How to make skills-based routing work like phone for digital customer contact

Skills-based routing

Skills-based routing is a long-established solution that is bundled with many automatic call distribution (ACD) systems used by companies that operate large inbound customer contact centers. Skills-based routing is a way to make sure that when a customer calls, they are routed to an agent with the knowledge and skills needed to resolve their issue. If implemented correctly, this can let companies increase customer satisfaction and efficiency by raising the rate of first-call resolution.

How does skill-based routing work?

Skills-based routing begins with the recognition that different contact center agents have different sets of skills. Call center management assigns each agent a set of skills that reflect what that agent is good at, and the ACD routes calls accordingly so that customers can have their needs met by agents who are specialists, rather than lowering the quality of service by requiring contact center agents to be generalists.

Companies can create their skills lists however they like, but one of the most common ways of assigning agent skills is by product knowledge and type of assistance required – such as Sales, Customer Service, or Technical Support. So let’s say that your company has four main product lines, and a customer calls wanting to buy Product A – skills-based routing will connect that customer with an agent who has both “Product A” and “Sales” assigned as skills, so that their issue can be resolved by an agent who has the required knowledge to assist them without needing to transfer them to another agent. (There are, of course, any number of way to assign agent skills – such as spoken languages, soft skills, or authority to handle escalations – which is part of what makes skills-based routing such a valuable part of any contact center environment.)

However, in the current contact center environment, skills-based routing to facilitate customer service by specialist agents only takes place with customer service for phone – which means there is a fundamental mismatch between the level of service provided by phone and by digital.

As digital channels have become normalized, contact centers have started to add digital customer service agents who handle service issues on select digital channels. But these channels have been added piece by piece, with each channel having its own separate platform. And because the volume on any one digital channel usually isn’t sufficient to allow for having specialist agents supporting those channels, you end up having a small number of agents per digital channel who are required to be generalists. Instead of serving one or two product types and one or two types of assistance, these digital agents handle all transactions that come in on a digital channel, such as email or SMS, regardless of the type of service required.

Additionally, because each digital channel has usually been added in on its own separate platform, digital agents are not able to assist each other if there is an unusual peak of activity on another channel, because they haven’t been trained on the other platform. These “digital silos” prevent contact centers from achieving staffing efficiencies, because the inability of digital agents to assist agents on other digital channels can lead to digital agents being under-utilized. However, it also prevents businesses from successfully differentiating based on customer experience, because it’s not enough to simply have support for digital channels anymore. Customers have come to expect the same quality of service, regardless of channel.

So what is the solution?

Consolidating digital channels will enable the same specialist service for digital that is standard for phone

The solution to this problem is consolidating your various digital channels into one platform, so that rather than having a separate pool of agents for chat, and email, and SMS – you can have one team of agents that handles all supported digital channels. Bringing all these channels into a platform that makes each interaction look and feel the same allows for a larger team of agents who can be assigned specialist skills the same way agents are for phone. This allows for a consistency of customer service excellence that will impress your customer and reduces stress for your digital agents by no longer requiring them to be generalists.

Additionally, when this consolidated digital channel platform is combined with chatbots, this smooths out the process of connecting your digital customers to the correct agents. Two common chatbot strategies for facilitating the connection of customers to the correct agent are “Conversational” chatbots and menu-based chatbots.

  • Conversational chatbots: Conversational bots use Natural Language Processing (NLP) to analyze incoming messages to determine what sort of interaction your customer is requesting. If a customer sends you a message saying “I want to buy a wireless phone”, NLP can process that message and send that inquiry to an agent who is skilled at wireless phone sales.
  • Menu-based Chatbots: Another common strategy is to implement a chatbot that interacts with customers through a series of menu trees. This type of bot isn’t as “exciting”, but it eliminates the risk of the bot not understanding the customer. It is also simpler to implement and allows the same sort of menu-based self-service that is provided for phone with IVR.

(For more information on chatbot approaches, strategy, and integration with digital messaging for customer service, download our whitepaper: Digital Messaging for Business in 2018.)

What’s the take-away? Don’t re-invent the wheel

In 2018, businesses need to focus on delivering digital customer service excellence. One way to do that is to solve problems for digital the same way they’ve already been solved for phone. There’s a reason that skills-based routing has become a standard for phone-based customer service. Investing in a platform that will consolidate all your digital channels will allow you deliver the same excellent service for digital that is already being delivered for phone.

The benefits of skills-based routing for digital customer contact, summarized:

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About the Author: Anna Kreider