What Is Automatic Call Distribution (ACD)?

How do agents get incoming calls? Once upon a time, incoming calls were simply routed to the first available open extension. The agent answering that line had to deal with whatever was on the other end. To accurately directed call required a live receptionist transferring the call to the appropriate agent, or different numbers for different functions within the organization. For instance, there would be one telephone number to reach the billing department, another to reach customer service, and so on through all the departments within the organization. This was not so much a phone tree as a phone jungle. With the advent of touchtone, an elementary IVR was born that allowed the customer to self-direct to the appropriate department – but still fell short in cases where the issue could not be resolved with one interaction.

Modernizing Automatic Call Distribution

Computer telephony integration (CTI) is an application that allows actions on a computer and a telephone to be integrated and synched, and computer-supported telecommunications applications (CSTA) allow CTI apps to work with telephonic equipment. The two of them were the effective parents of the modern automated call distribution system, which allowed call centers to grow and thrive across a wide number of business platforms. However, this technology is not as new as people might think. In the 1950s, the first modern ACD was deployed by the New York Telephone Company to distribute calls to their 411 operators. Of course, in the early days of automated call distribution, only large entities such as government departments and major corporations could afford to use the technology.

Democratization of Technology

As technology becomes more widespread, it becomes more affordable. For instance, the first personal computers were priced in the thousands of dollars, and top-tier technology could push the price tag as high as $5000 or $6000. As the manufacturing capability became available, more computers entered the marketplace, and consumers had more choices. Having a desktop computer in the home became something that even a middle-class family could afford. Now, coming up on 30 years later, the cell phones in our pockets outstrip the processor, storage, and memory of those early personal computers. The trajectory of automated call distribution is very much the same.

As computing capacity shifted from telephone networks to private servers and VOIP, and more recently from private servers to the cloud, the ability of companies large and small to use automated call distribution in their operations has been democratized in much the same way as access to computers, and then to laptops and mobile devices. Unlike automated call distribution systems of the past, modern systems are scalable, multi-featured, and presented with intuitive interfaces to the agents who are using them. Compared to old-line distribution equipment, they are affordable and offer companies the ability to add and reduce capacity according to traffic needs. In a sense, the playing field between large and small companies has been leveled by the availability and versatility of IT hardware and software.


How It Works

When a customer or client places a call, they reach the systems Interactive Voice Response (IVR). Based on options offered in that menu, their call is then routed to the most appropriate agent to handle the issue. Some of the elementary questions in the IVR can be – for instance – which language the caller is speaking and would prefer to use to communicate. This small element of data allows the caller to be routed to someone who speaks their language.

Callers can also be identified by the number they are calling from, this means that they can be moved to the front of the queue, escalated to a different level of service, or other options that are all based on the software recognizing their number. When calls are intelligently routed, it saves time for both the customer and the agent, allowing quicker and more targeted service. On the managerial level, managers are able to monitor, conference, drop in, and coach agents. They are also able to monitor agent performance with historical reporting and real-time monitoring capabilities. The more information that a call center generates and uses, the more capable they are of meeting customer needs and demands.

More Data!

We are not living so much in a digital age as we are living in an age of big data. Every call center, no matter how small, generates a stream of data that is vital to understanding performance and improving service. Some of the data provided includes the number of calls coming in and going out, the identity of the callers, the amount of time spent per call, time spent waiting in the queue, and – crucially – the point at which callers drop the call without ever reaching an agent.

All of this information is critical to fine-tuning automatic call distribution procedures and training staff to respond properly to customers and clients concerns in the call. As an extra refinement, savvy operators will offer a chance for callers to complete a short survey after the call. People want to talk about how they feel, and a simple questionnaire taking 10 seconds or less to complete can offer additional information and insight when it comes to operating a call center.

What our customers say

Thierry Moussu

Thierry Moussu

Head of Digital Relations, Direct Energie

Scalable and open, the RingCentral Engage platform was exactly what we needed both in terms of our increasing contact load and our desire to be innovative with regard to digital customer relations.

Frédéric Gonin

Frédéric Gonin

Head of Customer Service Transformation CANAL+

RingCentral Engage is a pillar in our customer care strategy. RingCentral Engage’s software and expertise has helped us to improve quality of service, enable peer support and self-service, and move our subscriber interactions into the digital domain.

Marie-Hélène Albertini

Marie-Hélène Albertini

Head of Forums and Social Networks, Customer Service, Orange France

RingCentral Engage has enabled us to embrace our customers on digital channels at scale. The solution was able to satisfy the complex and demanding standards of our business, reconciling the imperatives of community marketing and corporate communications with the obligations of customer service helped us to improve quality of service.