Skills-based routing (SBR) is a process that assigns incoming calls to the most suitable agent in the contact center available at the time. While a variety of call routing strategies can be applied at contact centers, skills-based routing remains one of the most popular. An effective SBR strategy is one that balances the needs of the customer, the organization’s goals, organizational structure, technologies available, agents’ skills, contact channels and other such factors. Before we discuss a few of these areas of consideration, let’s review the reason why SBR is one of the more popular contact routing strategies in use today.

Benefits of Skills-Based Routing

High Customer Satisfaction

Because SBR works by matching customer needs to an agent with the closest matching skills, customer satisfaction indicators such as NPS, first call resolution, and CSAT are frequently high. Callers are able to get their queries resolved quickly because agents speak the same language or are knowledgeable about the products, services or other topics the customer is calling about. Questions and concerns are typically addressed within the first call and without multiple agent transfers for the same reason. All in all, this results in more satisfied customers.

Efficient Contact Center

Well-designed SBR rules can significantly improve efficiencies at contact centers. This is particularly the case when agents have multiple skills, i.e. they are able to support a variety of functions. In such cases, SBR strategies can determine when an agent with the right skill and right level needs to be assigned to a customer. This assignment can be based on past customer interactions as well as agent skills. Another benefit of SBR is that higher value customers can be identified and serviced quickly through high priority queues to bring the most revenue to the organization.

Technological considerations when designing a SBR for your business

The impact of skills-based routing is far reaching in the contact center. When considering the design and implementation of skills-based routing, ensure all impacted technologies are within the scope of the project. Here are some of the key technologies and capabilities that can affect the scope of your SBR process:

ACD (Automatic Call Distributor)

An Automated Call Distributor system is the backbone of a call center. Today, there are hardware-based ACDs and software based ACDs, more commonly referred to as intelligent call routing software. Most major hardware-based ACDs and all software-based ACDs support skills-based routing as a core feature. However, your consideration should not just be whether the ACD supports SBR. You need to look at the finer details of what’s possible in an ACD. For example, a broad range of attributes can be used to build a skill profile of a call. Attributes include product familiarity, language, soft skills needed, lifetime value of the customer, customer satisfaction scores, and more. You should consider what attributes are the most important for your skills-based routing to work well, and whether your ACD supports the use of these attributes.

Many hardware-based ACDs have limitations to the number of attributes they can support. They also have limitations to the number of agent queues they can support. On the other hand, intelligent call routing software is virtually limitless in the attributes and queues one can design and support.

Most hardware-based ACDs require an agent to belong to only one skill group. However, intelligent call routing software supports multiple skill groups where an agent can belong to several groups simultaneously. This makes it easier to create the SBR process knowing that you won’t be forced to create inefficient routing rules just because your ACD doesn’t support multiple agent groups. Furthermore, intelligent call routing software can build individual agent profiles and virtual groups on the fly based on the skill profile requirement of the call.

Compatibility with CRMs is another big area. Hardware and software-based ACDs support out of the box integration with major CRMs such as Salesforce, Microsoft, SAP, etc. However, if you use a niche CRM or even a home-grown CRM, compatibility with your ACD could be limited. This can impact the effectiveness of SBR rules that would have otherwise personalized service to customers. Consider working with a systems integrator familiar with your ACD software to build the integration required to support your desired SBR strategies.

Omni-Channel Contact Center Software

Given that customers contact organizations through a variety of channels, your contact center software may or may not support alternate channels like chat, email and SMS. The consideration here is whether your ACD or contact center software is able to route and receive communication from all of these channels similar to voice. If it is not able to, then your SBR rules will need to be designed to work around such limitations. We will expand on integrating alternate communication channels into your skills-based routing in our future blog post.

Workforce Management Tool

Planning for skills-based routing in a multi-channel, multi-service, and multi-skill environment becomes complicated very quickly. For example, if you have a range of skills across your call center agents, and these agents also support a variety of products, and they also handle multiple channels, then the SBR rules for maximizing agent utilization will need to be very complex. To arrive at these rules, you will need to figure out how to calculate the true capacity of your contact center. The key equation to solve is how to keep agents busy while maintaining your quality of service. Whether you have a dedicated workforce management tool or you use homegrown spreadsheets to manage capacity, you need to ensure it will support your SBR scenarios before you implement them.

IVR (Interactive Voice Response)

An important component to enabling SBR is the IVR. Your IVR is typically the first line of contact with your customers. It can use a variety of authentication routines to establish the identity of the customer, which can then be used to determine products owned, last area of service, last transaction and more. This information can then be used to determine the best course of action to address the customer’s potential needs. The IVR should be able to offer self-service based on qualification and then route the customer to the best skilled agent using the same qualification. This maintains context and leads to a high level of customer satisfaction. If your IVR is not currently able to accurately determine the customer’s need, then your IVR applications may need to be modified or your skills-based routing will need to be downgraded to the level of qualification that your IVR supports.

SBR Business & Process Considerations

Before designing SBR for your organization, there are several key business and operational realities that need to be evaluated to provide the best customer experience. Here are three major aspects to consider:

Policy on Managing Customers

When integrated with a CRM and internal business data, your contact center software has a large number of variables available to determine the priority and hence the service level for a type of customer. For example, the products or services sold to a customer, customer value to the organization and history of customer contacts could all be used to create the skill profile for the call. Determine which attributes will provide a higher impact. For example, using customer value to determine your high value customers and routing them to your senior, most skilled agents may result in a larger retention of those high value customers. Conversely, routing low value customers to less skilled agents lowers the overall cost of supporting those customers. Segmenting your customer base by attribute and then determining your support policy will result in a more successful skills-based routing strategy.

Service Levels

While we would love to satisfy every single customer every single time, the reality is that it would be cost prohibitive to achieve that level of quality of service. So as an organization, you need to decide what service level is acceptable to meet your business’ objectives. Frequently, people look to industry standards to determine appropriate service levels. These industry standards on service level are harder to come by than one might think. Before creating a skills-based routing system, establish acceptable service levels after considering organizational goals, customer needs, employee satisfaction and other critical aspects relevant to your business.

Supported Products & Services

Your organization might have a large variety of products or services that need support. For each of these products, there might be a whole host of sub-services that need to be supported. For example, at a bank’s loans department, there might be a set of services specific to small businesses compared to those pertinent to large enterprises. Each of these services could require a second level of support from knowledgeable workers that sit outside your agent workforce. To design your SBR, you will need to consider how to group agent skills so that agreed upon service levels are met while maximizing the use of your agent workforce before engaging experts outside the contact center.

Workforce Skills & Availability

The third and final area of consideration to creating a highly effective SBR system is knowledge of your agent workforce. If you have a centralized workforce, your routing options will be very different compared to those for a distributed or remote workforce. Similarly, skills, languages spoken, locations (for 24×7 support), outsourced vs in-house agents are all very important aspects of your workforce that need to be understood.

Once the basic attributes of your workforce are known, you will need to incorporate workforce policies into your skills-based routing system. For example, if you have a policy for overtime varied by the type of skilled agent, then your skills-based routing needs to address scenarios where the agents with less common skills may not be readily available because of budget constraints.

Only after such detailed considerations of your workforce will your skills-based routing system find the right balance between efficiency and effectiveness when servicing customers.

Reporting/Measuring performance of Skills-Based Routing

Once you have a SBR system in place, you will need to periodically measure and evaluate areas of the SBR that need to be improved. In order to measure performance, you need to ensure you are collecting the right data to be able to quantify agent performance and customer satisfaction.

Evaluating how well your agents are handling calls is critical to ensuring the best possible customer service experience for your callers, so a reporting suite is essential when implementing SBR. However, there isn’t a single metric that will provide you the full picture of the effectiveness of your SBR. You will need to look at the metrics in conjunction with each other to determine performance. Some key metrics that will provide insight are: Average Handle Time (AHT), First Call Resolution (FCR), Call Center Revenues, Customer Retention Rates, and Agent Utilization Rate.

Virtual queues are often implemented to supplement reporting and gain greater insight into the characteristics of calls in queues. Please see our future blog post on virtual queues.

In summary, skills-based routing can help you establish a perfect balance between efficiency and effectiveness. However, to be successful, you need to carefully consider your technology readiness, your organizational processes, and your workforce’s capabilities before designing a skills-based routing system. Once designed and implemented, regular refinements by measuring performance of your contact center will help you make the most of your skills-based routing system.


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