A typical customer service team is being bombarded with calls and agents struggling to resolve their customers’ issues on the first call. When agents are stretched too far, hold times lengthen and customer satisfaction drops. SLAs are broken and the entire business suffers.
Distributing calls efficiently to the right agent capable of solving issues fast and in a user-centric manner is a lifeline for offering good customer service. This is why Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) has become a vital process in the operations of nearly all successful customer service and inbound contact centers. ACD is a collection of methods for distributing incoming calls to agents based on for example information collected from an Interactive Voice Response menu.
In recent years, however, the channels consumers use to contact customer service have become more and more varied. Besides calls, a customer service center is now handling emails, chats, SMS, social media messages and WhatsApp messages to name a few. Solving problems across various channels depending on the situation has thus become a prerequisite for customer satisfaction.
To offer versatile and efficient customer service, customer service has had to adapt to the multi-channel lifestyles their customers lead. This profound change has created new demands for contact center software. Quality call distribution features are no longer enough when a large share of customers use text instead of calls.
It’s time to face the facts and embrace AC&MD, Automatic Call and Message Distribution, which optimizes the answer flows of all channels instead of just calls. In the world of flexible customer service, the ones who are best equipped for omnichannel operations take the cake.
Automatic call distribution has become a cornerstone for contact centers since its large-scale introduction in the late 80s. The reasons for its introduction were fundamental:
For a long time, contact centers were only contacted via phone, so perfecting call queues became the first priority. In recent years, the need to include other channels in the distribution process has become evident.
The days are over when synchronous communication, i.e. calling and receiving immediate response was the only way to contact a business. Especially if the answer to your question can wait, it’s more handy to just send a message instead of calling.
However, to face the challenge of multiple active channels and their integration to a seamless flow, contact center software solutions have had to evolve.
Omnichannel software, which efficiently combines the most important contact channels into a single queue, has become the best choice for modern customer service and inbound contact centers.
For automatic distribution, the change means that instead of focusing all energy on optimizing call queues, the software has to account for integrating all messages from all channels into manageable queues for the agents.
In the ideal situation, all incoming messages and calls are effectively distributed to the queue of the agent best equipped to handle the contact.
There are several benefits to the efficient handling and distribution of messages coming across different channels:
1) Enables exclusive service
Some companies have many membership tiers that have an effect on the service level. One of the benefits the companies can offer with AC&MD is the possibility to qualify individuals based on their tier and for example skip the queue and offer help immediately to top tier members.
AC&MD can detect a caller’s number or the message sender and put them through without the caller having to do anything. A web page login or a customer number provided to a chatbot can authenticate the user to receive VIP service.
2) Improves the accuracy of reporting
Accurate reports are vital to running a high-performing business. An inefficient AC&MD process where the customer is bounced from one agent and channel to another creates messy reports that are hard to analyze. An efficient and organized customer service operation also provides quality reports that are easy to integrate to future strategy work.
3) Full integration to other systems
An AC&MD system acquires data from all the channels customers use. This data can then be integrated with CRMs and other systems to create a comprehensive user database that helps you in both customer service and sales.
When a customer contacts the center, the systems potentially already recognize the person and make the right decisions regarding their service. Agents have full visibility into the contact history of the person.
4) Solves overflow and offline situations
Sometimes customer services get flooded with calls and messages and have a hard time sticking to the SLA. In these cases it’s paramount to start optimizing the queues and offer the customers flexible ways to get their problem solved.
AC&MD makes operations more efficient by assigning messages immediately to the correct agent. It gives both the contact center and the customer flexibility in handling the issue.
5) Agent specialization improves first contact resolution and customer service
The possibility to create multiple queues with a distinct set of parameters for all the channels in use is a game changer.
When messages can be directed instantly to a specialised agent, operations become more efficient. For example, language detection can be used to instantly direct messages to the agent with the matching language in their skillset.
Optimally, customers can deal with an agent who already knows them, resulting in more personalized customer service.
6) Makes queues more flexible
In a modern omnichannel software with a modern AC&MD system, you can build queues creatively. Even if you have separate queues for SMS, calls and email, you can determine that all VIP customers, regardless of the channel they use, have their own queue that has a different service level.
Also, imagine a situation where the customer service center is not meeting an SLA and quick actions are required. With AC&MD you can easily combine queues to help the teams that are overflowed.
7) Unites agents across the world
It’s not unusual for agents of the same team to be located in different countries or even continents. A versatile AC&MD system allows you to seamlessly manage the workflow of the pensioner agent working the morning shift in Sweden and the Australian student working the evening shift.
Perfecting the distribution is important for achieving optimal results. Here are some standard distribution methods that all have their benefits depending on the operation.
In simultaneous distribution, every available agent is notified of a contact at the same time, and the first one to react handles the customer. Simultaneous distribution is useful for achieving fast response times, but it leaves little room for agent specialization.
In round-robin distribution, contacts are distributed evenly between the agents. The agents form a loop where the first agent only takes a new customer after the last agent on the list has also resolved a ticket. Round-robin distribution is a good way to ensure that your agents put in the same effort, but it doesn’t guarantee that your best agents get to affect your operation to the maximum.
In idle-agent distribution, the customers go to the agent who has either taken the fewest tickets or been idle for the longest time. Idle-agent distribution is useful in optimizing the working hours of your agents.
In fixed distribution, agents get a hierarchical position in a queue. The customer is first directed to the agent at the top of the list and, if they are unavailable, to the next agent until someone takes the ticket. Fixed distribution enables your call center to give as much work as possible to the agents that are experts in the subject matter of that particular queue. This results in your top agents working more than the agents at the bottom of the list.
In weighted distribution, agents get a weighted score for different criteria, such as channel expertise, language skills, experience or subject matter expertise. The agents can then be matched with the right customers based on the channel, subject matter and the skill set of the agent.
This way you can assign agents to queues with a different hierarchical position for different factors. An agent who is fluent in Chinese might the first choice for a Chinese customer, even though another agent might have more expertise in the subject matter.
Some of the distribution methods above are rigid and don’t take into account customer data. Modern customer service and inbound contact centers, however, are getting increasingly data-driven. This enables the centers to match the customer and the agent optimally.
A modern omnichannel software integrates with the CRM and other systems to provide as much data about the customer as possible. If, for example, there is a call from a certain number or a contact from a specific IP address or a web cookie, the AC&MD system can automatically direct the customer to an agent with previous knowledge about the issue.
When there is no prior customer data available, interactive voice response (IVR) and its modern equivalents come into play.
Traditional IVR, where customers provide information by entering numbers to the system, focuses exclusively on calls. There are several benefits to the contact center:
In an omnichannel world, however, the traditional interplay with call-based ACDs and IVRs is not enough. You should be able to extract information from the customers in any channel they decide to use. There are several ways to do this:
The result should be the perfect union of existing information gathered from the CRM and AC&MD system and new information provided by the IVR and decision trees etc.
With enough information available, a quality AC&MD system can make the right choices in distributing the contacts to the right agents.
1) Forget about ACD, embrace AC&MD
If you’ve gotten this far, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Simply put, in 2020, you can’t do just call distribution. The world is multi-channeled, you must follow suit. You should use an omnichannel contact center software that can handle all the contacts from various channels through one easy-to-use interface.
2) Integrate systems and acquire data
Your contact center software is a data mine, if you use it wisely. When all of your systems are integrated, all of the data acquired can be used to improve customer experience and the efficiency of your contact center. Think about your data capabilities and your key business goals, and how you can align the two to serve your strategy.
3) Know your agents
The efficiency of your queues is tied to your ability to match customers with the right agents. Stay aware of the experience, performance and training of your agents, so you always have the latest information on how to set up your agent teams and queues.
4) Remember industry and seasonal changes
There are dramatic seasonal changes in many industries, which can cause a team to perform well in November and underperform the next month. A webstore can be bombarded with calls around the Christmas high season, whereas January might be really quiet.
Larger industry changes can affect agent performance as well. The world is becoming increasingly multi-channel, which might tip the balance if you have channel-specific queues.
5) Test different queues
Setting up multiple competing queues with different parameters for the available agent resources provides you with valuable information on how you get the most out of your operation.
In a world where customers expect increasingly flexible service, contact centers simply must take all channels into account.
This requires new approaches from customer service, agents and software providers. All the channels must be integrated into a flow where contacts find the perfect person to solve their issues. The only way to do it well is to harness data, expertise and cutting-edge software to work towards your strategic goals.
Now that you know all about advanced call and messaging distribution, you might be interested in learning more about the benefits of the omnichannel approach:
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