Skills-based routing (SBR) is a process that assigns incoming calls to the most suitable agent in the contact center available at the time. Designing an efficient and effective SBR requires careful consideration of technology, business processes, and workforce characteristics.


SBR in the Multi-channel Contact Center

When skills-based routing was first created as a routing strategy, a majority of contacts were taking place over the phone. Fast forward 15 years, and customers now use several channels in addition to the phone to communicate with companies. According to McKinsey & Company, “the number of digital touchpoints is increasing by 20 percent annually.” That said, the phone continues to be a major channel for customer interaction. So the challenge many companies now face is the ability to interact with customers across multiple channels while maintaining the same or similar service levels, customer satisfaction scores, and contact center performance metrics.

With technologies such as Genesys’ Pure Engage platform, it is possible to route interactions from all these channels to the same contact center. So in theory, the same agents that service customers over the phone are technically able to interact with them over email, chat, SMS, and social media. However, extending SBR into new channels is more complex than it appears on the surface. There are business, technology, and human aspects that need to be considered. Let’s review the key areas to evaluate before extending SBR to cover all your interaction channels.

Channel Characteristics

As much as customers use channels interchangeably, the characteristics of these channels and hence the expectations of customers using them vary. For example, phone and chat are “immediate response” contact channels where customers expect a response in real time. As a result, the service level for these channels is high (e.g. 90/30), and time-related metrics such as AHT and ASA are closely monitored. On the other hand, channels such as email and SMS are “deferred response” channels where responses can be sent several minutes/hours after first contact, and standard performance metrics don’t directly apply. Yet others such as social media require an immediate response, but support deferred action.

Blending channels that require an immediate response with those that don’t create a complex challenge for meeting service levels, forecasting, scheduling and measuring performance. For example, consider an agent that is helping a customer but is waiting on an action from the customer. This agent can respond to customer emails during this time. But the same agent might struggle with engaging another customer on chat at the same time. So the decision to combine channels or handle them separately is an important consideration for effective SBR.


Agent Characteristics

Agent skills are a critical component of skills-based routing.  Voice channel agents are commonly rated for their hard skills such as knowledge of a given line of business. SMS and email demand other hard skills such as writing skills including proper grammar and word usage, spelling, and punctuation. The decision to use agents across channels also depends on their soft skills. Soft skills include being empathetic, precise, understanding social cues, and having clarity of tone/voice. Based on their level of soft or hard skills, agents may be better suited for answering sales calls vs support calls, or would be more successful handling voiceless exchanges via chat, email or SMS.

Soft and hard skills should be scored in the order of importance for a given channel. This will help the routing software that uses such scores build agent pools which contain the best available agents for the contact interaction.

Omnichannel Experience

A successful omnichannel experience is dependent on a contact center’s ability to support a seamless experience for the customer regardless of the channel or channels the customer interacts on. This seamless experience is dependent on three things: 1) transferring the customer’s context from one channel to another, 2) cross-channel authentication, and 3) providing customer service at the same quality across these channels.

To ensure a good customer experience in a skills-based routing environment, one needs to ensure that the facts (context and authentication) and the quality of service (skills of agents handling the customer across channels) do not degrade throughout the experience.

An ideal scenario calls for integration of all internal systems, which supports seamless authentication and transfer of context from one channel to the next. In reality however, integration across channels and systems isn’t always a given, and hence transferring information may require manual intervention of agents. In such cases, the SBR designer will need to consider whether the cost of simulating a true omnichannel experience for the customer is worth the additional complexity in SBR rules and the resulting degradation of agent utilization rates.

Blended Agent Pools vs Specialized Agent Groups

A blended agent pool is one in which contacts from different channels, inbound, outbound, chat, email, etc., are routed to the same agent pool. Only the smallest of contact centers would actually have all channel types flowing into one agent pool.  Most contact centers may combine two or more channels into a single pool of agents. From a staffing perspective, the advantage of a blended contact center is the significant reduction in scheduling and forecasting efforts for a single pool used to service all contacts. The other advantage (or disadvantage depending on your view) is that the service level is the same across all contacts and priorities. There are also certain challenges to consider with a blended agent pool model. If the agent pool is constructed of the top agents, then the opportunity for knowledge transfer and training become limited. With the increase in scope of expertise and channels serviced, the likelihood of errors increases, and there could be an impact on quality of service. In addition, the ability of agents to balance a multitude of channels and types of contact has a human limit, and needs to be considered when evaluating blended pools.

Using specialized agent groups to handle specific sets of channels or contact types can significantly increase service levels. They work best when the service levels or priorities across channels, contact types, and other business groupings vary significantly. However, using specialized groups can increase forecasting and scheduling processes, resulting in a lower forecast accuracy compared to blended pools.

With the move to incorporate additional channels into your contact center, the decision to use a blended pool or specialized agent group becomes a significant one that can require a major overhaul of your SBR. While there is no right answer, you will need to decide what best meets your operational requirements and the take the appropriate action to update your SBR.


Workforce Management

Forecasting errors and scheduling challenges can create unintended consequences when adding channels to a skills-based routing environment. Consider investing in a workforce management tool that can address omnichannel forecasting for specialized agent groups as well as for virtual agent groups.


Other Factors influencing SBR

In addition to the ones discussed above, here are a few other notable considerations when deciding to add channels to your existing skills-based contact center:

  1. Modification of agent performance metrics (e.g. AHT, agent utilization rate) to account for a mix of immediate and deferred channels
  2. Establishing new metrics to measure performance across channels (e.g. omnichannel FCR, omnichannel customer satisfaction)
  3. Types of interactions that should be supported on new channels (e.g. sales, service, authentication, etc.)
  4. Determining whether changes in available agent bandwidth is required (Does adding new channels increase, reduce, or replace existing workload?)

In summary, skills-based routing for the multi-channel environment needs to be carefully designed and implemented. The ability of agents to support channels, your contact center’s technical readiness, the level of omnichannel experience needed, the accuracy of forecasting desired, and the metrics needed to measure effectiveness of your SBR need to be well thought through.


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