Top Call Routing Methods for the Modern Contact Center

By Dale Holub

Connecting customers to the right agents the first time is essential for creating a great customer experience, and using the right routing method is key for making that happen. Call routing is the process by which an IVR/telephony system qualifies calls and places them in appropriate queues to be handled by agents.

While there are a number of call routing methods available, the following four methods – skills-based, geographic, value-based, and campaign-based routing are among the more popular methods used. Each of these methods has its advantages and disadvantages, so you need to carefully consider your needs, desired service levels, and technical capabilities before selecting a routing method. Let’s take a look at each of these methods in detail.

Skills-Based Routing

This is a call routing method that matches callers’ needs to the most skilled agents available at the time. For example, all billing questions will be queued to a pool of agents knowledgeable about the company’s billing policies. There isn’t a hard rule about what constitutes of a skill, and hence skills-based routing (SBR) can be a versatile method for addressing specific needs of customers efficiently.

Pros of Skills-Based Routing

Because SBR matches customer needs to the best skilled agents, its adoption results in high first call resolution and customer satisfaction metrics. SBR also drives higher contact center efficiencies because the most skilled agents address customer queries quickly. Furthermore, training contact center agents to be multi-skilled enables them to handle queries originating from multiple queues. This reduces internal transfers and decreases the overall call handling time.

Cons of Skills-Based Routing

Because SBR does not limit the number of skills or queues that can be created, implementation of a SBR strategy can quickly become complex. To ensure service levels are met, you may need to experimentally create combined skill queues and then closely monitor queue centric metrics such as estimated wait times to ensure service quality does not degrade. Another practical limitation to implementing SBR is the availability of skilled agents for every skill. In reality, there will be budget constraints to always using highly skilled agents to address less common customer needs. Finally, since queues are created based on agent skills, there are limited opportunities for less skilled agents to learn new skills on the job.

The bottom line is that skills-based routing is a highly effective call routing strategy. However, the practical implementation of SBR needs to be carefully designed to meet contact center service levels.

Value-Based Routing

Value based routing, sometimes known as smart routing, is the process of assigning customers to queues based on the perceived or known value of the customers. Customer attributes can include actions they have taken on previous visits, demographics such as age, income, and more. Value-based routing can be proactive or interactive. Proactive routing happens when a customer is routed to a queue based on known or assumed attributes of the customer. Interactive routing provides the ability to intelligently interrupt the call flow to offer a customer options when there is a potential for frustration or abandonment.

Pros of Value-Based Routing

Value-based routing can help protect current revenue streams or develop new ones. For example, a customer reaching the end of a cable subscription, for example, may be automatically routed to the customer retention team, who is best able to support and retain them. Value-based routing can also help reduce customer frustration. For example, a customer that is struggling through IVR options can be helped by reorganizing the IVR menu based on past customer interactions or by interrupting the call flow.

Cons of Value-Based Routing

If value-based routing is implemented purely as a predictive methodology, customers may be unintentionally directed to the wrong team. For example, not all customers with soon-to-end subscriptions will want to speak to retentions. Another practical limitation is the availability of multi-skilled agents to address all the needs of high value customers. If high value customers are to be provided ‘white glove treatment’, then you will need to account for the higher cost of these calls given the multi-skilled agents that will handle them.

Value-based routing can be a highly effective way to increase customer satisfaction by helping customers at the right time in the call flow. It can also provide higher levels of service to high value customers, thus increasing revenue opportunities. Careful monitoring of metrics and reviewing speech analytics can help determine how effective value-based routing is for your organization.

Geographic Routing

Routing call geographically allows customers to connect with local offices of organizations using a universal phone number. This call routing may be done automatically by detecting the callers’ GPS location, or it could be done based on a zip code that callers are prompted to enter into the IVR. Geographic routing prioritizes local service above all, but can also connect callers to alternate offices if agents at the primary location are unavailable.

Pros of Geographic Routing

Geographic routing allows organizations to offer customers services that are local to them. This saves customers time as they are routed where they want to be the first time without having to fumble through IVR options. It can also improve contact center performance metrics by blocking calls from areas where an organization may not offer service.

Cons of Geographic Routing

If the geographic routing relies on area codes to determine location, this could result in increased customer frustration as customer calling from mobile phones may be in different service areas. This issue can be remedied by getting the physical location of the caller from the service provider. If there is a spike in call volume at a particular call center location, it could result in increased call wait times and reduced customer satisfaction. This could be addressed by creating overflow rules to route excess demand to call centers elsewhere. If the routing is implemented at multi-unit locations such as franchises, then monitoring call metrics and improving call quality becomes a challenge that cannot be easily addressed.

The bottom line is that geographic call routing can be very useful where local service is the most important attribute influencing company goals and customer satisfaction. If not monitored closely, geographic routing could result in increased customer frustration and loss of revenue for the company.

Campaign-Based Routing

This form of routing involves providing customers with a unique telephone number to respond to marketing campaigns. These numbers are tied to specific campaigns and can contain ‘whisper tones’ to alert agents what the call is about. Campaign-based routing helps organizations track effectiveness of marketing efforts as well as route callers to the most relevant agents based on the campaigns that drove the calls. With online marketing becoming a major part of organizations’ marketing efforts, the need to track effectiveness of these campaigns has created this new type of routing.

Pros of Campaign-Based Routing

Providing a unique phone number by campaign allows organizations to personalize the customer experience to a high degree through custom IVR menus or by routing calls to skilled agents aware of these campaigns. This routing strategy is particularly useful for routing sales calls to close revenue opportunities.

Cons of Campaign-Based Routing

Using multiple numbers to connect with an organization eventually results in needing to either retire or recycle numbers used when marketing campaigns end. This can cause confusion for customers as well as agents that make and answer calls regarding expired campaigns. Providers of multiple 1-800 numbers for marketing needs tend to recycle numbers used by other organizations, causing higher call abandonment and reduced agent utilization as customers call expired numbers. These issues can be remedied by re-using a limited set of numbers and routing the calls using a smart routing technology.

With online marketing becoming more prevalent, campaign-based call routing has become a major routing need for organizations. While this may not be a primary call routing technique, it is fast becoming part of the overall routing strategy deployed by organizations.

Other Call Routing Methods

There are a few other notable routing techniques still used by contact centers that should be considered:

  • Percentage-based routing is a technique to distribute calls across contact centers based on sizes of the contact centers.
  • Least occupied routing routes calls to agents that have low utilization rates for the day, allowing better agent utilization across the contact center
  • Time of day routing routes callers based on the time of the day. This is particularly useful when contact centers are distributed globally, and provide service for different times of the day.

Conclusion

Today’s contact center systems are highly customizable and offer an array of call routing techniques. Opt for a solution that can deliver customized routing that adapts to customer needs on the fly.

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