Intelligent call routing (ICR) is a business telecom innovation designed to increase efficiency of automated call management and improve the customer experience for callers. ICR is today’s state of the art in call routing, offering businesses handling high call volumes incomparable responsiveness, accuracy, speed. In fact, the extraordinary overall efficiency of ICR has made the best manual call handling, and even digital routing systems not capacitated with artificial intelligence obsolete.

Here is a fairly comprehensive overview of what is involved in intelligent routing, including a breakdown of general systems functional features and insights into modes of usage, industry best practices, and a look at comparative call center product and service features and pricing among popular brands of ICR system.

 

What is Intelligent Call Routing?

ICR software technology captures and places incoming phone calls into a sorting queue and then routes each one to the appropriate group or individual agent. The system determines routing priorities based on logic developed by entries of the system owners’ preferred rules and criteria for routing.

The modern ICR system identifies a caller, enables the caller to select options from menus based on the purpose of the call, and then automatically routes the call to the agent or group designated in the specified routing rules and criteria. When the designated call target is unavailable, the system determines the next best alternate for the call type and caller’s specific purpose. The ICR system continues cascading its search through the business’s array of targetable agents and groups until it identifies the most appropriate available agent.

ICR has become a business basic for contact centers and other businesses managing large call volumes. Advanced skill-based ICR functionality evaluates the candidate targets and routes the call to the agent with the most ideal training, highest proven skill level, and strongest track record of handling the particular call type.

There are numerous additional factors assessed by ICR systems in selecting among routing options for each call. For example, in addition to agent profiles, the auto-analysis includes call type priority level, group and individual agent utilization levels, a caller’s previous reasons for calling, the caller’s account status, other caller-specific and agent- and group-based evaluations, and other routing criteria.

 

How Does it Work?

Intelligent call routing utilizes several key data types to determine the solution to the problem of where to send each call for the best possible outcome for the caller, the call center agents, and the company:

  1. Caller Input — The Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system enables callers to input the essential information needed for proper routing. The information provided in this way by the caller during his or her interaction with the ICR system is the most important information for achieving accurate routing.

Examples of input gathered from callers for purposes of call routing include account number, phone number, account status, which department they want to reach, the kind of information they want to obtain or outcome they want to accomplish, etc. The ICR uses this information to route the call based on a combination of factors, including the caller’s intent and/or the company’s priority in dealing with the caller, among others.

The caller can indicate his responses to the ICR system’s questions by speaking his answers into the receiver. Or the caller can press buttons for desired menu selections, in order to execute dual-tone multi-frequency signaling (DTMF). This data gathering allows the system to determine the caller’s intent as well as any restrictions the company may have for the caller, and then route the call accordingly.

  1. Current Caller Data — Electronic data gathering features of ICR software include Automatic Number Identification (ANI), which automatically identifies telephone number from which the call is originated. The data collection tools in the ICR system also include Dialed Number Identification Service (DNIS), which is designed to determine to which department or individual the caller should be directed.
  2. Historical Caller Data — Upon identifying the caller, ICR systems automatically draw details about the caller from the company’s database. Such details can include the customer’s history of purchases, contracts, service programs, account status, customer support history, and certain personal information that can help ensure the caller’s intent is interpreted correctly.

After the ICR system collects the necessary data, it matches the data to the criteria and rules the business has set for sending calls to specific departments, groups, individuals, or recordings of messages on various topics that have been deemed relevant to the caller. For example, if a caller has already called at least once in the same day about an unresolved billing dispute, the ICR system may connect the caller to an available billing support agent who is identified in the system as having the highest level of skill in handling such issues.

Core tools of intelligent call routing systems perform functions that:

  • Gather and interpreting current and historical caller-specific data and input from the caller.
  • Route the call to the appropriate group or individual agent with the skills best suited to provide an effective solution for the caller.
  • Direct the caller to the nearest of the company’s locations of operation, if resolving the customer’s problem necessitates going to an actual store, office, or other physical site.
  • Connect a caller with the same agent he/she previously spoke with, to deliver support service continuity.
  • Provide call center agents with information collected through the ICR system about a callers’ background, enabling agents to generate the highest possible level of customer satisfaction by providing the best possible customer experience as well as the smoothest and best employee experience for agents.
  • Perform data analytics to enable system-users’ understanding of, and more efficient management of call volumes, wait times, call duration, resolution times, FAQs, agent and group performance tracking metrics, and other key factors in the call handling operation’s performance.
  • Integrate with other information systems, such as HR training databases, call center employee scheduling programs and others, to help manage call volume balance across the inbound call center or operations departments of the ICR-enabled company.

 

Pros and Cons of Intelligent Call Routing

Intelligent call routing is at the leading edge of business systems innovations for companies that need to maximize efficiency of high-volume telecommunications. Whatever the size and nature of your business, if your communications systems are frequently over-run and you need increased call-handling capacity, ICR technology offers today’s most cost-effective and functionally streamlined solution.

Of course, as with any approach to business solutions, it’s important to weigh all the considerations in order to make the best decision for your company’s unique needs. There can be both pros and cons in migrating to an intelligent call routing system.

Pros

  • Calling a call center with ICR significantly increases the liklihood that the caller will be connected with the agent best-suited to help fully accomplish his/her purpose of the call and deliver the best customer experience in the process.
  • ICR systems substantially reduce wasted payroll time by eliminating the high frequency of cases in which callers are forced to repeat their explanations of their problem to multiple agents before finally being connected to the person who can actually solve their problem.
  • Customer experience is greatly improved by reducing the amount of the caller’s valuable time that is wasted being transferred from one department to another and repeating the details of their reason(s) for calling to multiple agents before finally reaching the right person for the kind of help they need.
  • Customer service costs are reduced by having an auto-attendant managing call routing in high volume call centers and other business operating environments.
  • Information gathered through the ICR data gathering process enables greater insights into customers’ broader needs and interests, as they relate to the business’s products and services. This advantage increases agents’ abilities to add value to their service interactions with callers, and thereby build relationships that promote the brand.
  • Information provided for agents by ICR systems, such as the caller’s personal record of dealing with customer service, account activity, payment history, and other useful details empower the agent with knowledge that helps reduce potential frustrations for both customer and agent. This promotes employee satisfaction with his/her call center role and with the company.

Cons

  • If data quality problems are significant in a business, an effective ICR system cannot be successful. At minimum, agent and group skill sets and IDs and customer account identifications all need to be as complete as possible. Shared or missing IDs can make attempting to navigate an ICR system a miserable and fruitless experience for callers and agents alike. So, it’s imperative to clean up issues in relevant data prior to migrating to an ICR system.
  • ICR platform integrations can be very time consuming and difficult to perform. Working with IT professionals who are well-experienced in needs analysis for such migrations and in implementation is necessary for identifying and resolving impediments to smooth integration before embarking on your transition to an ICR system.
  • It is easy to become over-reliant on ICR capabilities and allow focus to drift away from other essentials for successful call management. For example, although artificially intelligent call routing improves performance reflected in many important business metrics, it can effectively mask deficiencies in management, training, service culture, and other critical areas of operational structure. Strengthening focus on objectives and goals in these areas after your ICR systems roll out is key.

 

Does My Call Center Need Intelligent Routing?

There are some red flags that mark the need for an ICR system in a business. In busy business operations that are handling high volumes of inbound calls, callers are likely to report one or all of these common problems when attempting to communicate issues to customer service agents:

  1. Excessive time on hold
  2. Multiple department transfers
  3. Difficulty identifying the most qualified agent for handling the specific issue
  4. Excessive time spent trying to make the problem clearly understood

Under such circumstances for callers as those described above, companies very often lose track of the caller’s intent, and customer dissatisfaction rates resulting from frustrations, stress, and unresolved issues grows.

If your customers are frequently experiencing one or more of the above four problems or others when engaging with your business communications system, they, and your team, and your investors may all benefit from implementation of an updated artificially intelligent call routing system.

Providing a modern call routing system can correct severe systemic inefficiencies, such as gross imbalances in agent and group utilization for call handling. An ICR system can also help significantly increase your first call resolution rates while simultaneously reducing your average call time. ICR systems include many functional features that enable and assist agents in maximizing productivity per call, such as:

  • Agent access to customer purchasing and billing account information
  • Agent access to history of customer service interactions
  • Note-writing function for adding comments to a caller’s customer service file
  • Conferencing with an SME, to increase productivity of a call
  • Call-back scheduling feature
  • Supervisor’s monitoring and in-call agent coaching feature
  • Call joining feature, to help ensure a productive call
  • Chat routing and chat management tool sets
  • Insights from first call resolutions and agents with best resolution rates

Naturally, major investment in hiring and training top talent call center agents is a waste, if current and prospective customers are unable to communicate with the right agents and obtain the customer service solutions they need when they call your company. ICR systems have enabled modern companies to leap beyond those old common service problems and focus fully on premium individualized service solutions.

Extreme performance differentials have been exposed between outmoded business communications systems and state-of-the-art ICR call management platforms. It’s not surprising that globally renowned business analytics authorities like McKinsey have predicted, based on their survey results, that over the next years business leaders can expect an increase in skills requirements for call center personnel.

In fact, one McKinsey report reveals that 94% of businesses they surveyed said they expect to need increased skills training for call center agents or will need to hire new agents with updated proficiencies. The McKinsey analysts also have predicted that automated call routing will become an essential component of quality business operations.

 

Top Intelligent Call Routing Solutions

Here is a list of comparative features offered by leading ICR platform providers.

Pricing information for current ICR software systems is normally provided only by direct request to these vendors through their websites, by email, or by phone call.

Pricing is often on a subscription basis or full software program purchase price. Rates are usually based on the unique needs of your business’s comprehensive customer contact operations, as they pertain to the ICR system.

Solution Features
– All-in-one omnichannel solution

– For inbound and outbound calling

– All channels: phone, mobile, chat, email, and others

– AI routing and engagement workflows

– Guidance for agents prior to answering calls

– Adjustable dialing modes, to bypass busy signals and no-answers multiplies talk time for agents

IVR flows for routine caller inquiries frees agents for other interactions

– Management dashboard access to monitoring, analysis, and real-time metrics reporting on call operations performance

– ICR system automatically syncs all caller interactions with CRM

Five9 pricing structure is scalable for increases and decreases in business needs

– Auto routing to agents based on rules and selected criteria

– Self-service bill payments through automated system

– Outbound call engagement of pre-scheduled IVR calls

– Auto notifications to inform callers of call queue status

– Customer Experience management software

– Prioritization and time-sensitive resource matching

– Unique call management approach that auto-adapts to volume fluctuations to prevent 100% exhaustion of resources

– Sophisticated management of high-value non-standard interactions across diverse communications channels and multimedia

8x8 logo – Cloud-based call center solution

– Accommodates small and midsized businesses

– Full-scope solution for comprehensive call center functionality, including voicemail

– Additionally supports media for interactions through email, web call-backs, web chat, and other channels

– Skill-based routing minimizes the number of call transfers by connecting callers with agents who have the appropriate skill set

– Real-time call center operations monitoring

– Historical data access for analyses of ICR performance metrics

– Personal Agent Connect feature enables agents to share direct contact numbers with callers, for follow through on help ticket resolutions. (Helps to build stronger customer relationships.)

– Additional call center functions such as CTI, voice recording, logging, and IVR

Integration with customer relationship management (CRM) and other enterprise software platforms and applications

– Cloud-based call operations solution

– Interactive voice response (IVR)

– Automatic call distribution (ACD) with skills-based routing

– Real-time display of caller name, photo, contact information, purchasing and contact histories all in agent’s browser, enables greater personalization of interaction

– Automated profile creation for new callers

– Automated email generation for missed calls, containing call data, voicemail recording and transcript.

– Call recording and call monitoring

– Real-time caller historical data reporting

– ICR system integrates with numerous customer support platforms

– User support through knowledge base access as well as phone and email contact

twilio logo – Fully programmable web-based call management platform

– Complete system owner control of the call operations

– Omni channel contact platform

– Customizable system user experience

– Caller interaction routing and reporting

– Voicemail, call waiting, call recording

– Cold and warm call transfers

– Call back service

– Outbound dialing

– Answering machine detection

– Internal chat

– Flag for assistance

– Routing configuration and alerts

– Real-time recording transcription

– Reporting, conversation player

– Workforce optimization (WFO)

– Customizable historical reporting

– Keyword spotting

– Integrated data across all channel

– Desktop analytics, marketplace analytics

 

Best Practices for Migration to an ICR System

Migrating from a legacy automatic call distribution (ACD) system to an artificially intelligent routing (ICR) platform is not a process of replicating a similar technological or operational solution. Thinking in terms of maintaining the legacy system functionality to ensure a seamless service transition can be expected to lead to unnecessary difficulties, confusion, and frustrations for callers and call operations management and agents. The best approach is to take the opportunity to upgrade your existing customer experience tools and embrace the process of standing up an optimal system.

For most efficient and minimally painful implementation, employ these fundamental ICR platform migration best practices:

  • First, identify your business goals for the ICR system, and for the improvements to customer experience and agent experience you want to achieve.
  • Segment your customer base, and decide on an appropriate strategy for providing service to each segment. For example, determine what service inclusions you will establish for the higher- value customers, lower-value customers, and for your middle market.
  • Strategize handling processes for all your communications channels to be networked across your integrated ICR platform, instead of managing these as vertical channels, in order to enable a seamless overall customer experience with your brand.
  • Assess the hard and soft skill levels across your call operations workforce. Prioritize the skill sets and proficiency levels necessary to facilitate the quality of customer journeys needed to grow and secure your brand. Identify skills gaps, missing or overpopulated agent roles, training needs, and other areas of needed change in your call operations.
  • Prioritize delivery of the optimum customer experience, and match the ideal agent skills to enable targeting of your most appropriate available resources for each caller. Next, prioritize the best alternative treatment for the same caller profile, and establish desired alternate targets for instances in which conditions for the first tier targeting are not met (due to unavailability of the first-tier agent or group).
  • Generally, call routing priorities should be broadly configured to cause:
  • The top 10 to 20 percent of the highest-value caller interactions are met by the best skilled agent available the majority of the time.
  • Between 60 to 80 percent of all customer interactions through the call operations center have a good customer experience, with minimally increased wait times, and minimally reduced quality service by less skilled agents for a large percentage of your call operations time.
  • The most costly caller interactions, including unusual issues and overflow volume draw from the lowest 5 to 20 percent of your service resources, consume a low percentage of call operations time, and receive sufficient service the majority of the time. Depending on your call operations team performance levels, this may translate into increased training and coaching needs for your lowest skilled agents.

 

Intelligent Call Routing FAQs

1. What are call routing applications?

Routing applications provide directions for handling caller interactions under various conditions. They prioritize various factors among the routing instructions to determine the most ideal agent or group target for routing the call, and they provide contingency routing when the specified ICR system parameters do not permit that action as an option.

A maximum of around ten routing applications, plus subroutines and reusable coding (“objects”) is typically sufficient for a large call operation.

2. What are the essential parts of a call routing application?

  • ICR Source Data — Data for caller interactions in the ICR system can be gathered from multiple sources and may be of various types, such as customer account data, analytical, operational, or contextual data.
  • Agent Skills — Agent’s skills and proficiency levels are registered in the ICR system, to enable the software to readily identify the person with the best combination of necessary skills to make them recognizable by the routing system as the most capable person for handling a given type of interaction with callers.
  • ICR System Logic — The system logic employed designates the method, parameters within, and conditions under which selected routing decisions processes will be applied. The elected logic further determines the platform’s systemic applications of combinatory processes that drive outcomes in automated decisions on call routing.
  • Basic ICR Operating Controls — Operational Parameters enable business communications administrators to utilize essential controls on after-hours automated messages, for example announcing regular business hours, website address, automated bill paying options, etc.
  • Reusable Coding and Data — Various parts of routing software code can be used for multiple configurations within the platform architecture. Such so-called “reusable objects” can be in the form of subroutines, caller interaction data, etc. These objects can be reused in various of an ICR system’s call routing applications, which increases efficiency and serves to streamline the system programming and simplify the ICR systems decisional processes overall.

3. What are the options for methods of Intelligent call routing?

Commonly used methods of Intelligent call routing include the following forms of automated routing.

  • Groups — Based on locations, job descriptions, authority levels, etc.
  • Auto Attendant — Executes callers’ selections from menus.
  • Blended — Sends various types of calls to the same agent, to manage capacity and maintain service levels.
  • Business Purpose — Based on caller needs, handling per account status, etc.
  • Callback Service — System automatically schedules and executes a call back to customer, in lieu of waiting on hold.
  • Cascading — Prioritizes and applies appropriate levels of routing instructions.
  • Hunt — to a specific agent or rolls over to available group member
  • Cross-Channel Routing — Automated routing decisions factor what the caller was doing on other company communications channels, like the mobile app, business website, etc.
  • Default Routing ­— Sends calls to default agent, when route decision-making criteria are unmet.
  • Dynamic Routing — Flexibly routes based on pre-set system conditions and priorities for routing. For examples, the ICR system can switch modes between cascading routing, targeted agent or group expansions, data dips, exceeded timeout thresholds, or can adapt to accommodate emergency or holiday routing changes, etc.
  • Escalating — Sends calls as necessary to higher-skilled agents, or to supervisors.
  • Multimedia — Routes non-voice communications, such as chat, text, email to designated agents.
  • Call Type — Based on the kind of interaction the caller indicates he/she wishes to have with the company, or based on auto-analysis of content in the caller’s chat or email.
  • Interactive Voice Response (IVR) — Routes call in response to caller’s voice responses to the automated system’s prerecorded inquiries or to the menu options the caller selects.
  • Previous Agent — Sends call back to the agent the caller last interacted with, within a limited time window, to reconnect after dropped calls, etc.
  • Call Overflow — Applies set rules regarding conditions for sending calls to alternate queues or groups if primary agent or group is being over-utilized.
  • Call Volume Percentage Allocation — Distributes calls across agent or group queues based on the balance of percentages of the total call volume or on the assigned percentages to be handled for particular individuals or groups.
  • Priority Queue — Based on callers’ indication of their desired interaction types that the system is set to prioritize. Can be modified to prioritize callers waiting in queues longer than callers indicating they’re calling regarding higher-priority subjects,
  • Redirect on No Answer (RONA) — Sends calls to an alternate agent or group when the first designated target call recipient does not answer.
  • Segmentation Routing — Routes call based on caller type, relative potential value that the call may render, or based on any other in a vast range of marketing segment data.
  • Skills-Based Routing — Routes call to the most skilled agent available for the call purpose type, based on the particular skills combination specified in the rules and/or routing criteria.
  • Statistical Routing — Based on routing factors such as skill utilization levels, performance metrics, database searches, current call volume, Estimated Wait Time (EWT), queue depths, and other current operating conditions such as volume surges due to seasonal peaks, special marketing or promotional events, etc.
  • Expanded Target — After the Estimated Wait Time (EWT) limit to reach the most skilled agent is exceeded, calls are routed to the next highest skilled agent, and on to less and less skilled agents until an available one is reached..
  • Voicemail — Sends calls to voicemail during non-business hours.
  • Agent Profile — Based on considerations like training, skills, schedules, available tools, experience with types of interactions, etc.
  • Transfers — Directs calls through transfer to internal or external lines.

4. How many agent skills does a company usually designate?

Depending on the particular industry, the number varies based on each organizations’ unique needs, but typically there are between 20-75 skills per agent, with expert-level agents having high proficiency in as many as ten or even more skills, most agents strongly proficient in a few skills each, and most agents overall having lower levels of proficiency in multiple other skills, sufficient for providing backup during high-volume calling periods.

Of course, changes in skills and proficiency levels must be monitored and modified in ICR system agent and group data. It’s important not to define skills too generally or too granularly, in order to optimize logic of your system’s call routing process. For easier skills modifications over time, you may consider soft-coding the skills or simply referencing the agent skills types as routing logic variables, and either data-dipping into your employee database or executing a look-up in a separate skills table file.

5. Why are the agent skills proficiency level designations useful?

Agent proficiency levels indicate how skilled a call center agent is in handling a particular type of call, in comparison with the other agents. For example, an agent may have level 10 proficiency in communicating with callers whose first language is one other than English and which the agent speaks more fluently than anyone else in the call center.

Accurately establishing proficiency levels in the system helps ensure that callers are connected to the individual agents who are best equipped to help them achieve the purpose of their call.

6. How many cascading routing levels a call operation should set?

The typical number of skill tiers is about three, and a forth level of proficiency is often designated for agents who are specially skilled in managing certain types of emergency calls. Yet an additional tier may be added between levels three and four, for agents with higher degrees of soft skills needed to deliver a premium customer experience, as appropriate in cases identified as fitting for such value-added handling.

7. How should Workforce Management be maintained in call routing?

The majority of calls should be managed by dynamic routing, allowing for expanding agent and group targets, for example, simply to permit calls to be routed to lower skill tiers, as necessary to put each caller in contact with the best skilled agent available to handle the caller’s particular issue.

Of course, such expanded targeting naturally impacts Workforce Management (WFM). Therefore, WFM implications should be factored into routing analyses to determine routing system targeting parameters.

8. What ICR performance metrics should be tracked?

Define your ICR KPIs based on your business goals for your selected ICR solution. Decide how you will measure the success of the system. How will data be organized and what information will be extracted? Which data will be tracked and monitored in real time? Which stakeholders are interested in which data, analyses, trends, insights, etc. Align routing rules and criteria with your ICR performance needs, by associating KPIs with caller interaction data for your various customer segments, revenue channels, service types, etc.

 

Conclusion

Artificially intelligent call routing systems can improve the customer experience and the call operations employee experience while reducing costs of customer support at the same time. A well-designed and properly implemented ICR system can be expected to handle the great majority of your call routing requirement dynamically, seamlessly and expeditiously.

Appropriately prioritizing each communications channel, caller profile, call type, and agent skills type and level — and ensuring clean data sources — will enable configuring your ICR system logic to facilitate the most consistently productive possible interactions between callers and agents. Taking time to ensure that your system set up generates the most appropriate match of callers to resources is the secret to auto-routing calls to the correct queue and boosting first call resolution ratios, customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction rates.

Before and after implementation of your ICR platform, closely monitor call operations performance metrics, to understand the new system’s actual extent of business impact. Keep in mind that seasonal factors, variable market conditions, and the typical ongoing training and process improvements in call operations facilities can make ICR systems performance differentials too difficult to measure precisely.

Nevertheless, with a well-configured and implemented artificially intelligent call routing system, the business benefits inevitably become obvious over time. If that is not your experience as an ICR platform owner or administrator or call operations manager, it may become necessary to conduct an audit of the ICR programming and installation, to understand what corrections are necessary for more ideal routing.

 

Sources: AI Multiple, Five9, Genesys, SoftwareAdvice