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What is ACD?

ACD is short for automatic call distribution. It is a telephony system that automatically receives incoming calls and distributes them to an available agent.

Its purpose is to help inbound contact centers sort and manage large volumes of calls to avoid overwhelming the team. It also improves customer experiences by making sure they are connected to a capable agent in the quickest time possible.

But before the caller is queued and routed, they first have to go through the IVR. IVR and ACD are often confused with each other, so let’s take the time to differentiate the two terms.

What is the difference between IVR and ACD?

Interactive voice response (IVR) is a technology that lets users interact with an automated answering machine before they are sent to an agent. They are commonly used to determine what the user’s query is and, by extension, the kind of assistance they need.

IVRs do this by asking the user to press keys on their phone that corresponds to their issue. For example, an IVR might ask you to “Press 1 if you want to purchase a product.” The ACD will then take your response and directly contact sales agents rather than send you to unrelated departments.

So IVR is used to collect customer data. ACD then uses that data to sort and distribute the calls. When used together, these two tools can really improve customer satisfaction and workforce engagement in your call center.

Now let’s take a more in-depth look at the distribution process to get a better understanding of how the entire system all works.

How does ACD work?

The call distribution process can be summed up in three steps:

  1. Caller information and identification
  2. Call queueing
  3. Call routing

STEP 1. Caller Identification

As mentioned above, the first step is asking the caller’s purpose through an IVR. Caller ID systems can also be used to determine factors like language and location. This will allow the ACD to distribute the caller to an agent that’s best equipped to handle their concern.

STEP 2. Call Queueing

The next step is to sort the callers into a waiting list. The distribution system determines the order of the queue based on a number of factors such as:

  • Status
  • Waiting time
  • Query

VIPs are usually prioritized over others, but the system can also be programmed to sort callers based on the other factors mentioned above.

STEP 3. Call Routing

The last step is call routing. The ACD will route the calls based on your preferred type of distribution method.

Want to minimize customer waiting time? The ACD can distribute the incoming call to whoever’s immediately available. Want your customer to be handled by the best agent? You can set the system to distribute based on an agent’s skills.

There are many types of distribution methods for you to choose from. To help you determine which one is the best for your business, let’s look at the most commonly-used methods in call centers.

Different types of call distribution

Each type of distribution method has its pros and cons. Some prioritize speed while others boost agent productivity. If you’re having those issues in your business, choose a routing strategy that can help fix it.

Rotary call distribution

A common distribution type for centers that want agents to have equal volumes of workload. In rotational distribution, agents all take turns in answering. For example, call 1 is taken by agent 1, call 2 is taken by agent 2, and so on. The cycle then repeats from the first agent once everyone has taken a turn.

Fixed order call distribution

In this type, the agents are arranged in a fixed order, and calls are initially distributed to just the first person on the list. Calls are only sent to the next agent if the previous one is busy. This is a good choice if you have agents that are more experienced and can resolve matters faster than others.

Simultaneous call distribution

This is the preferred method if you want to reduce customer waiting time. With this routing strategy, the ACD alerts all agents to an incoming call at the same time. The first agent that picks up will handle the customer.

Talk-time call distribution

Similar to rotation, talk-time distribution tries to divide workload fairly among your agents. Here, the ACD selects the agent with the least talk-time and gives them the next ticket in the queue. This balances the workload between the team by making sure each agent has worked an equal amount of time

Skills-based routing

Also known as weighted call distribution. In skills-based routing, the ACD prioritizes an agent based on a given score. Some of the common skills that are usually scored in this routing strategy are:

  • language proficiency
  • efficiency
  • expertise
  • comprehension
  • response time

Of course, these are just a few examples. You can decide which skills are the most important to your team and prioritize agents based on them. With this routing strategy, callers will be routed directly to the agent with the most relevant skills

Time-based call distribution

Time-based distribution takes into consideration your agents’ availability. The ACD will only alert agents that are available and will send the call directly to voicemail if none are open to handling it. If your call center prefers not to take calls during off-hours then this is a good choice.

ACD integrations for workforce optimization

ACD can be integrated with other features that can improve workforce management and customer satisfaction. Here are some of the most popular and how they can benefit your call center.

Call Center Overflow Tools

Call center overflow happens when there are not enough agents to handle the inbound calls. Not giving customers a reply or putting them on hold for too long will make them frustrated. So, you can choose to either send them to voicemail or automatic call back.


Allows customers to leave a recorded message for the agents. Agents can then assess the issue and try to resolve it, or call the customer back.

Automatic Call Back

The customer can also make an automatic call back request themselves. Once the agent is available, they can try contacting the customer again.

CTI and CRM Integrations

Most modern ACD systems usually come with CTI, or computer telephony integration. This allows agents to view caller information on their computers. You can take it a step further and integrate your system with other call center software solutions like CRM.

CRM, or customer relationship manager, helps you organize customer information including their call history, social media accounts, chat logs, and more. All the data that your agent needs can be found in one centralized place.

Call Monitoring

Quality management is important to maintain the high standards of your team. One way to do this is by call monitoring. This allows a supervisor to listen in your calls, providing support where necessary.

These sessions can also be used for coaching as it grants the supervisor a real-time view on how the agent deals with customers. They can then give the agent advice on how to improve their performance.

What are the benefits of ACD?

Now that we know all about ACD, how can it benefit your call center?

  • Better workforce management - An ACD prevents your team from wasting time by routing calls in an orderly and systematic manner. It also makes sure that your team shares the same amount of work, and reduces your agents’ idle time by distributing calls fairly and equally.
  • Improved customer experience - In addition to customer management, smart routing directs customers to the agents that can best handle their concerns. The fast distribution also ensures that your customer is attended to immediately, resulting in higher satisfaction levels.
  • Easier agent coaching - With call monitoring, you’ll be able to check on your agents’ performance while they are handling a call in real-time. This gives you a better understanding of your agent, their strengths and weaknesses, and how they can improve.

These are just some of the benefits that an automatic call distributor can give your business. But if you truly want a more seamless and efficient customer engagement experience then upgrading to a contact center is worth thinking about.

Unlike call centers, contact centers allow you to engage with customers across different platforms like email, social media, and chat. With it, you’ll be able to reach more customers and provide service across all available contact channels.For easier comparison, here’s a table showing the advantages and disadvantages of both types:

The advantages and disadvantages of call center and contact center
Call Center Contact Center
Supported Channels
  • Calls only
  • Calls only
  • Better at handling urgent customer concerns
  • Has a strict organizational flow, making it easier to supervise
  • Communication is clear and direct
  • Multiple communication options make it more flexible and versatile
  • Can gather customer information from various sources such as social media, call recordings, etc.
  • Agents can deal with multiple queries at once, speeding up response time.
  • Limited communication options
  • Long call queues result in lower customer satisfaction
  • Can only gather customer information from calls
  • Agent can only handle one customer at a tim
  • Contact center agents must be capable in all channels of communication, not just calls
  • Urgent queries might not get addressed immediately
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