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An Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) system improves call center functionality by receiving inbound calls and routing them to the right agent or department. This feature makes communication more efficient, balances agent workloads, and boosts call center metrics.

In this article, I’ll cover everything you should know about automatic call distribution.


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What is Automatic Call Distribution?

Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) is a call center feature that automatically receives inbound calls and routes them to a destination–like an agent, department, or ring group.

ACD is designed to get inbound calls to the right place on the first try. The technology seeks to save time for agents, eliminate extra call transfers, shorten hold times, and increase first call resolution rates.


How Automatic Call Distribution Works

Call distribution works by determining the caller’s identity and reason for calling, finding the available agent best suited to help, and then routing the call to that agent or department.

3 Steps of ACD Transparent Background


Step 1: Identify the Inbound Caller and Their Needs

First, the ACD system identifies the caller using available tools: the Caller ID and phone number, the number dialed, the calling location, and self-service or IVR menu selections.

ACD can identify the caller using several tools:

  • Caller ID: The phone system identifies the caller’s phone number, name, and location.
  • Phone number dialed: Indicates which user or department the caller intends to reach
  • CRM information: CRM systems provide a customer profile with relevant data like recent purchases and interaction history
  • Caller profile and history: If your phone system has a profile for the caller, ACD uses this to determine who they may want to reach
  • IVR menu selections: If you have a self-service IVR or IVA system, the customer’s menu selections provide critical information about their intended destination


Step 2: Determine the Best-Suited Agent or Department

After identifying the inbound caller’s information, the ACD software determines where to route the call–the agent, ring group, or queue that best matches the caller’s needs. ACD considers rules you’ve set like ring sequences, queue wait time limits, business hours, and agent availability.

Cloud-based phone systems use a few tools to help with this:

  • Skills-based routing: Some CCaaS platforms let you score agents on various skills and communication channels. After ACD has determined the caller’s reason for calling, it can route the caller to the agent with the best skills to help.
  • Queues: Create hold queue time limits that encourage the ACD to route a call to queues and agents with more availability
  • Ring orders: Set a custom ring order for all agents or particular departments and ring groups–such as round-robin, sequential, or longest-idle
  • Business hours and availability: ACD considers agent availability and business hours to route the call to an available agent


Step 3: Route Customer Calls to the Appropriate Destination

The ACD system routes the call to the agent or places it in the queue. The inbound call appears on the agent’s screen or in their queue. If you’ve set hold music or a transfer message, these settings take effect before the call reaches the agent.


Types of Call Distribution

Your ACD system’s call distribution strategy depends on the features, service level agreements (SLAs), and rules you have in place. Ring groups, business hours, IVR menus, agent availability, queue wait times, and custom ring orders will affect the ACD’s choices.

Most virtual phone systems and CCaaS solutions offer the following ACD styles:

  • Skills-based: Skills-based routing connects callers to agents according to agent qualifications as they relate to the caller’s issues
  • Fixed order: Also called linear distribution or round robin, fixed order phone calls are routed to agents according to a predetermined agent order
  • Idle time: Calls are routed according to which agent has been idle (has not taken a call) for the longest amount of time
  • Simultaneous: All call center agents within a set ring group are sent the same inbound call at the same time until one agent answers
  • Time-based: Calls are routed according to agent and caller time zones and agent availability. Admins can also set calls to be distributed based on available business hours to avoid returning to a high number of voicemail messages.


Benefits of Automatic Call Distribution

Automatic call distribution leads to faster first-call resolution, improving your customers’ experience and saving time for agents. ACD reduces your queue wait times, balancing workloads between agents.

Additional benefits of ACD:

  • Reduced staffing needs
  • Higher customer satisfaction
  • Improved task-resolution rate
  • Better agent efficiency and productivity
  • Fewer abandoned calls


Essential Features of ACD Systems

Automatic Call Distribution is a routing system with several features and rules, to determine where each call should go. Your call center’s ACD system may use any of the following features:

  • IVR menus
  • Ring groups
  • Call queues
  • Caller ID
  • Task management dashboard
  • CRM integrations


IVR Menus

An interactive voice response (IVR) menu is a custom self-service phone menu that gives customers options for which department to reach. IVR menu choices are vital for an ACD to route callers correctly, especially for call centers with multiple departments and agents.


Ring Groups

Ring groups let you bundle agents and employees into departments, to share inbound call responsibility. When one member receives a call, so does everyone else in the group. Customize the group’s ring sequence–sequential, round robin, longest idle, fixed order, etc.


Call Queues

When an agent or ring group is busy, call queues organize callers in hold queues. The ACD system can route calls to an agent’s queue, or see that a queue has a long wait and route the call elsewhere.


Caller ID

Caller ID and contact profiles identify the inbound caller based on their number. This provides information about the caller’s area code. Advanced phone systems let you build more intricate customer profiles with the caller’s language preferences, company, and journey history. This information helps the ACD choose where to route the call.


Task Management Dashboard

Most call center dashboards automatically include task management features, but you can also integrate your VoIP phone system with ticketing software like Zendesk. These tools receive calls and queries on other channels–like email, SMS, webchat, and social media. The dashboard organizes all of an agent’s tasks, making it easy to manage multichannel workloads.


Third-Party Software Integrations

CRM software integrations enable higher-level customer profiles for more accurate routing. Connecting your CCaaS platform or phone system to a CRM system can populate customer profiles with useful information: recent purchases, recent interactions with your company, and VIP status. These details influence ACD routing choices.


How to Choose an ACD System

There are many options for ACD systems, including call centers and phone systems. When choosing software for your company, it’s important to consider your routing needs, growth plans, and budget. When narrowing down your selection, use free trials and tutorials to get a feel for the product’s setup and user interface.

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how to choose the right ACD system:

  1. Consider your company’s routing needs
  2. Estimate your company’s growth needs
  3. Compare pricing
  4. Compare routing features and channels
  5. Compare integrations
  6. Try free trials, demos, and tutorials


1. Consider Your Company’s Routing Needs

Before comparing software providers, determine the routing features you must have in your ACD system. For example, consider the following:

  • Departments: How many departments does your company have, and how many agents per department? This will affect how many ring groups you need, and if you need single-level or multi-level IVR.
  • Call volume: How many inbound calls do you receive per day? Do you need call queues for overflowed calls, or do you usually have available agents ready to receive calls? This will affect whether you need call queues or not.
  • Reasons for customer support: Why do customers contact you? Is it usually for a few basic needs, or does each customer have specific needs? This will influence if you need skills-based routing or a custom routing order.


2. Estimate Your Company’s Growth Needs

VoIP and call center software support scalability and flexible work structure, like a remote or hybrid environment. Call center software makes it easy to add new users globally without purchasing hardware. Here are a few details to consider:

  • Phone number locations: Consider which country and area code you want for your company’s business numbers. Many providers offer numbers from area codes around the globe, which can expand your business presence.
  • Scaling needs: Estimate how many inbound customer service calls you will receive in the future, and why customers may call. Based on these estimates, determine the number of call groups, queues, and IVR menu options you may need.


3. Compare Pricing

Look for a phone system that fits your budget and customer support needs. VoIP phone systems generally cost less than call centers, and both options offer ACD.

Further, each call center provider offers multiple pricing tiers. Most routing and ACD features come with the most basic tier. If your company mainly wants routing features and doesn’t require other advanced tools, like AI workflows and workforce management, you may save by opting for a VoIP phone system or low-tier contact center plan.


4. Compare Routing Features and Channels

When choosing an ACD system, compare each provider’s routing features and communication channels. Look for a provider that offers the routing features and channels you want, without too many extras that may increase the price.

Prioritize the following features:

  • Essential routing tools: Multi-level IVR, call queues, ring groups, skills-based routing, business hours
  • Communication channels: Find a plan that offers just the channels you want, including options for voice-only, digital-only, or blended call centers.
  • Self-service features: Not just IVR but chatbots and virtual agents, which distribute queries across channels. Some providers bolster their self-service features with advanced capabilities like rich communication services and actions like appointment booking.
  • AI and interactive capabilities: Many high-tier call center plans boost ACD capabilities with AI features like natural language understanding, keyword detection, and machine learning to improve interactivity. While these are not essential routing features, you may find it worth the extra cost to choose a plan that supports them.


5. Compare the Integrations

Each call center provider offers unique software integrations like CRM platforms, UCaaS systems, ticketing services, analytics, and databases. Check the available integrations for each call center you consider, to select an ACD system that can sync with other parts of your software stack.


6. Try Free Trials, Demos, and Tutorials

Call center providers typically offer free trials of at least one week. Before subscribing to a provider, use the free trial period to set up an ACD system. Note the ease of setup for tools like IVR, call queues, and ring groups. Call your phone system to see how smooth the ACD experience is for users.

Use the tutorials on a provider’s website for a quicker view of each ACD system, the setup process, and the interface, find tutorials and demos on the provider’s website.


Best Automatic Call Distribution Software

We've tried several contact center platforms, using each's ACD system to determine which provider offers the best automatic call distribution features. Here are our top picks:

  • RingCentral — Best for call centers and companies just switching to VoIP
  • Talkdesk — Best affordable voice-only or messaging-only call distribution
  • Genesys Cloud CX — Best for advanced customer profiles
  • NICE CXone — Best for intelligent and conversational IVR and chatbots
  • Nextiva — Best for drag-and-drop IVR call flows
  • Five9 — Best for call centers with multiple departments
  • Twilio Flex — Best for customization and software integrations



Nate Reviews RingCentral

RingCentral offers a contact center and a UCaaS platform called RingEX. Both products include advanced IVR and call queueing, but only the contact center includes ACD with skills-based routing automation. Both RingCentral products offer ACD integration capabilities with CRM systems and ticketing platforms.

RingCentral offers a user-friendly and simple interface.



Nate Reviews Talkdesk

Talkdesk is a cloud-based contact center with advanced routing features–including ACD, IVR, call center monitoring, call forwarding across an agent’s devices, and automatic forwarding between agents.

Build a step-by-step routing system, with embedded reporting and ring groups, using Talkdesk’s drag-and-drop ACD designer. The system routes to agents based on customer data, agent skill set, IVR menu choices, and business hours. Call center monitoring includes a live supervisor dashboard with visual displays, plus monitoring and barging tools.


Genesys Cloud CX

Nate Reviews Genesys

Genesys Cloud CX is a contact center platform that offers voice-only, digital-only, and blended plans with voice, email, SMS, webchat, and social messaging apps.

All Genesys pricing plans include an intelligent ACD system that automatically groups agents based on their profiles and assigned proficiencies. Genesys builds in-depth customer profiles with customer journey information, a visual display of recent company interactions, detailed tags, predictive analytics such as the customer’s likelihood to make a purchase, and more.



Nate Reviews NICE

NICE CXone is a CCaaS software that includes VoIP, SMS, webchat, email, social media, and social monitoring to track and respond to your social media presence.

The CXone Automatic Contact Distributor routes omnichannel inbound tasks using a data-based routing engine. CXone includes intelligent self-service chatbots and IVR, plus natural language processing (NLP) that matches customers with the ideal agent based on skills, proficiency levels, customer behavioral profiles, and live analytics.



Nate Reviewing Nextiva

Nextiva offers voice-only and multichannel contact center software with automated workflows and ACD. Build an IVA system that distributes messages, build an IVR, and connect CRM platforms for in-depth customer profiles. Create call-forwarding workflows that automatically route calls to certain agents when certain criteria are met–such as an IVR selection, task completion, or customer action.



Nate Reviews Five9

Five9’s contact center software includes VoIP, SMS, webchat, and email–with an omnichannel routing system, intelligent IVR, and ACD with built-in distribution algorithms.

Set up priority routing, build an IVR system with custom schedules and an intuitive script designer. Route calls by agent skills, caller and agent priority, time of day, and set up queues with an estimated wait time. Five9 includes a built-in contact database, plus CRM integrations. The dashboard is easy for agents to use, with incoming call screen pops for agents to have full contact when they accept a call.


Twilio Flex

Nate Reviews Twilio

Twilio Flex is Twilio’s omnichannel contact center–with VoIP, SMS, WhatsApp, video, Facebook Messenger, and webchat–plus intelligent omnichannel routing, IVR, and advanced analytics.

Twilio TaskRouter is an omnichannel skills-based routing system that considers agent proficiencies, priorities, and workflows before routing each task. Use Twilio Studio’s drag-and-drop designer to build an ACD flow, with custom worker ordering, automatic skipping, task lifecycle management, automatic timeout, automatic callbacks, and more.



Below, we've answered some of the most commonly asked questions about automatic call distribution.