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What is an ACD? The Basics of Automatic Call Distribution

An automated call distribution system, commonly known as automatic call distributor (ACD), is a telephony device that answers incoming calls and distributes them within an organization. ACDs often provide some form of Automatic Customer/Caller Identification (ACIS), such as Direct Inward Dialing (DID), Dialed Number Identification Service (DNIS), or Automatic Number Identification (ANI), for use in routing calls based on a series of user-configured rules.

ACD systems also often use a voice menu to direct callers based on the customer’s selection, telephone number, selected incoming line, or time of day. ACDs are commonly used in call centers to help companies handle large volumes of calls. As the first line of interaction for customers calling a company, the ACD software is a vital piece of an organization’s technology.

The ACD can help maximize customer service and improve the productivity of incoming customer contacts, especially when designed with the features and tools that are essential to inbound services. That’s why more and more call centers are relying on ACDs to enable a smooth, efficient process by connecting the right caller with the right agent, as quickly as possible.

Let’s look further at the ACD meaning for a call center, the benefits for an ACD call center, and how other technologies can work with the ACD software to provide even greater value.

What is Automatic Call Distribution

To answer this, you need to understand the role that the Automatic Call Distributor plays within the call center. The ACD is the heart of system, answering calls and then figuring out what to do next.  Some examples of ACD actions include:

Identifying callers based on their phone number, dialed line, or other information
Greeting them using a recorded message (often through an IVR)
Asking callers to provide details about what they are looking for help with
Choosing the best call routing path based on the information provided, time of day, call queue status, IVR selections, customer attributes, and a range of other factors
Creating a smooth flow between automated systems and live agents
How does the ACD know where to send the calls, to get them to the right places?

That is determined by following rules setup by the user. The algorithm for routing ACD calls can work in a few different ways. ACD systems can consider the incoming phone number or line, traffic volume, wait or hold times, time of day/day of week, special customer details, and the skills or departments needed to handle the call. The ACD takes all of this information into consideration, scans it against the rules that have been configured, and makes an educated decision about where the call should be directed.

6 Common Strategies for Call Distribution

There are several methods for call distribution. Which one is best can vary by call center, department, or even by campaign. We’ll discuss some of the more common ACD routing tactics:

Fixed Routing: ACD calls go to agents in a standard order, with each call starting at the top of the group, ringing for a specified time, and then passing to the next agent until someone answers. With this method, agents further down the line will receive fewer calls than those at the front. That may be good to funnel calls to your faster agents, but it is not very efficient, runs the risk of under-utilizing some agents, and does not necessarily ensure that the person receiving the call is qualified to assist the customer.

Simultaneous Routing: With this approach, calls ring for every available agent at the same time. The first to pick up handles the call. Use this method if quick customer response time is most important to you, or if you want to keep your agents on their toes and reward them for answering the most calls. But if you want to reduce customer transfers and subsequent hold times, resolve customer issues more quickly, and make the best use of all of your agent resources, you may want to choose another method.

Average Talk Time Routing: In this tactic, calls go to the agent with the fewest calls or longest idle time between calls. Using talk time to determine routing can help balance the work load by distributing calls more equitably, but again, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the agent who gets the call is going to be able to help the customer effectively or efficiently, potentially extending resolution times and customer frustrations.

Priority Routing: This strategy lets you assign a higher priority or value to certain accounts – such as VIPs, repeat customers, higher dollar value accounts, etc. This is great for making the big fish happy, by pushing them to the front of the line for service when they call. But making your other customers wait longer might end up costing you more in attrition.

Skills-based routing: This advanced approach is a more tailored method, with the goal of matching every call to the best resource to handle it quickly and correctly. Agents are assigned rankings in skilled areas (language proficiency, product knowledge, customer service skills, certifications, etc.) Once a caller’s issue is identified, the ACD picks the agent that is the most suitable match. Proficiency levels can help choose between similarly skilled agents. SBR can result in better first-call resolution rates and happier, more loyal customers, but it can also result in longer hold times, as customers wait for the right agents to become available.

Time-based Routing: This option can be used in conjunction with any of the above. The ACD uses scheduling data to skip over agents who aren’t working or who are busy when a call comes in. This can be a helpful way to reduce the time it takes to answer a call. Use this method to decrease wait times without disturbing busy agents.

7 Benefits of an ACD System

With the right configuration and tools, an effective ACD streamlines the entire call routing process and minimizes wasted time, for agents and for customers. Here is a high-level view of how an ACD can benefit your call center.

  • Connect customers with the right agent, right away – First-call resolution and customer satisfaction are very important metrics for a call center. They can directly impact your company’s ability to hold retain your customers for the long haul. If you can get your callers to the right agent to solve their problem – and if you can get them there quickly – they are less likely to leave.
  • Treat every customer with a personal touch – Having to talk to multiple people and having to repeat their name and problem for each new person at your office is tedious and frustrating for your customers. Integrating your ACD with your CRM, ticketing, order entry, or other system, puts all of the information in one place. Your customers don’t have to repeat themselves and your agents can quickly access their data – not only from this call, but from previous ones as well – for faster service and a better experience.
  • Manage customer queues, even during busy periods or after-hours  – Customers today expect 24/7 access to your business, and an ACD can provide a warm and welcoming experience any time of day. Within business hours, calls can be managed more efficiently to help reduce long wait queues – extended hold times can be harmful to your business – using tools like self-service and voicemail. Try giving your callers regular updates about their place in line, or giving them the option of hanging up and getting a call back when the next agent becomes available, so they don’t lose their spot, or even at a time that is more convenient for them. After-hours, you can set a rule on your system to send calls to voicemail during off hours, or even to an emergency phone line. 
  • Evaluate and improve agent performance – The ACD can let you listen to live agent calls and record them to review later. You can also use coaching and barge modes to listen to conversations and help guide agents, or even to take over a call and speak directly with the customer. Call scoring lets you evaluate performance to route calls to more successful agents, and to help provide training where there may be gaps.
  • Route more than just phone calls – Today’s consumers use a range of channels for contacting companies, such as email, text, web chats, and social media. Modern ACD systems support omnichannel routing, so even non-voice contacts get answered by the best person, and all interactions can be measured.
  • Monitor and support your call center – ACDs collect all kinds of real-time and historical data about what is going on in the call center, including call volume on a given day or time, average call lengths, agent performance, customer satisfaction, and so much more. Live dashboards that give you up-to-the-second views of what is happening and in-depth reporting are vital to providing you with the business data you need to make informed decisions that can help your company succeed.
  • Maximize efficiency and reduce costs – When calls are sent to the right agents the first time and aren’t bouncing from desk to desk in search of a place to land, your agents can handle more calls more quickly. Your team can improve productivity and even take on new programs, while using fewer resources. This helps you save overhead costs and reduce operating expenses. 

11 Questions to Ask When Evaluating an ACD 

When looking at the many different Automatic Call Distributor solutions, there are some key questions to ask to determine what the right-fit is for your organization.

1. Can you customize the call routing and the call queues?
As discussed earlier, call centers have a number of choices for how to direct calls. Your programs might need a mix of different methods for different campaigns. When customers are on hold, can you offer a range of messaging, tailored to their specific needs, to keep them interested and on the line? Can you give priority routing based on account information, such as sending VIPs to a special group or to the front of the line? Can you re-route or overflow calls quickly when queues get backed up, or for emergencies? Choose an ACD that gives you the flexibility and ease of use to customize your call management, from the method, messaging, and routing rules used, to meet your keep up with daily demands.

2. Does it handle more than just voice for omnichannel customer contacts?
With so many choices for customers to communicate, whether voice or non-voice, you need to make sure you can manage each and every experience, regardless of channel. The omnichannel ACD will help you route all contacts – whether phone, email, text, web or social –and manage them all with the same quality and care.

3. Does it support advanced workflows, such as self-service and skills-based routing?
Ensure the best service each and every time with an ACD that lets you distribute calls based on skills. Whether it’s the language spoken, specific technical or problem-solving knowledge, licensing or certification, closing or promise-to-pay rates, etc., using intelligent routing can help improve first call resolution and create happier customers. Offering the ability for customers to self-serve with simple tasks, such as getting an account balance, changing an address, confirming an order status or appointment, making a payment, etc., reduces the reliance on your agent resources and makes it easy for customers to get answers more quickly.

4. Can you offer automatic call-backs?
When hold queues are long, customers can get tired of hearing how important your call is to them while they continue to wait, and wait, and wait some more. Automatic call backs allow your customers to remove themselves from the loop while holding their place in line, so they can get on with their busy lives. The ACD system will automatically queue up their call when the next agent is available, or even at another time or day of their choosing.

5. Does the system automate processes to increase efficiencies?
Keeping agents and customers satisfied is critical in today’s fast-paced environments. An ACD that helps you automate tasks can reduce agent burnout, free resources for more complex tasks, and provide faster service for customers.

6. Is the ACD interface easy to learn and use?
It doesn’t matter how many features it may have, if your ACD isn’t easy to understand and configure, you won’t be able to optimize its use. Ideal features include an intuitive interface that doesn’t require programming skills to manage or make changes, and that presents all channels in a unified view that is easy to navigate. A supervisor portal should make it easy to access everything you need quickly with real-time dashboards, from resources and campaigns to performance and reports.

7. Does it have the tools that supervisors need to do their jobs effectively?
The right ACD can make the supervisor’s job easier, with intuitive tools to see progress and motivate your team. Whatever software you choose should include the ability to:

  • Monitor and record calls
  • Aid agents during their calls
  • Manage team schedules to meet service level targets
  • See who is succeeding and who is struggling, for rewards and training
  • View agent attendance and time management
  • Define data-driven team goals and measure progress

8. Does it integrate to your other business and operations systems?
Tying your ACD to other critical business tools, such as your CRM, is an important piece of a larger customer service strategy. You can decrease call handle time and manual lookups, improve service, and reduce data entry by syncing data between the systems. Your agents have fast access to customer information and histories, and changes are quickly updated in the database.

9. Is there access to the right information and analytics tools, when you need it? 
You should expect that the ACD will offer phone-based (or omnichannel) metrics: call volume and lengths, answer speed, abandon rates, hold times, handle time, resolutions, transfers and IVR details, agent wait times, etc. Performance analytics can take it to the next level, monitoring success rates and customer emotions, so you can fine-tune your campaign strategies and improve results.

10. Is it accessible via a web or cloud-based service for access from anywhere, at any time?  
Your automatic call distributor should offer quick and easy access while you’re on the go or away from the office, so you’re never out of the loop. You’ll want to make sure you can access all of the features listed above and manage resources no matter where you are.

11. Is the ACD scalable to meet your changing needs?
Let’s face it – your bottom-line goal is to grow your company. That usually means adding agents or resources as your gain more customers. But, as you change processes and take advantage of new tools, you should also be able to handle the workload with the same, or even fewer resources, or add new programs with the agents that you have. You may also have seasonal programs and fluctuations or need to quickly expand for a special offer or a new product launch. Your ACD should be able to provide you with the right fit, whatever your needs, to easily add or even remove agents, and only pay for what you need, when you need it.


Want to learn more? 

Automatic call distributor software can help you deliver a more cohesive, professional customer experience, while providing a system that is easy-to-use for agents and that gives managers the data they need to boost call center performance.

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