Published: 10. 5. 2018 in Blog by Rasko Radojević, Software Solutions Architect

How not to make switchboard go wrong…

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Not only when we want help or need support, but also in any other situation we want to be served quickly and by the most qualified person for that particular job. the For example,  after we have chosen a restaurant where we want to go and when we have (finally) decided to order from the menu, we expect to be served quickly and, of course, that the cook making a meal for us is skilled in preparing such dishes.

I have always been amused by the scene from the film "Balkan Spy" when Bata Stojković is yelling into the phone: "Yeeees, a switchboard can make a mistake once, but not  hundred times. Listen pal, you might’ve gotten the wrong number, but you got the one you were looking for. Well, what don’t you understand? Well,,you are going to understand...a (followed by the whole lot of curses that I will not quote here) ... "

Can a switchboard really go wrong and how are calls  forwarded to operators who handle them?

Not only when we want help or need support, but also in any other situation we want to be served quickly and by the most qualified person for that particular job. For example, after we have chosen a restaurant where we want to go and when we have(finally) decided to order from the menu, we expect to be served quickly and, of course, that the cook making a meal for us is skilled in preparing such dishes.

Surely, we have the same  expectations when we call the contact Center - to be served as soon as possible and by the person who is the most qualified to handle our requirements.. If we have carefully chosen the restaurant because of its reputation or the atmosphere in it, then it is likely that we will  not be the only guests, nor the same staff will always be available. However, we expect a certain level of service in line with the previous experience, weather it was based on our own experience or  other people’s recommendations. In the same way, we want to be served by our operators, that is, to have our calls answered with minimum waiting  and by the person who can solve our request within the same call. With the development of sophisticated systems, new options for call forwarding have appeared. I will largely talk about the calls in this article, but all the rules must also apply to other interactions, such as e-mail, web chat, SMS and others. The name for such systems is an acronym ACD that means Automatic Call Distribution, as an archaic name from the time when the only way of communication was a telephone call, which has evolved into the Automatic Communication Distribution. Its main task should be to solve the following two situations:

  • If the call can be answered by several operators, to choose the one which the caller will be assigned to and
  • If there are more calls  on hold, to choose the one that will be first allocated  to a free operator.

Depending on the capabilities of Contact Center system and its internal organization and training, every organization should choose the one that best suits their needs, and certainly it can be a combination of several different ones. I will now list and briefly explain a few of them.  Despite our general opinion about talents of the people from this area, unfortunately,there is no significant contribution to the development of these technologies in the region, so I will have to use  terms in English which are accepted as a standard in the industry, regardless of the manufacturer, and you feel free to find the term which suits you best in our own language.

1. Hunt groups

This is the most basic way of call forwarding and is common in organizations that are just starting to do business. For example, if we want to talk with someone from the sales sector, we call a number that is assigned to them, and if we need marketing, there is a specific number for colleagues from the sector. It is common that a person who is the first on the list for the answer to take the call, and if he or she is not available, the call goes to the next person on the list. This method of distribution is characteristic for those organizations that have only, so called, home phone centrals (PBX) but not real Contact Center solutions.

2. Least Idle

When the first ACD systems came in usage, this was exactly the way  all calls had been  assigned and now it is often  used as a synonym for it. This means that the call is assigned to an operator who has waited the longest for the next call since  the last one he had done. Depending on the system used, there can be variations, so that the reference period of time in which the operators were answering calls varies from 30 minutes or  to the whole day. With such distribution, the behavior of the operator must be taken into account, because, like every other living creature, operators also follow the line of least resistence and use tactics that, when they are available for a call, briefly change their status to "unavailable", which means that the time from when they are available starts to tick again, so the calls bypass them and are assigned to someone else.

3. Skill Based Routing

More advanced organizations assign different skills to their operators so that the calls are answered by those who can solve the specific service requirements, and not only provide general information. Of course, different operators have different skills, and on a different level. Therefore, for the effective use of such forwarding, the organization has to carefully adjust all parameters in order to avoid the situation where the same operators always answer the calls. For example, if the user who speaks English makes the call and is interested in buying a specific product, the system should be assigned to an operator who speaks English and who can provide detailed information about the product. If there is more than one of such operators, the system compares their results obtained by a formula that takes into account the level of skills they possess, and of course the time they have been waiting since the last call. Operator that has a higher grade will be assigned to this call, which ensures that the call is answered by the most appropriate person. If, however, at the moment there are no free operators with the required level of skill(s), the call will be on hold until such a person is available.

4. Last Agent Routing

As the basic guidelines of successful Contact Center organization, customer satisfaction certainly has to be on top. For this reason, some of them decide to assign the call to the operator who had already spoken to that specific user.. These decisions arise primarily from the expectations of the caller who thinks that the operator they last spoke to  knew  their "case "best and therefore will be most efficient in conversation. Of course, this makes sense if the call occurred at a time that is relatively close to the previous one, let’s say 48 hours. The selection of such forwarding does not necessarily have to be good, because maybe the user was not satisfied with the last conversation that took place, and will not necessarily be thrilled if his call is assigned to the same operator. In more advanced systems, and if the organization has a well-organized CRM system, all data about previous calls are recorded, so that it is not really necessary that  the same operator always responds to the same user, especially if one has to wait long for the operator to be available to answer that particular call. But of course, with good planning, this way of forwarding can be beneficial from the point of view of user satisfaction.

5. Bull’s Eye Rouiting

Although at first glance this way of forwarding can be related to a bullfight because of the name bull’s eye, the thing is completely different. Namely, in English, it means the center of the target, which is commonly used in archery.

In the context of assigning calls that require certain skills, we do not want to wait  too long for the answer until the operator with the necessary level of skills becomes available. Thus, for example, if the waiting time for an operator who knows the characteristics of a certain product, but can also handle the sale is long, this can certainly have the affect on user satisfaction. Therefore, after some time, usually 30 seconds or one minute, the requirement that the operator possesses sales skills is removed from the formula. In this way, the set of operators who can respond to a call in a similar way expands, just as concentric circles on the target (bull’s eye) are expanding. And we can go on with removing skills or reducing  required level as long as it will not reduce the quality of service.

6. Data Directed Routing

If we want to raise call forwarding to the next level by including the analysis of user data from the system, that requires tighter integration with core systems on the telephone answering machine before the call has even reached the operator. For example, if we are called by a user who has certain debts toward our organization, and although he wants to speak with an operator from technical support, based on an analysis of data about him, the system is aware of his debt. For this reason, his first call will be forwarded to a sector that is engaged in collecting debts, in order to agree with him on down payment.

The Flaming Stars / You don't always want what you get - (

 7. Context Based Routing

As one of the most complex mode of call forwarding, Context-Based Routing is a strategy that includes all previous communications of the user with the Contact Center, their profile and the information that they have sought for elsewhere, such is for example the web site. For example, if the system has an insight into the history of the user's previous interactions and determine the reason why he usually called, the call will be assigned to the group of operators who are responsible for this type of requirements. Or, let’s say, if he knows that his contract with the organization will expire in the next three months, the system will conclude that it is better that the call is firstly forwarded to the department that deals with retaining of the customers and talk to him about a contract extension, and then to be forwarded further on.

As it can be concluded, technical capabilities of Contact Center system are the major factor in deciding  which way of interaction forwarding a company should opt for, but certainly the internal organization and the ability of staff to provide quality service are the main drivers when it comes to customer expectations and service levels that need to be harmonized.

In the next blog I will talk about ways of how to forward the calls that are waiting to be processed by the operator.

Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning” Winston Churchil

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