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From Call Routing to Smart Routing: The Modern Transformation

Published Date: Friday, Jan 19, 2024
Last Updated on: Friday, Jan 19, 2024
Customer support successfully using smart routing.

The support journey is no longer linear.

Customers frequently navigate between one channel and the next across physical and digital – and they expect you to keep up. 

With customer expectations rising higher than ever – and patience at an all-time low – the challenge is no longer just containing labor costs, but providing fast, sustainable support across all channels. Suffice it to say, manual conversation routing no longer makes the grade.

An intelligent digital routing strategy is the only way to meet the evolving expectations of modern CX – and provide ease, consistency and speed across all your digital channels.

In this article, we’ll explore the concept of smart routing, and how it can help you develop meaningful customer experiences in your digital CX strategy.

Why is conversation routing important?

Conversation routing is a critical part of driving customer satisfaction and influencing brand perception. When customer queries are routed to an informed agent in the shortest amount of time, it influences key CX metrics like first contact resolution rate (FCRR), first response time (FRT) and average handle time (AHT). When corners are cut, the consequences can be severe. 

Misrouted customers or long queues can cause a customer to jump from agent to agent or channel to channel in search of the right solution. Given 90% of customers would switch to a competitor if they provided superior CX, subpar routing strategy and poorly optimized interactive voice responses (IVRs) are a sure-fire way to cause churn.

Traditionally, the process of routing has been manual. Help desk agents review customer information, tag them (according to topic, channel, language, order, urgency, sentiment), and direct them to what is deemed the most appropriate department or agent. Eventually the customer will be connected to the correct department and their request will be handled.

The challenges of traditional routing

Manual routing is quickly being phased out the world over in favor of a new, AI-led model – and it’s easy to see why. For agents, it’s repetitive and time-consuming. For businesses, it’s expensive and hard to scale, requiring constant increases in headcount and heavy training. And, with agents spending a majority share of their time rerouting inbound calls, less time is spent on resolving issues for high-value accounts or prioritizing upsell and cross-sell opportunities. 

Beyond this, there are a number of key disadvantages that make traditional routing unsuitable for the modern buyer, including:

Static routing rules

Traditional rules for routing are often highly rigid. This makes them very ineffective at dealing with the subjective nature of customer inquiries. These rigid routing rules are also difficult to adapt to real-time changes in request volume or agent availability. The result is bottlenecks and long wait times as many customers are routed to a single department or individual, even though others may be able to help them just as easily.

Inadequate data collection and optimization

Traditional routing systems may have limited reporting and analytics capabilities. This makes it difficult to track data points like call volume, team member performance and customer satisfaction. Without data, trends aren’t easily identifiable, the impact of routing decisions can’t be measured, and data-driven optimizations to routing strategies are impossible.

Limited integration and omnichannel support

Some traditional routing systems may struggle to be integrated with other customer support tools, such as CRM systems, knowledge bases and collaboration tools, hindering access to critical information and agent productivity. With no record of previous interactions with agents, customers may have to answer the same questions multiple times as they are passed between departments, something 96% of consumers expect to avoid. These blind spots are a particular issue for omnichannel operations as customers channel-hop.

customer support following a digital cx strategy

What is digital routing?

In the wake of surging support costs and escalating customer expectations, businesses are turning to AI to level the CX playing field. Automated routing – or digital routing – uses machine learning, data analysis and skill-based matching to direct incoming inquiries to the most suited agent or department, via the most appropriate channel.

Drawing data from the pre-, mid- and post-interaction phases, predictive AI tools can also route inquiries based on known customer behaviors, account history, channel preferences and even personality to identify the fastest route to resolution. Not only can this implementation increase efficiency (and customer satisfaction), it’s also highly scalable and cost-effective. Automation reduces the need for expensive staffing and frees up time for existing agents to engage in more profitable and interesting activities.

Benefits of digital routing

Data-driven decision making: The wealth of data collected by digital routing systems provides valuable insights for identifying trends, optimizing routing strategies and improving customer support operations. This data-driven approach enables businesses to make informed decisions that enhance customer satisfaction and support overall business goals.
Optimized agent productivity: By automating routing decisions based on real-time data, digital routing maximizes agent productivity and ensures customer inquiries are directed to the most appropriate agent to be resolved promptly and effectively. When customers are routed from call to an alternative channel like SMS, it also means that agents can handle multiple chats at once, leading to faster support and reduced labor costs.
Scalability and flexibility: Digital routing systems can easily scale to accommodate changing business needs and customer demand. This ensures that customer support operations can adapt to surges in call volume and their operations effectively.
Integration with CRM and other tools: Digital routing systems seamlessly integrate with other customer support tools, such as CRM systems, knowledge bases and collaboration tools. This integration provides agents with real-time access to critical customer information, enhances their productivity and streamlines the support process.
Omnichannel support: Digital routing effectively manages omnichannel support, ensuring that customer inquiries are consistently routed to the appropriate channel, whether it’s phone, email, chat or social media. This provides a seamless and consistent customer experience across all communication channels.
Cost reduction: By routing inquiries to the most appropriate agent based on sentiment and reason for contact (RFC), businesses stand their best chance of resolving issues on the first attempt. Not only does this dramatically increase customer satisfaction, it also removes agent costs and labor – enabling them to invest time into higher-value activities.
Misrouted customers or long queues causing customers to jump from agent to agent.

How does digital routing work?

Automated routing relies on machine learning (ML) to sort large volumes of customer data, recognize patterns in inquiries, and make predictions based on historical insights and previous human decisions. These models sort inquiries by topic, language, time zones, sentiment, urgency and more to classify queries into pre-established tags in real time.

Still, businesses will have the responsibility of deciding what to do with these tagged requests. Each business will need to power their digital routing with a strategy and broad selection of workflows to handle diversity and prioritize inquiries in the right areas. There are a variety of types of call routing and ways to define your categorization.

Sentiment analysis

Sentiment analysis is the use of natural language processing (NLP) techniques to automatically extract subjective information proactively from customer interactions. By running sentiment analysis on incoming support requests, businesses can detect disgruntled customers showing attrition signals based on specific keywords and searches. Customers showing signs of frustration or dissatisfaction can be automatically prioritized in the support queue, or even routed to the agent most likely to resolve their complaint. 

Sentiment can be analyzed from across the entirety of the customer journey. Between the ticket requests, phone calls, emails and bot conversations, businesses can capture quantitative insights on a granular level in real time. This helps them identify customer friction points early and fix them before the customer picks up the phone – and potentially before the issue escalates.

Skill-based routing

Skill-based routing is a method of directing customer inquiries to the agent most likely to provide a first-time resolution. It blends agent data including department, track record, training history, personality profile and certifications to identify the types of customers and inquiries they’re best suited to. 

To establish a skill-based strategy, businesses need to define skill categories according to agent seniority and specialization, ensuring top-performer time is spent with high-value or priority accounts. Otherwise, general, low-priority inquiries are routed toward the senior level, when it is often quicker and more cost-effective for them to be handled by a less experienced agent.

team of call support finding traditional routing challenging.

Qualification routing

Qualified agent routing extends skill-based routing by incorporating additional factors to identify the most qualified agent for each customer interaction. These additional factors may include:

Agent language proficiency: Resolving an issue can be a slow process when one or both of the participants in a conversation are not speaking in their native tongue. Qualified agent routing can match customers to agents who speak their language, ensuring seamless communication and avoiding potential misunderstanding.
Agent availability: Routing a customer to the most skilled agent achieves nothing if that agent has a long line of customers waiting for them to resolve their issue. Qualified agent routing will take business hours, wait times and ticket queues into account to maximize efficiency.
Agents’ historical performance: Evaluating past performance and customer satisfaction ratings can identify agents who consistently deliver exceptional support for specific customers and dispositions.
Customer preferences: If a customer has previously interacted with a particular agent and expressed satisfaction, routing them to the same agent can foster a positive and familiar experience. This is particularly useful for asynchronous messaging experiences.

Prioritization routing

Different levels of urgency can be assigned to incoming customer inquiries, so they can be directed to the most appropriate agents or support channels based on their potential impact. This ensures critical issues are addressed promptly, high-value customers receive personalized attention, and resource allocation is optimized to maximize customer satisfaction and minimize potential churn.

Routing strategy should dictate which keywords or accounts are deemed “priority.” Most prioritization workflows will involve:

Urgency: Much like the triage protocol used in hospitals, inquiries that demand immediate attention, such as technical outages, service disruptions or failed transactions can be prioritized to ensure timely resolution and minimize customer disruption.
Customer value/ARR: High-value customers may be prioritized to maintain their loyalty, prevent churn and enable account managers or key agents to deliver a premium CX process.
Potential impact: Inquiries that could have a significant impact on the business, such as customer complaints and product defects, may be prioritized so they can be addressed promptly and mitigate potential damage to brand reputation.

Omnichannel routing

Omnichannel routing is a strategy that auto-routes queries intelligently across channels to help customers achieve the fastest solutions and keep them away from their high-cost agent support lines. Over 35% of customers expect to be able to contact the same customer service representative on any channel they use.

Omnichannel routing can be particularly useful for contact centers handling large support volumes with restricted teams. When a need escalates – and a customer reaches out for agent support – predictive AI can be configured to direct customers toward the most appropriate contact channel for a timely response, or even restrict overwhelmed contact channels from displaying as an option on a help desk or support center. With dynamic capacity management, this can be automated in real time based on call volume, ticket requests and agent availability.

team discussing the benefits of digital routing

Final thoughts

As the support landscape continues to evolve, embracing intelligent call routing is not just a strategic move; it’s an imperative step toward meeting the dynamic expectations of modern customers and fostering long-term customer loyalty.

Excellent routing strategy is synonymous with great CX. Those that invest with the right focus will unlock improved customer satisfaction and more consistent customer experiences. Responsive, always-on, channel-agnostic service becomes a differentiator and customers will advocate your brand with confidence.

Looking to evolve your CX? We can help. Harte Hanks’ customer care technology management makes omnichannel support simple. Powered by over 40 years of CX innovation, we help businesses find the right tools and automation to curb agent labor while driving CSAT to new heights. Using cutting-edge integrations from our network of leading technology partners, we can help your business deliver its best customer experience, with meaningful and cost-effective routing execution across all customer channels.

Arrange a consultation today.