Contact centers are busy these days with major initiatives. The 2020 lockdowns revealed gaps in contact center resiliency that many organizations are now trying to plug. For example, our most recent survey of contact center decision-makers revealed that 66% of organizations not currently using cloud-based call center solutions are accelerating their move to the cloud as a result of the pandemic. The same study revealed that 52% of businesses plan to invest in artificial intelligence in the next year, which can strengthen business continuity as well as streamline operations, and improve CX. Busy times, indeed!
What does this have to do with call routing? First, in the rush to implement new technology, contact centers shouldn’t forget about consistently optimizing basic "blocking and tackling" processes, like call routing. Furthermore, if you're one of those contact centers fast-tracking the transition to a cloud call center solution, make sure your new software has advanced call routing capabilities such as the ones discussed in this blog post. You just might be surprised by how modern technology has transformed one of the oldest call center processes. Finally, if your budget doesn't have room for any major initiatives, refreshing your call routing strategy can be a way to still capture some meaningful gains in CX, agent engagement, and business results.
What is call routing?
Call routing, also referred to as contact or interaction routing is the process of distributing inbound and outbound customer interactions to agents. In this digital age, what used to be called "call" routing isn't limited to just voice interactions anymore - it includes contacts from digital channels like email, chat, SMS, messaging, and social media.
The automatic call distributor (ACD) (aka automatic contact distributor) is the engine that routes interactions to available resources based on configured rules. These rules can range from very simple - the oldest call in the queue goes to the first available agent - to complex - calls are routed based on customer and agent personalities. The rules should be based on business needs and requirements; depending on the sophistication of the solution you use, they can be limited by the ACD's capabilities.
Based on the nature of the call routing rules, call centers can pair their ACD with an interactive voice response (IVR) system. An IVR can – for example – be used to collect customer data to facilitate smarter customer-agent matching. IVRs can collect information such as the customer's zip code, use selection menus to narrow down the nature of the customer’s issue, and then hand the call off to the routing engine, which based on the collected information, applies call routing rules to ensure the interaction is routed to and subsequently handled by the best available resource.
Routing customers to a qualified agent on the first attempt yields several benefits. It reduces frustrating transfers and can increase first contact resolution (FCR) rates. This means customers can get issues resolved faster and with less effort, which will improve CX. Higher FCR is also good for the budget because it reduces extra, unnecessary call volume. And agents will be more successful when they're handling problems they have been trained for and can actually resolve.
Examples of enhanced call routing strategies
There are many different options for call routing. The strategies businesses adopt can depend on factors like the number of agents, agent skills, contact volume and types, the complexity of their environment, and geography. Companies that use industry-leading ACDs can tailor their call routing rules according to their business objectives. What follows are some examples of enhanced call routing methods. Businesses really need to use one or a combination of these options to be competitive.
Skills-based routing considers customer factors, like language and location, as well as the nature of the issue to determine which group of agents to route contacts to. To enable this, agents are set up with relevant skills in the ACD. For example, Agent Alana, who works for an insurance company, might have the following skills: phone, chat, email, French language, Canadian claims, and Canadian service. This could mean, for example, that she could be routed a call from a French-speaking Canadian customer who wants to file a new claim.
Skills-based routing is commonly used because it's effective at matching customers with agents who will likely be able to help them. This, of course, is an important component to delivering satisfying customer experiences. When agents are qualified to handle their assigned interactions, this will reduce handle times and keep transfers and escalations to a minimum. Additionally, an agent who knows what she's doing is more likely to solve the problem during the first contact - "one and done!"
A potential drawback of only using skills-based routing is that there are many other factors that can influence the success of interaction – for example, whether the personalities of the involved parties are a good match. If they are not compatible, then even though the agent was technically qualified to help the customer, the interaction may not be a satisfying experience for either party. In other words, the agent may have the needed knowledge (skills) but have a hard time creating rapport with the customer, who might not “feel the love” even though the issue was technically resolved. This can be addressed with AI-based Predictive Behavioral Routing, which will be discussed shortly. Skills-based call routing also needs constant tuning to ensure you have the right number of qualified agents to meet the demand for each skill and combination of skills.
Today's consumers have many options for how they interact with businesses. In the digital age, call centers evolved into contact centers that now handle many more interaction channels than just voice calls. Consumers expect to be able to interact in a plethora of digital channels such as email, SMS, webchat, and many different messaging platforms. Consumers often have a preferred channel that they like to use, but not all channels are created equal, and sometimes a channel is simply not the best fit for the issue a customer is trying to resolve. For example, a quick question that started in web chat turns out to be much more involved than anticipated; or a quick call the customer wanted to make is interrupted because they need to leave unexpectedly.
Omnichannel routing addresses the situations where a single channel is just not enough anymore. It facilitates switching channels yet enables a seamless customer experience across channels. This means, for example, that customers don't need to repeat their issues or resubmit their data when they switch from a web chat interaction to a voice call. In a true Omnichannel environment the agent that handles the chat interaction can simply add a voice call to the ongoing chat interaction, which means all customer data are available and interaction history remains intact, regardless of the fact that there was a change in the channel that customer and agent interacted in.
From an operational perspective, omnichannel routing means interactions from all channels are first organized in a universal queue before being assigned to agents. Contact centers can leverage this capability by training agents to handle multiple channels and then assigning them multiple types of contacts across different channels from the universal queue. Omnichannel session handling, another feature of omnichannel routing, enables detailed configuration of how an agent can concurrently handle multiple interactions in different channels. For example, an agent could be set up with a profile that enables him to concurrently handle five emails, three web chat interactions, three digital messaging interactions, and a phone call with additional checks and balances saying that this agent will only ever handle a maximum of five contacts across all channels he is qualified to handle.
The ability to assign multichannel interactions from a single queue improves agent utilization, which is good for the bottom line. It should appeal to agents who value variety and that are comfortable using digital channels. Plus, in many contact centers, the ability to handle multiple interactions is used as a step up in an agent’s career – it is highly valued and can be tied to financial benefits. But perhaps the biggest value is the positive impact it has on CX. Omnichannel routing enables customers to effortlessly interact with businesses on their own terms.
Data-driven routing factors in both contact center KPIs (such as agent availability or wait times) as well as customer data to optimize the quality of call routing. For customer data, this requires integrations with other systems, such as CRM, accounting, and customer databases. These integrations provide the ACD with access to customer information like their preferred interaction channel, whether their bill is overdue, their customer lifetime value (CLV), their VIP status, or whether they just purchased a phone that needs to be activated. Accessing customer data allows for more targeted routing and enables scenarios such as routing a customer to an agent that has been trained in handling complaints where the tickets have been open longer than usual, or routing a VIP customer to an agent with whom they've had past positive experiences or sending that VIP customer directly to the VIP agent team.
ACDs can also use current operational data, like service levels and the number of interactions in each queue, to make dynamic call routing adjustments. For example, if one of the queues is overwhelmed, the calls can automatically be routed to an overflow group until service levels are back to normal.
Data-driven call routing provides a higher level of personalization than skills-based routing alone because it leverages each customer’s data. Beyond the advantages of using customer data for routing, it is equally important to ensure that the agent that handles the interaction has access to the customer data – they need insight into the data to be able to personalize the way they handle the interaction based on what they can see in the customer information.
Like data-driven routing, routing based on artificial intelligence can leverage many different customer variables, but it can take call routing to the next level by also factoring in customer characteristics like personality and preferred communication style. AI routing can evaluate hundreds of variables for each routing decision, understands how they interact, predicts the best combination for a favorable outcome, and improves over time using machine learning to track call outcomes and learn from them; something a skills-based system, which requires human intervention to improve, cannot do. AI constantly analyses all attributes used for routing decisions that are set to optimize a focus metric against favorable outcomes, which means that contact centers don't need to establish and maintain many complex routing rules – instead, they can trust AI to make those decisions, and improve and fine-tune over time, using machine learning.
AI-based routing results in the best customer-agent match. It doesn't just route contacts based on agent skill, it also predicts which agents are most likely to make strong connections with customers based on personality and can use a large number of attributes/data from many different sources such as a customer’s CRM record, agent performance data and interaction analytics.
This hyper-personalization creates better experiences for the customer. More personalized connections are also better for agent satisfaction and engagement – most agents want to help and the more customer data and information they have, the better prepared they will be to handle and resolve the customer’s issue. Due to the way AI-based routing works, contact centers don't need to segment their agents as much as would be needed to achieve a similar level of personalization in a skills-based routing environment, which leads to better agent utilization. And AI routing provides performance flexibility - organizations can choose which metrics they want to optimize and the AI solution will adapt accordingly.
7 statistics that support investing in call routing improvements
If you try to convince executives to invest in better call routing, it might be a tough sell. After all, call routing can sound boring compared to virtual agents or AI-powered analytics. These 7 statistics that illustrate the value of enhanced routing can convince even the most hardened skeptics.
83% of customers expect to engage with someone immediately when contacting a company. (Source: Salesforce)
In other words, people don't want to wait in a queue for an agent. They want immediate help. While it might be impossible to always meet this expectation, enhanced call routing methods will get contact centers very close to the goal. AI routing, in particular, can help optimize queue times by making the best use of the agent workforce.
55% of consumers are willing to pay more for exceptional customer experiences. (Source: NICE CXone)
Many factors go into making customer service exceptional. Some of the top elements are agent competence and ease of use. The right routing strategy matches customers to agents who are qualified to resolve their issues as well as make satisfying connections. And this also means customers won't be transferred and required to repeat their issues, which makes it easier to get their problems taken care of.
82% of consumers expect to solve complex problems by talking to one person. (Source: Salesforce)
Speaking of ease of use... Resolving issues during the first contact is key to making service convenient and efficient. Conversely, making customers call multiple times about the same issue is frustrating for customers and agents, as well as costly. A good routing strategy that pairs customers with the right agents will help organizations meet expectations of first contact resolution.
96% of consumers expect companies to make it easy to switch channels without the need to repeat information. (Source: NICE CXone)
It sounds reasonable, but it's complex to execute. In fact, two-thirds of consumers think businesses do a poor job at delivering omnichannel experiences. If only every organization used omnichannel routing! Omnichannel routing helps businesses meet their customers' expectations of seamless experiences across channels and reduces friction by not requiring customers to constantly repeat themselves.
Consumers rank speed to issue resolution as top priority and knowledgeable service teams as #3. (Source: Northridge Group)
Customers value the basics - route them quickly to a competent agent who will resolve their issue. In the current business environment where everyone is focusing on the customer experience, it's important to not shortchange core contact center processes in favor of more exotic solutions. The right call routing strategy will enable speedy and accurate resolutions which lead to a better customer experience.
Businesses rank customer effort as the fourth most important customer service KPI. (Source: Salesforce)
If you want to increase customer effort, transfer them often, put them on hold while agents search for answers, and make them call back a couple of times to get their issues resolved. But, of course, you don't want to do that! Savvy companies realize that if they want to build customer loyalty and improve CX, they need to be easy to do business with. Smart call routing gets customers to the right agents on the first attempt, minimizing transfers and holds and optimizing FCR. The fact that this will also lead to a better agent experience and can even lower attrition rates are welcome side-effects.
Nearly two-thirds (58%) of consumers will sever a relationship with a business due to poor customer service. (Source: Microsoft)
Here's the doomsday statistic. If you don't consistently deliver on customer expectations of speed, ease of use, first call resolutions, and satisfying connections, they may abandon you for a competitor. It costs about five times more to acquire new customers than to retain existing ones. There's a very tangible benefit to having great call routing.
Find out more about NICE CXone's call routing abilities
The right call routing strategy can contribute to better customer experiences, which leads to higher retention and revenue. Additionally, it makes agents more successful and engaged.
To realize these benefits, organizations need top routing engines, such as CXone ACD. Our ACD is capable of skills-based, data-driven, and omnichannel routing. And when integrated with our AI platform, NICE CXone Enlighten AI Routing, you have access to the smartest call routing capabilities in the industry.
Visit our product page to learn about how CXone ACD can help you meet your business goals. And then watch CXone Omnichannel Routing helps NextGear Capital Streamline Service to see how one of our customers gained speed and flexibility with omnichannel routing capabilities.