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The Power of Skill-Based Routing in Modern Call Centers

Published: Mar 3, 2023

In today’s fast-paced business world, providing excellent customer service is vital for success. A study revealed that 89% of businesses with superior customer experiences outperform their competitors financially. 

One way to ensure that customers receive the best possible service is by using skill-based routing in call centers. 

In this article, we explore 

  • What skill-based routing is
  • How it works
  • What industries use skill-based routing
  • Why do businesses need skill-based routing and
  • How you can implement it best.

What is skill-based call routing?

Skill-based call routing
💡Skill-based call routing is used in call centers to match inbound calls with the most appropriate agent based on their skills and expertise. 

It directs calls to the agent best suited to handle a caller’s specific needs.  

This approach

  1. Improves the efficiency of the call center, 
  2. Reduces wait times for customers, and 
  3. Enhances the overall customer experience. 

Here’s an example:

Step 1: A customer calls a call center to inquire about a technical issue with their internet service. 

Step 2: The call center’s skill-based routing system directs the call to an agent trained explicitly in resolving technical issues related to internet service.  

Step 3: This agent diagnoses the problem and provides the customer with a solution. 

How does skill-based routing work?

Skill-based call routing process generally involves the following steps:

Skill-based call routing process
  1. Callers interact with an IVR system: When a call comes in, the caller is prompted to select a specific department or issue using the keypad or speaking into the phone.
  2. Caller’s input is matched with predefined skills: The IVR system uses a routing algorithm to match the caller’s input with a predefined set of skills associated with each agent. The algorithm considers various factors, such as the agent’s availability, language preference, and qualifications.
  3. The most suitable agent is identified: Based on the caller’s input and the agent’s skills, the system identifies the most appropriate agent to handle the call.
  4. The call is connected to the agent.
  5. The call is handled by the agent: The agent takes the call and provides a solution to the caller’s inquiry.
  6. The call is disconnected.
  7. Call data is recorded and analyzed: The IVR system records and analyzes data from the call, such as the caller’s input, the agent’s response, and the duration of the call. This data can be used to improve the system’s performance and optimize the customer experience.

This process can vary slightly depending on the IVR system you use.

Interactive Voice Response and skill-based routing

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and skill-based routing are two different technologies that can together manage inbound calls in a call center.

IVR uses pre-recorded voice prompts and touch-tone inputs to interact with callers and direct them to the appropriate department or agent. 

IVR systems can be programmed to provide callers with a menu of options and route calls based on the caller’s input. For example, a caller might press 1 for technical support, 2 for billing, or 3 for sales.

The two technologies can be used together to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of a call center. For example, you can use an IVR system to greet callers and provide them with a menu of options. Then use skill-based routing to direct the call to the most appropriate agent based on the caller’s input and inquiry. 

Factors to consider when selecting an IVR system

When selecting an IVR system for your business, there are several factors to consider. 

Some of the most critical include:

  1. Functionality: Consider the functionality that you need from the IVR system, such as call routing, self-service options, and call tracking.
  2. Scalability: Make sure that the system you select is scalable to accommodate your business’s growth and changing needs.
  3. Integration: Look for a system that can easily integrate with other systems, such as your CRM, helpdesk, or call center software.
  4. User-friendliness: Consider how user-friendly the IVR system is for customers and your agents.
  5. Customization: Look for a customizable system so that you can easily change the options, menu structures, and languages as needed.
  6. Reporting and analytics: Check if the system provides robust reporting and analytics capabilities.
  7. Security: Ensure the system has the necessary security features to protect sensitive customer data.
  8. Cost and maintenance: Consider the overall cost of the IVR system and the ongoing maintenance and support required.
  9. Vendor reputation and experience: Research the vendor’s reputation and expertise in IVR solutions.

How is skill-based call routing different from other call routing methods?

There are multiple types of routing in call centers:

  1. Queue-based routing
  2. Automated Call Distribution (ACD) Routing
  3. Round-robin routing
  4. Priority routing
  5. Longest-idle-agent routing
  6. Random routing
  7. Fixed order routing
  8. Talk time routing
  9. Time-based routing
  10. Relationship-based routing

Now, let’s look at a comparison of skill-based call routing with other types of routing.

Skill-based routing vs. queue-based routing

Queue-based routing is the traditional method of directing calls to the next available agent, regardless of their skills or expertise. This approach can lead to longer wait times for customers as they may be connected to an agent who is not best suited to handle their inquiry.

Skill-based routing vs. ACD routing

ACD (Automated Call Distribution) routing automatically distributes incoming calls to the next available agent, based on pre-determined rules. ACD routing ensures that calls are answered quickly, while skill-based routing ensures that calls are answered by the most appropriate agent for the specific inquiry. 

ACD routing uses algorithms to distribute calls to available agents based on factors such as agent skill sets, availability, and call volume. Queue-based routing, on the other hand, simply places incoming calls in a queue and assigns them to the next available agent.

Skill-based routing vs. other routing types

In addition to skill-based routing and ACD routing, there are several other types of routing methods used in call centers, such as:

  1. Round-robin routing: In this method, incoming calls are distributed to agents in a cyclical order. This approach ensures that no agent is overwhelmed by excessive calls.
  2. Priority routing: This method directs calls based on the priority level of the caller. For example, high-value sales leads and customers may be given priority over other calls.
  3. Longest-idle-agent routing: This method directs the call to the agent who has been idle for the most extended period. This is with the assumption that the agent will be available to take the call.
  4. Random routing: In this method, incoming calls are directed randomly to agents. This is used when there are no specific criteria to route the call to a particular agent.
  5. Fixed order routing: In fixed order routing, calls are directed to agents based on a pre-determined order. This method is often used when a limited number of agents are available to handle calls. It ensures that calls are distributed evenly among agents. Fixed order routing can be helpful for small contact centers where the number of agents is limited.
  6. Talk time routing: In talk time routing, calls are directed to agents based on the amount of time they have spent on calls. This means a call is directed to an agent who has been on a call for the least amount of time. When using talk time routing, establish a threshold for the maximum amount of time an agent should spend on a call. Once this threshold crosses, the next call will be routed to the next agent. 
  7. Time-based routing: In time-based routing, calls are directed to agents based on the time of day or day of the week. This approach is often used in contact centers that operate on a 24/7 schedule or have different hours of operation for other departments.
  8. Relationship-based routing: In relationship-based routing, calls are directed to agents based on the caller’s relationship or account status with the company. This approach is often used in call centers that want to ensure that the most qualified agents handle the most valuable customers.

What industries use skill-based routing?

Skill-based routing is used in various industries that have call centers or customer service operations, including:

  1. Telecommunications 
  2. Financial services: Banks, insurance companies, and other financial services organizations
  3. Healthcare: Hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare organizations
  4. Retail
  5. E-commerce

Why do businesses need skill-based routing?

Research indicates that over 70% of customers expect companies to collaborate within the organization, and 68% of customers are frustrated when their call is transferred to different departments.

As a business, you need skill-based routing to:

Improve customer experience: By directing calls to the most appropriate agent based on the caller’s inquiry, you can ensure that calls are handled quickly and effectively. This can lead to increased customer experience, satisfaction, and loyalty.  

Lead to faster resolution time: According to research by SQM, 93% of customers who use the call center expect their inquiry or issue to be resolved in a single interaction. 

With skilled agents handling the inquiries, the average handle time reduces, increasing first-call resolution. This also reduces the number of transferred calls and the associated cost.

Reduce agent training costs: Using skill-based routing can reduce costs by creating niche “experts”. This allows for the most efficient use of resources and reduces the need for extensive training and development for every agent. 

Improve agent performance: Skill-based routing can increase the productivity and efficiency of the call center, as agents are better equipped to handle the calls they receive. Also, by focusing on their strengths and skills, agents feel more motivated and engaged in their work, leading to improved performance.

Improve agent retention: Focusing on their strengths can increase job satisfaction. This can lead to a reduction in burnout and turnover rates among agents.

Improve sales: Skill-based routing helps you improve your sales significantly. For example, directing a high-value sales call to an agent with a proven track record of closing deals can increase the chances of making a sale.

Lower operational costs: You can reduce the overall operating cost by reducing call handling time. This can be achieved by reducing the cost of labor, equipment, and technology used to handle calls, which are the main cost drivers in call centers.

How can skill-based routing be improved?

Businesses can improve the effectiveness of skill-based routing and provide a better customer experience in several ways:

How businesses can optimize skill-based routing:

  1. Evaluate your team and organize the skills into categories.
  2. Set agent skills based on customer data.
  3. Set your priorities and routing rules.
  4. Optimize call distribution.
  5. Keep track of quality and improve the flow where it’s due.
  6. Use advanced routing software.
  7. Provide training and development.
  8. Implement multi-channel routing.
  9. Collect agent feedback.

Let’s look at each in detail.

1. Evaluate your team and organize the skills into categories

Regularly evaluate the skills and performance of your call center agents. This will help you identify areas where agents need additional training or support.

Organize your agents’ skills into specific categories, such as product knowledge and technical expertise. 

Regularly conduct training or refreshment courses to reflect changes in agent expertise, new products or services, or customer needs.

2. Set agent skills based on customer data

Collect and analyze data on customer needs, preferences, and frequent queries. This data can identify which types of calls are most common and which skills and expertise are most in demand.

Use this data to set agent skills and requirements. For example, if a large number of calls are related to a specific product or service, make sure that agents who are experts in that product or service are handling those calls.

Additionally, consider conducting customer surveys to gather feedback on the quality of your team’s interactions. Use this feedback to identify areas for improvement in skills and knowledge.

3. Set your priorities and routing rules

Identify the most important goals for your call center, such as increasing first call resolution or reducing call handling time. These priorities will serve as the foundation for your routing rules.

Regularly review the priorities and routing rules to ensure they align with the business’s goals.

4. Optimize call distribution

Understand call volume patterns, such as peak times, slow times, and seasonality. This will help you to optimize the distribution of calls to agents.

For example, schedule more agents during peak times and fewer agents during slow times. 

Regularly review the call distribution and optimize your routing systems.

5. Keep track of quality and improve the flow where it’s due

Monitor the quality of calls handled by agents to identify areas where improvements are needed. This includes call handling time, first-call resolution, customer satisfaction, and agent performance.

Improve the flow of calls by making adjustments to the routing rules, skill categories, and agent schedules. 

6. Use advanced routing software

Utilize advanced routing software that considers your goals, priorities, and routing rules when directing calls.

7. Provide training and development

To improve the effectiveness of skill-based routing, businesses can invest in training and development programs for their agents. These programs can help agents develop new skills, improve existing skills, and adapt to new technologies.

8. Implement multi-channel routing

To improve the customer experience, businesses can implement multi-channel routing. This allows customers to reach a business through multiple channels, such as phone, email, chat, and social media.

9. Collect agent feedback

Solicit feedback from agents. This can help you identify areas that need improvement and ensure that agents are satisfied with the routing system.

Frequently asked questions

What are the critical components of a skill-based routing system?

The critical components of a skill-based routing system are:

  • Agent skill set management
  • Call prioritization and queue management
  • Real-time call volume forecasting and balancing
  • Automated call distribution systems
  • Integrated CRM and call routing systems
  • Quality assurance and performance metrics tracking

How do I measure the success of my skill-based routing system?

To evaluate the effectiveness of your skill-based routing system, you can monitor key metrics such as:

  • First Call Resolution (FCR) Rate
  • Average Handling Time (AHT)
  • Abandonment Rate
  • Occupancy Rate
  • Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) Score
  • Agent Satisfaction Score
  • Compliance Rate
  • Cost per call

Is it challenging to implement a skill-based routing system?

The difficulty level in setting up a skill-based routing system can differ based on your organization’s resources and current systems. It can take a couple of weeks to several months to fully implement such a system, and it may require a substantial investment in technology, software, and staff. 

Seek the help of a vendor or consulting service specializing in this field to guide you through the implementation process.

When should a company consider using skill-based routing?

A company should consider using skill-based routing to improve customer experience and agent productivity.  

Some specific situations that may indicate the need for skill-based routing include:

  • High wait times for customers
  • Low first call resolution rates
  • Difficulty maintaining service level agreements (SLAs)
  • High call volumes that are challenging to manage
  • Agents handling calls that are not within their area of expertise
  • Difficulty in managing and training a diverse set of agents
  • The need to track and evaluate the performance of the call center operations.

Incorporating skill-based routing into your call center operations can 

  • Greatly improve customer satisfaction
  • Increase efficiency, and
  • Lead to a more productive and engaged workforce. 

By identifying your agents’ skills and strengths and matching them with the right customer inquiries, you can ensure that each interaction is handled with care and expertise. 

Featured image: Photo by Andrea Piacquadio


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