If you’re a call centre agent or perhaps a manager, you’re likely familiar with an ACD system.
It’s the system that routes the caller to their desired destination in just a few steps. This element of customer service is crucial for every business. You want to ensure that the customer gets the help they need as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Some customers are impatient, after all, and rightly so. No one likes the feeling of being kept on hold for hours only to be put through to the wrong person to deal with the issue.
That’s why ACD systems are so widely used, particularly in contact centres. Not only does it cut waiting times, but it also ensures the customer is put through to the best-skilled agent for their concerns.
So, read on to find out more about automatic call distribution and how it works.
What is Automatic Call Distribution (ACD)?
Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) is a software system that allows incoming calls to be diverted to the correct department. This telecommunications technology is programmed to categorise calls based on pre-set options. The calls are then transferred to the appropriate agent to deal with the customer’s query. It may also use DNIS (dialled number information service) to give the agent-customer information upon taking the call.
ACD can be incredibly useful for businesses because it ensures customers are transferred to the right person for the job. Not only this, but it streamlines communication by cutting out any unnecessary transfers where the caller ends up talking to several agents to reach the department they need.
How ACD works
ACD uses pre-set distribution options to direct an inbound call to the right agent. It may also use dialled number identification to identify the caller before they’re put through. So, as a caller, the number you dial and your final destination are two different things. How does it do it? Computer Telephony Integration and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems. Using this technology, it can route the incoming calls to agents.
When you’re using cloud-based software, you don’t even need to be at a desk. Calls can be routed to personal phones in real-time for agents who are working remotely. Which, during COVID times, particularly, may be the case.
An ACD system can also be configured to consider traffic volume at the call time, wait times, and the skills and relevant departments needed to take the call. The routing algorithm can be centred around whatever the call centre managers deem to be most crucial.
Although ACD is different from IVR, they are used in conjunction. The IVR can understand the customer through voice recognition, interpreting the human voice’s tonality and fluctuations. It can then navigate the customer through the menu and respond to the pre-set options to transfer the call.
Tools like those provided by RingCentral are already used by contact centres worldwide. One of the reasons is because it helps them improve customer satisfaction. It uses an IVR self-service system, so often, customers don’t even need to be put through to an agent to solve their issue. This removes the long waiting and hold times and gets them the information they want straight away. What’s more, customers can pay with their credit card through third-party payment gateways, ideal if your business takes payments over the phone.
Here’s a look at how a typical ACD router works:
What is an ACD in a call centre?
Although ACD can be used in various industries, it’s most often associated with call centres. A call centre’s very nature is to take inbound calls and make outbound ones, but it can become overwhelming when calls are coming in fast.
When there’s software available to streamline this process, it’s no wonder regulators and call centre managers to utilise this technology.
The ACD system can help manage calls when:
- The volume of inbound calls is too high.
- There is no receptionist to transfer calls.
- When you want to take out-of-hours inbound calls
- When call centre agents are too busy
ACD features that elevate call centre performance
Here are some important ACD features that elevate call centre performance:
ACD systems are programmed to distribute calls in the best way for your business. So, you may say that IVR will greet all inbound calls from 9-5 pm. From then, out-of-business-hours calls will be transferred to your team in the US, where the time zone is better suited to them. If the caller is routed to an agent but the agent cannot pick up, they can leave a voicemail. That person will then be entered into a scheduled callback system.
If you’ve ever called a company’s contact centre, you’ve probably heard the line ‘calls may be monitored for training purposes’ when in the queue. That’s because calls are monitored to be analysed where necessary. And yes, they can also be used for training future agents. They’re also used to determine customer satisfaction, which is why at the end of some calls, you may be asked to complete a short survey.
Unsurprisingly, the majority of callers don’t want to wait in a queue to reach an agent. They’d much prefer to get a callback. Customers of all kinds have a lot on their plate, and they can’t waste time on the phone trying to sort out their electricity bill or anything else besides.
That means that once an agent is free, they can get back in touch with the customer. So, the customer can get on with their day while they want for the call to be returned, and the agent can continue solving their current customer’s issues.
When lines are overwhelmed or when the working day is over, callers may be sent to voicemail. Here, the ACD records messages ready for the agent to respond to when they’re next on-shift. This reassures the customer that their issue will be addressed in due course. And it means the agent can call the customer back at a time that is convenient for them.
You’ve most likely heard some interesting hold music when waiting to get put through to an operator. Hold music is another opportunity for your company to establish its identity. You can often choose your own music or pick a song from a list of recommendations.
Software like RingCentral allows you to integrate your ACD with your CRM seamlessly. So, your agents are prepared with all the caller information they need when they pick up the phone. Apps like Salesforce being integrated with RingCentral also means that everything is in one place, making it easier for the agent.
Top call distribution methods
Distributing phone calls is all about asset management. What are agents available? Who is best-skilled to take the call? The right routing strategy can ensure your workforce is being utilised in the best way. Here’s a look at some of the top call distribution methods:
1. Skills-based transfers
Skills-based transfers, known as weighted routing, are when calls are assigned to those with the most experience. For instance, a call centre taking complicated calls on behalf of the financial conduct authority (FCA) will direct them to those with greater experience.
If Paul is the most experienced agent in the team, he’ll be assigned 60% of the calls, Rachel will receive 30%, and a trainee will receive 10%. This means that those with the most experience take a larger volume of calls, evenly distributing the calls based solely on skills and experience.
2. Idle-agent distribution
ACD systems have clever functionality to ensure that calls are routed as evenly as possible. The system can establish which agents have had less call-time than most, so they will begin to route more calls their way (where their skills fit the customer’s needs).
3. Fixed order
This is when calls get routed to the agents in a fixed, pre-set order. Each call starts at the top of the list, but it routes to the second operator if that agent doesn’t answer. It does this until someone answers. This can be used in conjunction with weighted distribution, where you prioritise the more experienced agents over those still in training.
4. Time-based routing
Time-based routing is where the ACD system allows agents to set their working hours automatically. This means that it doesn’t call through to an agent who may not answer the phone. It can decrease customer waiting times while ensuring they still get put through to a skilled agent.
Systems that work with ACD
As we’ve touched on, IVR can be used with ACD. This makes the customer experience a smoother one. It’s the technology powering greetings and then giving menu options to the caller to choose from. It doesn’t even require the caller to press any buttons, and it can understand what they’re saying and direct them automatically. An ACD software system usually includes IVR because the two work so well for customer service.
Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) is also used with ACD. This part connects the organisation’s telecoms with the software that allows agents to make and answer calls directly from their computer or telephone. Nowadays, calls come through to a computer screen where analytics and caller information can be pulled simultaneously.
The difference between automatic call distributor systems and IVR
Because they’re often used together, there can be some confusion between automatic call distribution systems and interactive voice response. Here’s a table that shows key differences between them:
For example, an ACD system may use ANI (automatic number identification) to identify customers based on their caller ID and route them directly to the correct department. On the other hand, IVR uses the caller’s information after a series of questions, such as “press 1 for banking, press 2 for an operator”.
Using ACD in your business’s call centre
You may already be using an ACD system in your business, but perhaps you’re ready to upgrade to one with some more useful features. Whether you’re an authorised corporate director or call centre owner, RingCentral is an all-in-one tool that integrates your most useful tools into one, simple place.
From here, you can access many features, from call analytics to intelligent routing. This omnichannel solution is perfect for those who respond to customers by phone, email, messaging, or even social media.
Originally published Mar 03, 2021, updated Feb 12, 2024