Callers want solutions when they call a contact center—either through IVR self-service or a quick connection to an agent who can help.
But in the name of call containment and cost-reduction, many brands and businesses have turned their IVRs into telephony fortresses callers must navigate before getting the help they need.
And consumers are frustrated.
A survey by Vonage found that over half of consumers believe an IVR “makes for a poor customer experience,” and participants rated the following as the most frustrating aspects of an IVR:
The reason for calling isn’t explicitly listed (65%)
Irrelevant menu options (64%)
Inability to connect with a live person (55%)
Menus are too long (46%)
Waste of time (34%)
In a customer-centric marketplace, poorly programmed IVRs can lead to customer churn and lost revenue, even before a caller has a chance to speak with an agent.
If your contact center is wrestling with frustrated callers and abandoned calls, you might need to evaluate your IVR. Intelligent IVR and call routing methods should enhance the customer experience, not hinder it—providing effective deflection when possible and quick escalation when necessary.
What’s the difference between call routing and IVR?
It’s a bit of a square-and-rectangle relationship between call routing and IVR (Interactive Voice Response). Of course, call routing used to consist of just an operator and a switchboard. Now, IVRs have become the standard for directing calls to the right person, department, or even information.
But IVRs are being replaced by IVAs (Intelligent Virtual Assistant) that, powered by Natural Language Understanding (NLU), can take a customer’s voice input and offer relevant routing options based on its interpretation of the speaker’s intent.
But call routing has a few more factors to it than just connecting the caller to the right department. This is also where virtual queueing comes in, where, after choosing a callback via an IVR interaction, the call may be routed into a virtual queue that exists alongside the ACD or CCaaS queueing the rest of the calls.
So while an IVR is your typical phone tree menu with pre-recorded prompts, call routing is everything in and around the call getting from point A to point B (which may include a brush with the IVR).
But first: the best call routing begins online.
Today’s customers start their support journey online. They browse websites, scour FAQ pages, interact with chatbots, and look for other self-service opportunities. But when they transition from a digital to a voice channel, they have to restart their support journey, and brands lose all that valuable tracking information.
To bypass this, brands can place a digital call scheduling (or click-to-call) widget on their website or mobile app to catch customers in their online journey and seamlessly transition them to a voice channel without putting them through an IVR or losing their context.
For example, say a customer is searching for information about a warranty but is coming up short finding an answer. Rather than search for an 800 number, a click-to-call widget allows customers to input their contact information, use programmable dropdown menus and form fields to identify what they need help with, and choose between receiving a call from the next available agent or at a later time—all right from the webpage or app they’re currently on.
This modern call routing function holds tremendous benefits for contact centers, including:
Reduced cost-to-resolution: Customers can skip picking up the phone, navigating the IVR, or waiting on hold to speak with an agent—all reducing telephony costs.
Better workforce management: Call scheduling helps distribute call volume throughout the day and week—smoothing out peak call times in the contact center and enabling better staff forecasting
Stronger customer service: When agents know whom they’re talking to, why they’re calling, and where they’ve been in their support journey (such as webpage visits or chat logs), they have more confidence interacting with a caller and providing the right solutions.
When customers can bypass the IVR, skip waiting on hold, and get routed to the department that can best answer their questions, customer satisfaction scores soar—making click-to-call routing one of the most efficient routing methods available to contact centers.
Primary types of intelligent IVR call routing
Whether through a click-to-call widget or a traditional IVR, effective call routing connects callers to the most-qualified contact agent for their needs.
But routing can look different from business to business—depending on factors like industry size, the size of your team, and what problems customers call to resolve.
Here are the most common types of intelligent IVR call routing:
Skill-based call routing uses a combination of automatic call distribution (ACD) and IVR to match callers’ needs with the agent or department with the specific skill set needed to handle the call. The customer interacts with the IVR to select the appropriate options from the menu, and then the ACD relies on that data to inform call distribution.
Pros of skill-based routing
Routing based on the agent’s or department’s skill set means agents are better equipped to resolve calls. For example, if customers need help accessing receipts from far back in their account history, they’ll need to speak with a billing agent. This translates to higher first-call resolution rates and better customer satisfaction metrics.
Cons of skill-based routing
This type of routing is complex, and its effectiveness depends on call agents’ availability and skill level. To successfully implement this routing method, a brand will need to staff multi-skilled and specialized agents while setting up their IVR to route calls appropriately to those agents.
Value-based routing, sometimes known as smart routing, assigns customers to call queues based on the perceived or known value of the customer.
To define a customer’s value, brands assess various customer attributes, like actions they have taken on previous visits and demographics such as age and income. Based on these factors, calls are routed either proactively or interactively.
Proactive routing happens when a customer’s call is routed based on known customer attributes.
Interactive routing interrupts a call flow to offer the caller options via IVR to minimize customer frustrations and reduce call abandonment.
Pros of value-based routing
Whether proactive or reactive, value-based routing helps brands protect revenue streams by improving customer retention. Imagine a customer calls a cell phone company to contact billing near the end of their contract term. Based on their contract status, value-based routing will connect the caller with the customer retention team as they are best equipped to support and boost customer loyalty.
Cons of value-based routing
If brands rely solely on a proactive routing methodology, customers’ calls may be unintentionally routed to the wrong team. To avoid these problems, contact centers should use value-based routing in conjunction with tools that can help improve communication with customers.
Campaign-based routing gives customers a unique telephone number to respond to marketing campaigns. For example, if a customer calls a phone number associated with a campaign offering a promotion for a new product, the agent will know immediately which campaign triggered the call.
Pros of campaign-based routing
Assigning phone numbers to individual campaigns makes it easier for marketing teams to track the success of their efforts. It also equips contact center agents to personalize the customer experience since they know the motivation behind a call. So, suppose a customer calls a number associated with a marketing campaign that targets new customers. In that case, the call agent can quickly identify the topic of the call and begin tailoring the conversation to demonstrate the brand’s value.
Cons of campaign-based routing
Using multiple contact numbers can create confusion, making it harder for customers to contact you. And after a campaign ends, customers may still attempt to contact your brand with phone numbers from past marketing campaigns. But they won’t reach you if you’ve already retired the number. Avoid retiring or recycling a limited set of phone numbers and routing calls using smart technology.
Geographic routing allows customers to connect with local offices of organizations using a universal phone number. One way brands do this is by using GPS, but brands that already rely on an IVR can also use the tech to prompt callers to enter their zip code.
Pros of geographic routing
This type of call routing is ideal for organizations with a geographically diverse customer base. For example, a national roadside assistance company may use GPS to locate a customer who calls and route them to the nearest call center. And since the caller is automatically connected to the contact center in the region where they need assistance, an agent can quickly dispatch a tow truck. Without geographic routing, the caller may need to wait on hold until they can speak with an agent and ask for the appropriate regional contact.
Cons of geographic routing
Routing calls based on geographic location could lead to long hold times and upset customers if a specific region experiences a sudden call spike. Contact centers can avoid this by diverting calls to alternate offices to alleviate the burden of high call volume at the primary center.
Other types of intelligent call routing
The most basic call routing methods don’t rely on IVR, which makes them easier to implement in contact centers with limited resources. While these routing methods may help reduce call wait times, they won’t always improve the customer experience. As a result, these routing methods are most successful when contact centers pair them with more intelligent call routing methods incorporating IVR.
Percentage-based routing is a technique that automatically distributes calls proportionally based on the size of individual contact centers. It helps prevent contact centers from becoming overwhelmed, keeping hold times low and improving the customer experience. However, this method doesn’t account for agent skill or customer needs, so it may not improve call fix rates.
Imagine a business with one large contact center and two smaller contact centers. Percentage-based routing would distribute half of the incoming calls to the large contact center and split the other half of incoming calls between the two smaller contact centers. As a result, this type of routing is best for large businesses with multiple contact centers.
Time-based routing, also called time of day routing, distributes calls based on the time of the call and allows contact centers to better manage incoming calls at all hours of the day. This routing method benefits businesses with multiple contact centers that provide services in a wide geographic area. If a customer calls a contact center outside its operating hours, this method will route the call to a contact center that is still open and operating, so the customer can receive help.
Least occupied routing
This routing method automatically directs calls to whichever agent has taken the least calls on any given day. This method for allocating calls helps to balance workloads and minimize agent burnout. But routing based solely on availability fails to account for customer needs or agent skill levels. Contact centers that use least-occupied routing must combine it with other call routing strategies if they want to continue to please customers.
Proper call routing is critical to customer satisfaction and contact center efficiency. Still, without a correctly set up IVR, traditional routing methods risk clogging up hold queues with frustrated callers. Not to mention, implementing an IVR that satisfies your business’ and customers’ needs takes time, resources, and a healthy amount of troubleshooting.
You can eliminate the guesswork by implementing a click-to-call solution like Mindful Scheduler that allows customers to bypass the IVR and choose when they’d like to speak with an agent. Reduce call volume, increase customer satisfaction, and give your customers a premium experience.
Check out a demo of Mindful Scheduler, or try it out yourself.
This article was originally published in November 2017. It has since been updated.