A Guide to Call Routing in the Contact Centre


Our panel of experts take us through the basics of call routing, including its benefits, certain strategies and call routing software.

The Three Types of Traditional Call Routing Strategies

The process of call routing in the call centres governs which advisor each incoming call is directed to and how the caller is queued.

There are three traditional ways of doing this, each being an evolution of the previous strategy and just needing an ACD (automatic call distribution) system to manage. These strategies are as follows.

1. ACD-Based Routing

This is the most common method, where the ACD system directs the longest-waiting call to the longest-waiting advisor. If there is no advisor waiting, the call is then placed in a queue, waiting to be picked up by the next available advisor.

2. Priority-Based Routing

Another function that most ACD systems offer is the ability to build different queues based on the priority of the caller.

For example, a bank’s contact centre could set up the ACD system to push its most valuable customers to a VIP queue and other customers to a general queue. Both queues could be handled by the same advisors, but calls from the VIP queue would always be answered before the general queue.

3. Skills-Based Routing

By recognising the caller ID, most ACD systems can also determine whether any specific skills are needed to handle the next incoming call.

By recognising the caller ID, most ACD systems can also determine whether any specific skills are needed to handle the next incoming call. So, instead of having to transfer the customer, they are passed through to the longest-waiting advisor who has that skill, or they are placed in a dedicated queue – specifically for advisors with that skill.

A classic example of this is routing customers who have a different first language to an advisor who speaks that language or directing an at-risk customer to a retention specialist.

The Next Evolution

While these three approaches to call routing still have a place within the industry, many contact centres are striving to find more innovative call routing strategies. These strategies come under the banner of “intelligent call routing”, as explained further below.

What Is Intelligent Call Routing?

Put simply, intelligent call routing ensures customers are matched with the best advisor for the call.

With intelligent call routing, which is also known as data-directed routing, the contact centre can use the data within their CRM system and factor it into the routing process.

Routing can apply to any contact centre channel, including voice calls, live chat and email.

Routing can apply to any contact centre channel, including voice calls, live chat and email.  In addition, contacts can be routed to any team member/resource to handle the call, e.g. advisors, back-office experts, self-service applications, chatbots and so on.

The routing algorithm is governed by a set of business rules, which can take into account a variety of customer attributes. These often include a customer’s intent, interaction history, media type, time in queue and more, as will be discussed in the routing strategies section of this article.

How Can Intelligent Call Routing Benefit the Contact Centre?

Good call routing matches customer context and intent with the skills and proficiency of individual advisors, across all channels.

This brings benefits in driving personalised engagement for each customer, as well as increasing First Contact Resolution (FCR), helping to deliver a great customer service and improving productivity.

However, there are a number of less obvious benefits too, once the contact centre moves beyond traditional queue-based routing to intelligent call routing. These include:

  • Capture interactions and work items on any channel from any location to unify self-service and assisted service
  • Understand context to recognise journeys, segment customers and personalise treatment
  • Process customer engagement and journey orchestration over time and across channels
  • Execute next-best actions, including routing to the best available resource
  • Manage a single platform with unified workforce optimisation, an omnichannel desktop, and end-to-end optimisation

What Software Do I Need for Call Routing?

There are a number of different ACD and IVR software solutions that can be used for call routing. The most suitable one for your business will largely depend on your contact centre environment, channels, advisor skills, and, most of all, needs.

Software can be configured to assist with skills-based routing and set up different numbers for different products and services to help route calls.

Software can be configured to assist with skills-based routing and set up different numbers for different products and services to help route calls. This ensures that callers are greeted by the most qualified advisor for the call, in the shortest possible time, no matter where the contact centre’s advisors reside.

Six Innovative Call Routing Strategies to Try

So, now we know what call routing is, its benefits and the software that is needed for call routing, it’s time to start coming up with some call routing strategies.
While we have previously given ten examples of call routing strategies, here are six more innovative solutions.

1. Customer Retention Routing

There is much more in a CRM system than the raw customer data.  Business intelligence about the customer can calculate the risk that the customer might leave (based on their purchasing pattern). When a customer calls, the routing engine taps into the CRM interface.

In addition to the account details, required skills and similar information, a “retention index” could be used.  This has three main purposes.

i. Prioritising the calls and adjusting the routing strategy and messages
ii. Showing a warning to the advisor
iii. Indicating, as a part of analytical reports, whether the current routing strategy is an effective tool in retention

2. Route the Calls to the Last Advisor the Customer Spoke With

Ensuring that calls go through to the right advisor is one of the most crucial functions of a contact centre, as both callers and call handlers can get frustrated when calls are misplaced.

One common criticism is that it is rare for a caller to speak to the same advisor more than once, even though the technology is often in place to facilitate effective call routing. This ensures that follow-up calls are routed back to the original advisor a caller spoke to, creating a much better relationship between customer and business, and quicker resolution of the call.

In a sales environment, it is crucial to build those relationships, especially if a customer with a hot opportunity is calling back to the sales team. Having the call routed directly to the original advisor helps to continue the dialogue and hopefully close the deal.

In a service centre, where there is an element of troubleshooting, it is much more effective in terms of resolution if there is continuity of contact between advisor and caller.

Similarly, in a service centre, where there is an element of troubleshooting, it is much more effective in terms of resolution if there is continuity of contact between advisor and caller, rather than presenting the caller with lots of menu options when they phone.

3. Best Prospect Routing

Best prospect routing allows the best prospective customer to be routed through to the best qualified advisor.  In effect, the best prospect jumps to the front of the queue.

This arrangement seems to work well, but it is easy to get bogged down in detail maintaining it.  Keeping individual skill records for advisors can prove to be quite difficult.  “The problem is that it can end up far more complicated than it is worth,” says Peter Massey from Consultancy firm Budd.

In the future it is possible that workforce management systems could be much more tightly integrated with call routing, which could make this scenario easier to maintain.

4. Cross-Selling in the Queue

Queue messages can be customised to the individual customer.  This means that waiting time can be used as an opportunity to promote a new product or service tailored to the caller.

For one satellite television company, providing pay-per-view content is an important revenue stream. Yet there are a substantial percentage of calls where the customer tries to order a movie using self-service IVR but does not complete the purchase.

The next time this customer calls, they are reminded by the IVR about the movie they previously wanted to order. If the call eventually gets to an advisor, this information is also displayed on the advisor’s screen. In fact, more than half of the callers complete the purchase on this second opportunity.

5. Multichannel Queuing

Multichannel queuing is where call centres have a single resource queue for managing inbound calls, email, webchat or social media messages.

Multichannel queuing is where call centres have a single resource queue for managing inbound calls, email, webchat or social media messages. New work requests are pushed to the next available advisor based on their skill profile.

A good example is NSPCC, where they have transformed ChildLine from a telephone-only service to a true multichannel proposition, where young people can now communicate with counsellors online, via text message and by email.

6. Routing Across the Enterprise, Outside of the Contact Centre

Most call centres only route calls to people within the contact centre.  SIP-based telephone systems now incorporate a facility called “presence”.

Presence allows for the creation of an informal contact centre using experts in the rest of the business.  This can enable those individuals to join the queue, but only when they are at their desks, and it can be particularly useful for specialist situations, such as crisis management.

This concept can readily be developed to create a virtual call centre, where calls are shared across multiple sites, leading to better response times and higher resource utilisation. Good examples are Job Centre Plus and TUI – both of which have been recognised as award-winning operations.

Common Call Routing Mistakes

There are a number of mistakes that contact centres frequently make when it comes to call routing. Three especially common mistakes are discussed below.

1. Creating Lengthy Call Queues

If the call centre has a routing strategy that directs one customer group to just a few specialist advisors, what happens if there is an unexpected surge in calls from this customer group? The answer is too often a lengthy call queue.

If a contact centre has such a call routing strategy it could be worth implementing a call-back option, while customers are in the queue. This will mean that a customer’s place will be held in the queue and they will get a call-back once they have reached the front of it, allowing the customer to get on with their everyday life in the meantime.

2. Not Telling Advisors What to Do if the Customer Selects the Wrong IVR Option

No matter how good the contact centre’s IVR system is, there will be occasions when a customer presses the wrong option. So advisors should ideally be prepared to take the correct information from the customer and pass the call on to the most relevant member of the team.

Advisors should ideally be prepared to take the correct information from the customer and pass the call on to the most relevant member of the team.

Customer frustration can easily grow if they have to start a whole conversation from scratch, when the matter could be easily resolved with a quick “handover”.

However, some skill-based routing software can direct customers to the correct department automatically, removing the transfer issue almost entirely.

3. Having Too Many Sub-Options

Routing calls through the process of long IVR queues can irritate customers. This is particularly the case when contact centres have an IVR option menu that reads up to “Press 9”.

When it comes to presenting options in the IVR, it is important to remember to keep it as simple as possible, trying to make each instruction short  and sharp.

To find out more common call routing issues, read our article: Mistakes to Avoid… Call and Contact Routing

Any other basics that you think we should cover in our guide to call routing?

Please share your thoughts in an email to Call Centre Helper.

Thanks to the contributors who helped supply the information for this article (photographs left to right):

Guillaume Calot at Genesys
Atiq Rehman at Business Systems
Enda Kenneally at West Unified Communications
Artur Michalczyk at NewVoiceMedia
Peter Massey at Budd
Paul Weald at mcx

For more on call routing, read our articles:

Originally published in October 2010. Updated in March 2018.

Published On: 19th Mar 2018 - Last modified: 21st Feb 2019
Read more about - Technology, , , , , ,


2 Comments
  1. Interesting. I’ve written several application gateway interfaces which do something very similar although it’s usually for a completely different reason. Over the years I’ve performed 1,2,4 and 6 although not all on the same systems.

    I believe that item 3 (best prospect routing) is probably better performed as skill-based routing based on the maturity of the relationship rather than on some client-centric metric of sales potential. After all, those who score highest (and thus get seen first) are clearly ALREADY impressed with you enough to buy. Those who score lower are still prospects yet will get dumped time and time again thus reducing their outlook still further and impeding conversion.

    So impressing the impressed by neglecting the cautious may be great for retention but is hardly a balanced approach and isn’t a great way to win new contracts. Better to route the cautious clients/prospects towards your better account-breaking salesmen and the more likely clients towards your senior order takers (with priority towards developing key relationships)

    Item 5 seems, to me, to be a poorly specified idea which could easily increase agent fatigue if not properly managed.

    All of this can be very simply performed using free software and tools without any licensing worries. This is a key point because if you mention the above points to your vendor they will grin widely and charge you heaven and earth.

    I’d have much preferred to see HOW the authors suggest performing these feats rather than just saying how wonderful technology is and then throwing the reader to the various industry sharks.

    As a benchmark, with a free PBX system onsite and a database driven CRM I could have any of the above schemes running within 24 hours at no cost other than time with no extra hardware and with no additional licencing.

    Now THERES an article : )

    -GaryC
    (TheITGuy)

    GaryC 30 Dec at 2:26 pm
  2. How would you best enable the contact centre to deliver on the innovation strategy?

    Zandi 23 Jan at 3:30 pm
Get the latest exciting call centre reports, specialist whitepapers, interesting case-studies and industry events straight to your inbox.