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by Daniel Harris,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: September 3, 2016

Most callers don’t like being placed in a queue, but consider the alternative: to simply let them wait indefinitely on hold. Most of us can guess what the outcome of that strategy will be.

Moreover, if the call is placed to one of your business’s main numbers rather than an employee’s dedicated number, how will you ensure that the call on hold is answered by one of your available employees?

Automatic call distribution is a capability both of integrated call center suites and standard business phone systems that solves these problems by enabling call queueing and rules for routing calls from the queue to your employees.

We’ll answer the following questions you might have about automatic call distribution:

What is an Automatic Call Distribution System?
Which Kinds of Systems Offer ACD?
Common Functionality of Automatic Call Distribution Software
What Type of Buyer Are You?

What is an Automatic Call Distribution System?

Essentially, a phone system or call center system with ACD capabilities parks incoming calls in a "call queue" and then routes them to call center agents or employees as they become available.

This ensures that calls get answered in the order that they come in, minimizing the time that callers wait on hold.

Moreover, because calls are routed to available personnel instead of being blindly routed to a line regardless of whether someone is there to answer, ACD ensures that your business answers far more calls.

Which Kinds of Systems Offer ACD?

Without ACD, you don’t have the option of call queueing—all callers will have to wait on hold. Because of this, ACD is used in nearly any business with a main company number or a toll-free number answered by multiple employees.

ACD is included in nearly all business phone systems, except for the most basic and stripped-down small business offerings on the market.

Call centers, in which large groups of agents spend long shifts answering inbound calls, have specialized ACD requirements. Thus, call center suites offer far more advanced ACD capabilities than most business phone systems, particularly when it comes to call routing.

Let’s take a look now at some of the specific features of advanced ACD systems.

Common Functionality of Automatic Call Distribution Software

A queue dashboard in 8x8 tracks metrics for calls in various queues (highlighted in red)

The core functionality of an advanced ACD system is to route calls based on pre-defined rules, whereas simpler ACD systems merely route the caller who’s waited the longest to the first available employee.

One common form of ACD used in call centers. With skills-based routing in place, call center agents are first assigned to groups based on skills (e.g., a sales team, a billing support team, a technical support team etc.). When a caller selects that they need “sales” or “support” in the system’s menu, the call is then routed to the right team, instead of just being sent to the first available agent in any team.

How ACD Directs Incoming Calls

Even more advanced systems are capable of routing calls based on algorithms that factor in historical data collected by the call center system. For instance, calls can be routed to the best-performing agents (as determined by historical metrics), or to the agent who’s been waiting the longest between calls if multiple agents are available.

Factors used to route calls can include:

  • The number the caller dialed
  • Caller selections within the company’s interactive voice response (IVR) system
  • Caller profile data stored in the company’s CRM or call center system
  • Agent skills
  • Agent idle time
  • Agent performance metrics
  • Caller ID data
  • Geographical information
  • Time of day or day of week

Call center ACD systems also offer advanced options when it comes to reporting and queueing, such as:

Usage data capture Allows users to gather data such as the number of incoming and outgoing calls, average time on call, average wait time and more. This information can be analyzed for reporting and used to populate agent scorecards.
Virtual queueing Allows callers to avoid waiting on hold by entering their numbers to receive a callback when it’s their turn. This reduces customer frustration and wait times.
Differentiated call queues ACD software users can create multiple call queues and have the ability to transfer callers between them. For example, a company may create one queue for support and one for sales, then transfer callers based on the purpose of their calls.

Virtual queueing, also known as callback, offers a dramatically improved waiting experience for callers, as we explain in our report on the subject. However, it’s still far from being a universally included feature in ACD modules, so make sure to mention it in your Request for Information (RFI).

What Type of Buyer Are You?

At the very least, most businesses are going to need basic ACD. Thankfully, the ability to create call queues is a nearly universal feature in business phone systems.

The need for an advanced ACD system depends on a company’s volume of calls and whether those calls need to be routed in a specific way. Almost all buyers of advanced ACD solutions are call centers.

Here are some specific recommendations about the kinds of ACD capabilities that different businesses will need:

Small businesses with fewer than 10 employees needing to place calls in queues can simply use a small business phone system. Small business systems generally offer ACD or at least “hunt groups,” i.e. the capability to group lines together so that multiple lines ring at once for a single inbound call.

Very small call centers can get by with basic hunt groups rather than advanced ACD by using a “round-robin” approach. In this routing scheme, calls are delivered sequentially to different employees. For instance, once employee A’s line rings, the next call is sent to employee B, then C etc.

Alternatively, some small call centers send calls to all agents at once, on the assumption that competition over who gets to answer is a motivating factor.

Call centers fielding a high volume of calls should implement an ACD system to manage a queue and distribute calls based on time-on-hold, caller data, agent skills and more.

Outbound and inbound call centers with an IVR should use an ACD to route calls. Outbound campaigns utilizing IVR menus require that you have ACD in place in order to properly route calls based on recipients’ IVR selections.

Complex sales and support teams that need calls to be routed to various departments should use an ACD’s skills-based routing capabilities.

Virtually all of the call center systems listed on Software Advice offer an ACD system, in addition to the standard business phone systems we list. Explore our product profiles to find the solution that works best for your needs.

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