It’s Time to Tune Up Contact Routing

Improve the customer experience with more effective contact center routing
Illustration by Gina Park

Contact center leaders often express dissatisfaction with their current technology. They think that if they’d just implement some new technology, they’d be primed to achieve their business goals. Yet many centers have substantial opportunities to optimize efficiency and improve the customer experience by getting more out of what they already have.

One of the most impactful ways to improve the agent and customer experience is more effective routing. Many centers have not implemented skills-based routing well if at all. The same can be said of conditional routing. And don’t get me started on prompting: customers’ first impressions of contact centers are often bad ones.

Skills-based routing often gets overlooked under the premise that all agents can handle all calls. On the surface, it seems like a good strategy for maximizing efficiency. In reality, there’s often a steep learning curve before agents are competent and comfortable fielding all kinds of contacts. Moreover, when skills-based routing gets implemented in these settings, it’s often set to deliver calls to these “universal agents” at the same priority. It frustrates customers who experience long hold times only to find that their agents lack the skill level to address their issues.

By contrast, phone prompts can help callers self-select for routing to agents who have been specifically trained to handle their call types. Skills are then added to each agent profile as proficiency develops. Successful implementations call out the more advanced transactions without over-segmenting skills into small, inefficient workgroups. They also ensure each recorded prompt adds value to the customer experience and facilitates the connection with the appropriately skilled agents. If there’s no value add, get rid of the prompt!

All centers should give careful consideration to how data could be used to identify the customer and call purpose based on what you know. It can spare customers the tedium of listening to unnecessarily lengthy prompts. Vendors use terms like “context-based” routing to tout this capability. It’s really just the latest incarnation of data-directed routing, which has been around for over 20 years. It’s time to do it!

The mechanics of “context-based” routing are rather straight-forward. Identify the customer using ANI, IVR-entered account/customer #, or biometrics for advanced centers, and then use available data on the customer, the contact and transaction history, current status, external data, etc. to apply business rules and/or categorization. Then, offer only relevant prompts for the customer’s profile and situation. You may be able to predict the call purpose and route to the most appropriate agent, or offer customized service based on the customer’s relationship with the company. At the very least, you should acknowledge that you know who is calling by personalizing the experience.

Don’t forget omnichannel! While many centers still predominantly handle voice calls, channel diversity and customer expectations put pressure on centers to route contacts properly across all offered channels. Routing tools should be deployed for each media you handle, with associated reporting and metrics. Ideally, routing should be seamless and integrated across channels such that customers can get the same high level of service when they use their channel(s) of choice or switch between them.

To begin, take inventory of your options, develop a plan and pursue smart routing with email, chat and text/SMS. Look for opportunities to extend your “ACD routing” to other media through additional licensing or add-ons. If your CRM is a plausible option for a routing engine (typically for non-voice media), consider how you will integrate across channels. If you use standalone routing tools (e.g., a separate cloud solution for web chat), define plans to integrate or replace.