by giving priority to certain VIP customers. But still, best practices involve sending customers to a call queue to ensure agents aren’t overwhelmed by spikes in volume. That means hold times are inevitable in most cases.

Even so, there are certain things you can do to improve caller satisfaction. First, remember that managing customer expectations is important. You should announce the caller’s queue position to help them understand where they are in line, along with their expected wait time. Second, give customers options. Once their patience is at its end, many customers will prefer leaving a voicemail or requesting an automatic call back. Make it easy to do both.

Your call center software’s ACD settings can help manage this process. For example, Dialpad’s hold queue settings allow you to choose from options like “let callers know their place in the queue” and “allow callers to request a callback.”

dialpad screenshot
Image from Dialpad

The Road Ahead For ACD

The big story across much of the call center industry is the rise of AI. But call center leaders say that despite a surge in customer service chatbots and self-serve solutions, call volumes have actually increased in recent years. Meanwhile, 86% of consumers still prefer interacting with humans to resolve their customer service issues.

What does this all mean? Live agents will be a critical part of customer support infrastructure for the foreseeable future. ACD is an integral part of making customer service teams more efficient, and it also balances speed and personalization in a way that improves outcomes for customers. By taking advantage of automatic call distribution, you can futureproof your call center against increased traffic and rising customer expectations—all while boosting customer satisfaction and profitability.

If you’re interested in more deep dives into the tech powering today’s call centers, you’re in luck! Our guides to first call resolution and IVR systems will help you fine-tune your customer service strategy and reboot your call center tactics. For regular updates, don’t miss out on the CX Lead newsletter for the latest CX leadership strategies and insights.