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A Definitive guide to ACD – Automatic Call Distribution

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Discussion about call centre, Dialer, IVR and inbound call centre always revolves around ACD – Automatic Call Distribution. The Main purpose of ACD is optimise the entire Call center process, increase the efficiency and decrease the cost.

Let us take an example, we have one toll-free number and 100 Agents to provide support. Now the Dialer system or IP PBX needs to distribute calls to all these agents based on various possible criteria.

Next Marketing revolution is Customer Experience. ACD, if used correctly, helps to revolutionise the Customer Experience.
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What is an ACD system?

ACD or Automatic Call Distribution is a software that helps to divert or distribute incoming phone calls from customers to the group of Agents or Persons effectively. We can easily say that ACD is the main component of the entire Call Management Strategy. The main function of ACD is that of routing incoming Calls.

Automatic Call Distributor software refers to the Inbound calls in the phone system. Automated call distribution system application works best with IVR or Interactive Voice Response and Computer Telephony Integration or CTI.

Most of the organization plan to have a customer-centric strategy in place as soon as possible. One of the challenges with providing positive customer experience is the right team to handle customer services. Getting customer service right means satisfied customers & repeat business. ACD comes to rescue for the contact centre. The automatic call distribution uses some predefined rules or logic to divert the calls to agents.

ACD full form in Call Center is Automatic Call Distribution

Customer wants to talk with your people NOT your phone system. Keep this in mind, ACD is designed to connect the caller to your Agents in minimum possible time.
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ACD is for Inbound Call Center Process

ACD always refers to the Inbound Call centre. It is the system to distribute incoming calls intelligently. Primarily ACD telephony is used to determine how the incoming calls are routed to Agents.

The Automatic Calling mechanism for outbound dialling is called Predictive Dialling.


ACD might or might not include IVR. Many times people refer to ACD and IVR as same thing. However there is a difference. IVR or interactive Voice response is used for ACD. Various methods are used for Call distribution, IVR is one amongst them.

Components of ACD

To understand ACD correctly, we need to understand the components. These components are as follows:

  1. The Agents
    1. Agents are the people who answer the calls.
    2. Agents are divided into Teams (also known as Queues). ACD Dialer can easily manage multiple teams for multiple Inbound campaigns.
  2. Call Distribution Method
    1. What is the logic for call distribution?
    2. Most of the examples are explained below
  3. IVR
    1. When Callers call, the dialer may first play an IVR to help them make the decision. e.g. Select 1 for Sales and 2 for Service.
    2. Then the ACD software distributes the call based on user input.
  4. Logic based on External Integration
    1. CRM Integration plays a major role in complex call distribution.
    2. When the call is received by the dialer, it knows the calling Phone Number.
    3. This number is searched in CRM, using the API.
    4. Then API returns more information about that Phone number.
    5. Based on the logic which is configured in the Dialer, the ACD is applied.

Different Call Distribution Methods for ACD

  1. Ring in Order.
    1. Incoming calls are diverted to Agents in order. If the first agent is busy it goes to second, if the second is busy it goes to third, and so on. The basic purpose is to make sure that Callers don’t get a busy tone. Advantage of Ring in Order is that it is very easy. The disadvantage is that the first few Agents will face extremely high loads. This is suitable for very small teams and when the call volume is very low.
  2. Round Robin
    1. The first call to the first Agent, Second call to the second agent, and so on. The purpose is to distribute the load equally between the Agents. The advantage is that it is easy to configure and makes call distribution equally. The disadvantage of Round Robin is that it does not take into account whether the Agent is busy or not. However, Round Robin and Ring in order can be mixed to achieve better results. Suitable for scenarios where call durations are less.
  3. Ring All Simultaneously
    1. When an incoming call comes, ACD will ring all the Agents simultaneously, So that any one of them can pick up. Ring stops when anyone picks up. The purpose is that whoever is available can pick up the call on their own accord. However, if no one picks up the call, then it gets abandoned. This is the biggest disadvantage of this strategy. Works well when the team is motivated and self-driven.
  4. Time-based Routing
    1. The best example is Calls land in the office during office hours and after office hours, either an IVR is played or Calls land on Mobile numbers of staff. Calls can be diverted to the voicemail also. The advantage is that after office hours calls are not missed and get responded.
  5. Skill-Based Routing
    1. The ACD Dialer or the CRM keeps a map of Agent Skills and the requirement of the caller. The most commonly used Call Distribution method, practically. Few examples will clarify how it can help. Calls from Premium Customers are landed to most experienced Agents. Dialer will identify the numbers from the Caller-id, and get more details about the caller from the CRM, then route the calls accordingly. The disadvantage is that it is complex to configure and also needs to be reviewed periodically.
  6. Custom Routing
    1. There are scenarios in the practical life where the above rules need to be customised and modified. In that case, Custom Routing method of ACD is used. Integration of Automatic Call Distribution Dialer with IVR, CTI and CRM becomes extremely significant here. Callers may be asked a few questions, using IVR to determine the Skill requirements and then accordingly the calls get diverted. e.g. Caller selects the product and problem type. The call distribution may take into account many parameters like:
      1. Time of call. Skills of the Agent. Type of CustomerType of problem. Any other parameters.

Using it when Agents are Busy

Please hold the line as all our executives are busy on another call. Your call is important to us.

– Automated Message, when you call a Helpdesk

We all have heard and hated the above lines. This situation occurs, when all the Agents are busy and the automatic call distribution system cannot divert the call to anyone. There are various options in this scenario:

  1. Voicemail
    1. Not very common in India, but in Western countries, this is very often used.
    2. ACD Dialer transfers the call to a Voicemail and then alerts the Agents about it.
    3. Agents can listen to the voicemail and response accordingly.
  2. IVR – Interactive Voice Response
    1. ACD plays a prerecorded message, something like “All our Agents are busy, we will call back you shortly“, and then disconnects the call.
    2. ACD notifies Agents by email or any other notification.
    3. Agents then arrange a call-back to the Caller.
  3. Call Queue
    1. ACD plays a message, “Please hold the line as all our Agents are busy at the moment”.
    2. The Caller listens to this message or some other music or recorded file. These callers are in the Queue.
    3. As soon as any Agents becomes free, the call is diverted there.

KPI (Key Performance Indicators) for the system

The successful ACD implementation requires that all the parameters are taken into account while configuring the same. Here are a few points to keep in mind.

  1. Logged-in Agents
    1. The Agents who are logged in the system and available to receive the calls. Agents use a Softphone, IP Phone or analogue phone to answer the calls. However, Softphone, with a headset is most preferred, economical and effective. The Call Center Admins, get a dashboard which displays available agents with many other details.
  2. Idle Agents
    1. Agents who are logged-in but not busy on the call. These Agents are available to get calls. The higher number of Idle Agents denotes a lower efficiency. The Admin keeps a constant eye on Idle Agents and may modify the ACD accordingly.
  3. Average Hold Time
    1. Hold time refers to the time customer listens “Please hold the line as all our executives are busy on another call” before connecting to agents. It is also called as Waiting time for the customers in Queue before connecting to an Agent. Average waiting time for customers in Queue refers as AHT or Average Hold Time. It’s the most important parameter to measure for Call Center performance Ideally AHT, Average Hold Time should be ZERO.
  4. Abandoned Calls
    1. The Calls did not reach the Agent and got discarded in between are abandoned Calls. Customers, generally hang up the call, if they have to wait for a longer time. Calls also might get abandoned due to technical reason – e.g. Line Drop. The Abandoned Calls should be called back immediately. The Administrator generally keeps a close watch on the Abandoned Calls from the Dashboard. Also, they make sure that those callers are called back.
  5. Average Call Handling time
    1. The Amount of time spent on the Call by Agents in talking to the customers is called Call Handling time. It may include the after call activity time also, e.g. Time taken to make entries in the CRM or helpdesk. After-Call activity is also known as Call Wrap up time.
  6. Calls in Waiting
    1. The Number of callers in the queue is called Calls in Waiting.
    2. Waiting Queue should ideally be ZERO.
  7. Service Level Percentage
    1. There are various parameters which define Service Levels, some of which are listed below:
      1. Average Call Waiting time. e.g. Agents should answer the call within 30 Seconds. Abandoned Calls. e.g. The Abandoned calls should not be more than 0.5 % of total Calls. Average Call Handling Time. e.g. ACH should not be more than 3 minutes. Calls in Waiting. e.g. Calls in waiting should not be more than 10ACD Dialer Dashboard (or some times CRM Dashboard) shows all of the above parameters so that the Admins can monitor them and take necessary actions.
If you are short staffed, your call queue or ACD end up being nothing more than an obstacle to your customer. The Ideal Call Queue is invisible to the callers or customers since their calls get answered immediately without them having to hold or wait.
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Best Practices for Excellent Customer Experience

ACD, the Dialer and the entire Call Center operation, if not handled properly can affect the Customer experience adversely. The performance of the entire Contact Center depends on the ACD mechanism. Here are some of the best practices to ensure Best Customer Experience.

Nobody wants to hear u003cstrongu003ePlease hold the line as all our executives are busy on another callu003c/strongu003e. Configure your Automatic Call Distribution wisely.
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  1. Real-Time Monitoring.
    1. Admins should monitor all the above KPI metrics as explained above in Real-time or at relevant time intervals.
    2. When Dialer- CRM integration, Generally CRM Dashboards will provide Real-time information about Call Center Activities also.
  2. Call Monitoring
    1. Dialer provides options for call monitoring like Whisper, Spy, barge etc. Admins can use this to monitor calls in real time.
    2. Further listening to call recordings is also very useful.
  3. CRM Integration
    1. Using a Dialer without CRM Integration is almost useless because then the most prominent benefit possible is discarded.
    2. CRM Integration can not only help in proper call distribution but also allows the Agent to know more about Caller, before and while talking to that person.
  4. Maintaining Optimum number of Agents
    1. Too fewer Agents and the result is irritated customers.
    2. Too many Agents means wastage of a lot of financial resources.
    3. Use Real-time monitoring and analytical CRM reporting to strike a balance between the two.
    4. There is absolutely no benchmark possible to determine the number of Agents required. It depends on many factors already explained above.
    5. Myth – Many people believe that deploying ACD will eliminate the requirement of human Agents. This is completely wrong.
  5. Regular Training
    1. Most of the time the problem is that the Agents are not adequately trained to handle the calls.
    2. Companies don’t spend resources on training them since they might leave the organisation if trained.
    3. Proper training can increase efficiency and Customer Experience. It also helps in decreasing costs.

Hosted or In Premise ACD Dialer?

Since ACD is a part of the larger Dialer System, the decision to keep it in the cloud or on premise should be taken after considering:

  1. The number of users.
  2. The process
  3. The difference in the cost of Telephone bills.
  4. Administration ease.

What are its Charges and How much does it Cost?

Usually, ACD application is a part of the Dialer System or the call center software. It comes as a standard feature. As such there is no extra cost for the same.

However since Call Distribution logic can be complex, it might attract Implementation, configuration and Customisation Charges. Also, when the call distribution is done using CRM integration, there is some charges for that also.

Don’t use technology, because it exists. Use it when it adds value to your process and most importantly to your Customers.
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