There’s nothing more frustrating than having your call put on hold and then listening to perpetual elevator music without ever knowing whether your query is going to be resolved. Savvy business owners understand this about their customers, which is why they put effective call routing strategies in place.

Also known as an Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) system, call routing is where live customer calls are placed in a queue and then directed to the appropriate advisor or department, based on a set of pre-determined rules or certain criteria. These rules can be based on various factors, from the reason for the customer’s call to the behaviour of the customer or agent to the amount of time the caller has been on hold.

Deciding which call routing strategy is best for your business depends on how established and complicated your customer contact system is. However, your aim should always be to reduce hold times, reduce transfers to multiple agents, resolve queries and improve the overall experience for your customer.

When determining which routing strategy — or strategies — to implement, some questions to ask yourself are: “What skills do my agents have and how best can I utilise them?”, “Where are my agents based?” and “What is the maximum hold time I’m prepared for my customers to have to wait?”. In this article, we’ll take you through some of the best call routing strategies, so you can decide which one is best for your business. 

Some of the best call routing strategies for businesses are least occupied routing, skills-based routing, data-directed routing, service-level routing and business rules routing.

Other effective call routing strategies include location-based routing, value-based routing, round robin routing, outbound routing and direct routing.

Continue reading to find out more about each of these, as well as how call routing works and what its benefits are.

Call routing usually works via your customers’ interaction with your Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. The caller will be asked a specific question, and their answer will determine who they need to speak to. For example, if a customer calls their insurance company and they want to renew their policy, they’ll be put through to the renewals or sales team, or if they want to report an incident, they’ll be put through to the claims team.

Once the caller has made their selection from the options given by your pre-recorded menu (by either speaking out loud or pressing a number on their phone’s keypad), they will be placed in a queue based on their responses. They will then wait in the relevant queue until an advisor is available to take their call. The agent who deals with the query will be able to access specific parts of the customer’s account, depending on which department they’re in, in order to deal with the query as quickly and effectively as possible.

There are many advantages of call routing for both callers and advisors. Some of these are:

  • Faster resolution
  • Fewer missed calls and voicemails
  • Improved customer satisfaction
  • Improved employee workflow
  • More balanced employee workload
  • Reduced call abandonment rate
  • Reduced hold times
  • VIP client prioritisation

There’s a wide variety of effective call routing strategies to choose from, but, as already stated, which one is best for your business depends on the individual circumstances and needs of your organisation. You may even want to use a combination of routing strategies. To help you decide, here’s some more information on the ten best call routing strategies mentioned above. Each of the below can be implemented to ensure your customers’ queries are answered quickly and effectively and stop your agents from feeling overwhelmed.

1. Least occupied routing

Sometimes called “most idle routing”, this strategy connects an inbound call to the agent who has had the least talk time or the fewest number of calls that day.

Least occupied routing is particularly beneficial for preventing some advisors from being overwhelmed with calls, while others do nothing. It ensures that the workload between advisors is fair and is most effective in customer service and support departments. 

On the other hand, it may not be making the most of the advisor’s time. An advisor who isn’t as specialised won’t be able to answer a caller’s query as sufficiently, while specialised agents could receive more basic calls that could have been answered by a less-specialised agent.

2. Skills-based routing 

Unlike least occupied routing, skills-based routing connects the caller with the agent whose particular skillset can help them the best.

It works by assessing each agent’s strengths and scoring them so that callers with a specific query can be connected to the member of staff who’s best equipped to assist them. An example of this would be connecting an international caller to an advisor who can speak their language.

The good thing about this routing strategy is that it saves both the agent and the caller time. Queries can be resolved more quickly, meaning that hold times are reduced as agents are freed up faster and customer satisfaction is increased.

The downside is that in smaller call centres, it prevents unspecialised advisors from learning new skills.

3. Data-directed routing 

Also referred to as “smart routing”, this strategy uses the caller’s personal or account details to direct them to the most appropriate agent. If, for example, a credit card customer whose account is overdue is calling with a general enquiry, they will first be directed to the collections department. Or, if a caller is identified as a VIP, they will be directed to a specialised advisor. Other examples include new customers being put straight through to the sales department and returning callers being routed to the agent they last spoke to.

Data-directed routing limits transfer times, prevents callers from choosing an incorrect option on an IVR and connects customers to an agent who is best equipped to resolve their problem. However, making assumptions about the reasons for a customer’s call is risky. It can be frustrating for a caller to be automatically directed to a department they don’t wish to be connected to. 

4. Service-level routing

This routing strategy takes both agent skills and hold times into account to provide the best customer experience. 

While skills-based routing relies on an advisor having the necessary skills to resolve a particular query, dynamic routing directs calls according to wait times. Service-level routing is a combination of the two.

If a call to an agent with a specific skill isn’t answered in time, a ‘reserve’ agent is pulled into the queue to handle the query, therefore keeping hold times down.

5. Business rules routing 

Business rules routing is based on specific business objectives and customer satisfaction. It ensures that callers are connected to the most suitable agent, depending on the relationship they have with your company. 

For example, returning callers can have the option to speak to the agent they spoke to previously and high-value customers can be directed straight to specialist advisors. These advisors are the ones who consistently receive positive feedback from callers, meaning customers who have given low satisfaction scores can also be connected to specialist advisors in order to improve ratings.

6. Location-based routing 

Like time-based routing, location-based routing — or geographic routing — uses a caller’s telephone number to identify their location and then routes the call to the advisor or department that’s the closest (or in the same time zone).

The benefits of this routing strategy are that there are no language barriers and calls can be directed to an advisor with shared local knowledge, both of which increase customer satisfaction.

It can be expensive, though, which is why many call centres outsource to foreign countries, where labour is cheaper.

7. Value-based routing 

As with data-directed routing, this type of routing strategy directs the caller to the most appropriate advisor or department by using their account details.

However, where they are directed is based on value or revenue. For example, with a value-based routing strategy, a customer whose contract is due for renewal will be routed straight to the retention team. Or a customer with an outstanding balance who calls a credit card company will be sent to the loans team in an effort to up-sell.

8. Round robin routing 

This call routing strategy is used to distribute calls evenly among advisors. If, for example, one agent takes the first call, another will take the second call, another will take the third and so on. This is to prevent one particular agent from being first in line to answer every call, as with some other routing strategies, such as sequential routing (also called “fixed order routing”). This strategy requires a specific agent to be the first to answer calls over a specific period of time, with other agents only taking the calls if the first is busy or chooses to send a call to them.

9. Outbound routing 

Routing decisions don’t always need to be restricted to incoming calls. While traditional metrics such as average hold times are still an important consideration, many businesses are now also interested in newer measurements, such as tracking how many of their customers would recommend the service they have received. For example, outbound routing allows an organisation like a mortgage lender to send a text message to a customer as soon as their application has been approved, making it more likely that the customer will recommend their services to others.

10. Direct routing 

This is the most basic call routing strategy, meaning it’s most popular with businesses that are just starting out.

With direct routing, multiple phone numbers are used by a business, so that callers who want to speak to the sales department call one number and those who want to speak to the claims department call another. If the line is busy, the customer has to just wait until their call is answered by the next available advisor.

This is not the best strategy for medium to large businesses, as having too many phone numbers confuses customers and can mean long wait times, which increases call abandonment rate.

If you’re thinking about implementing an effective call routing strategy for your business, you might find the following tips useful:

  • Consider hiring additional advisors during busy periods
  • Conduct customer research by reviewing customer feedback and your contact system KPIs
  • Create call groups to enable multiple agents in a group to answer an incoming call
  • Ensure your pre-recorded IVR prompts are brief
  • Give callers the option of an automated callback
  • Give callers who are on hold estimated wait times and updates on their position in the queue
  • Invest in software that enables advisors to keep and access customer information, so callers don’t have to repeat themselves
  • Monitor agent efficiency by recording calls and reviewing them
  • Provide language-based routing options
  • Publish weekly call data reports to check that you’re hitting your targets
  • Take advantage of other software features, such as call forwarding, shared voicemail inboxes and simultaneous ringing

Call routing is where live customer calls are placed in a queue and then directed to the appropriate advisor or department, based on a set of pre-determined rules or certain criteria, known as call routing strategies. Some of the best call routing strategies for businesses are least occupied routing, skills-based routing, data-directed routing, service-level routing, business rules routing, location-based routing, value-based routing, round robin routing, outbound routing and direct routing.

Some of the advantages of call routing are: Faster resolution, meaning reduced hold times, reduced call abandonment rate and improved customer satisfaction and a more balanced employee workload. 

If you’re thinking about implementing an effective call routing strategy, some tips to help you do so include hiring additional advisors during busy periods, ensuring your pre-recorded IVR prompts are brief, giving callers who are on hold estimated wait times and updates on their position in the queue and publishing weekly call data reports to check that you’re hitting your targets.