The bigger a company is, the more complex the logistics. When a company grows to a point when incoming phone calls can overwhelm staff and force critical employees to take on the task of fielding routine inquiries or support calls from customers or clients, then productivity drops. In some cases, it can drop to the point where the entire company and its mission become lost in simply handling the influx. That’s where automatic call distribution comes into play.

An automatic call distributor also referred to as ACD, is a software system designed to integrate with the existing telephony system and answer calls and route them to the appropriate agents or departments who can best handle them.

When you call into a large company today, you are typically met with an automated greeting. You are then asked to enter a specific number (extension) based on the reason for your call. From there, depending on the size of the company and complexity of its systems, you may then be directed to provide a bit more information so your call can be handled most accurately by the right personnel. That is the essence of automatic call distribution.

Most automated call distribution systems work with what is called a Computer Telephony Integration system, or CTI, as well as an IVR, or Interactive Voice Response program. Together these work to route calls appropriately to the proper individuals, thus creating a more positive customer experience.

This entire integrated system allows a company to better manage incoming calls from many different callers on a regular basis. It effectively streamlines the communication process between customer and company representatives, but it could also be used for other callers, such as remote workers, partners, suppliers, and so on.

What is the function of automated call distribution?

In short, the function and purpose of automated call distribution is to enhance the customer experience and provide a streamlined communication process. Far too often with traditional incoming phone calls for larger businesses, a customer could get frustrated having to repeat the purpose of their call, explaining their need, to one representative after another.

Team members are trained in specific protocols and have limited knowledge and understanding about much of what the company does, offers, or provides. They can’t possibly answer every type of call that comes in.

Instead of having a representative attempt to field calls, thus consuming valuable human resources and time, the automated call distributor acts as the fielding agent. Even though it is an automated system, it will be programmed by the company (or service provider who will work closely with company reps to determine the best questions and answers to properly route calls for almost every conceivable topic a customer may have) and therefore have a high level of responsiveness and accuracy.

There are many ways that incoming calls can be routed. The most common and traditional method was to provide a direct telephone number or extension for a department. For example, a smaller business may have a dedicated phone number or extension for the technical department. A customer who needs technical assistance would dial that number or enter the extension upon a simple prompt (“If you know your party’s extension, you may dial it at any time”).

This is a rudimentary example of an automated call distributor. However, with more integration and even with the advancement of AI (artificial intelligence), the incoming calls can reduce the burden on the customer to find out the number or extension themselves.

What is the difference between IVR and ACD?

Our previous example of a customer calling in and pressing a certain designated button (or combination of numbers) to enter an extension would be more connected to IVR. Interactive Voice Response is a telephony system that allows callers to enter information using the dial pad of their phone (the digits) to identify their need, who they are trying to reach, and help connect them to the right department.

But an IVR is much more than just allowing the use of extensions. It allows you to record messages callers would hear once connected to the system. These recordings could be simple, such as ‘Press 1 for sales, 2 for tech support,’ and so forth. But again, it goes well beyond just the basics.

You can pre-record a whole series of responses and questions based on what information the caller enters at the appropriate times. It can almost feel as though they are being responded to by an actual person listening to their issue or purpose of the call. In essence, that’s because in a roundabout way, they are.

Many IVR software programs will allow you to either record the messages yourself or use automated messages the service provides for you. You may not be comfortable speaking or think your voice is not polished or professional sounding enough, and in that case, the solutions allow you to maintain that air of professionalism you desire.

IVR allows a company to prioritize calls based on value. Not all callers or customers have the same value to a company. While that may sound a bit harsh to the undisciplined, it’s a reality for many companies. This concept follows the Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule.

With this rule, it essentially stipulates that 80 percent of a company’s human resources and customer support times and efforts are focused on 20 percent of callers. But, at the same time, it also contends that those 20 percent don’t generate the most revenue. In fact, it’s the 20 percent of customers who don’t call in much at all, if ever, that generate 80 percent of revenue. And that’s where companies want to focus their customer support efforts more. With IVR and ACD, it becomes not only possible to do that, but more streamlined and efficient.

What options are available with automated call distribution?

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There are numerous options available within an automated call distribution system. The most common include simultaneous distribution, linear distribution, circular distribution, weighted distribution, and uniform distribution.

To break these down:

Simultaneous distribution refers to the most common form: first come, first served. The available agent will answer the calls in the order they are received. This is highly common with general support phone numbers for larger companies. When a customer has a question about nearly any topic, they are routed into a queue and have to wait for their turn.

Linear distribution moves callers to the next available agent. This may not always be practical because the ‘next available agent’ might not have the expertise to handle the incoming call.

Circular distribution essentially refers to a round-robin form of call distribution where the call is moved to the next agent on a list, regardless of what other agents may currently be available or not actively fielding calls.

Weighted distribution focuses on moving workloads around based on what current agents are handling. For example, if one agent has been carrying the bulk of call weight for an hour, while other agents have been relatively idle, for whatever reason, the system would begin moving new incoming calls to the ones who haven’t been fielding many calls. This can help reduce some of the workload of overtaxed agents.

Uniform distribution will consider the agents who have been in the waiting queue the longest, shifting calls to them so that customers get served as quickly as possible.

There are also a number of other options an ACD system offers, including call forwarding, which could be critical for some key executives who do not want to miss important callers.

With ACD, a company can also identify VIP callers based on certain information input into the system during the call or by identifying a previously saved phone number. For example, if a VIP customer calls in and the company has saved their phone number into the system, they could be routed to a direct agent, someone who is equipped and ready to handle their call promptly. This is a great asset for companies looking to improve their customer service and support for those considered high asset targets.

Why do companies use automated phone systems?

Companies use automated phone systems for the express purpose of not only streamlining the fielding of calls from customers but to also improve customer support and service. When customers feel that they can reach the department or personnel they need in a timely manner without having to jump through hoops and hurdles or explain themselves time and time again to different agents, it has a direct and positive influence on how they perceive the company.

When customers perceive that a company actually cares about them and their needs, they are far more likely to continue conducting business with that company in the future.

How much does it cost to use an automated phone system?

The cost of utilizing an automated phone system depends on numerous factors. The number of extensions, departments, or even the anticipated number of incoming calls can have a direct impact on the overall cost.

For larger businesses or even small businesses that can get overwhelmed with incoming calls and want to improve their customer relationship as well as not lose messages or miss calls from important clients, ACD is worth the investment. And it is a good idea to think of an automated phone system as precisely that: an investment.

It will enhance customer service and create a more positive, robust customer support experience.

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