5 Skills-Based Routing Secrets – Call Allocation Explained

Assigning the perfect agent to each and every call. Sounds great right?

Skills-based routing can be an awesome tool if you’re looking to provide the best possible customer experience. However, it’s not as simple as setting it up and forgetting about it. Proper call routing takes time to perfect, and requires constant ongoing optimisation.

In this guide, we’ll show you everything you need to know about skills-based routing. We’ll also discuss how you can use it on your outbound campaigns, improving the quality of the conversations you’re having with your contacts.

What is intelligent call routing?

Call centre agents.

Skills-based routing pretty much works like this:

  • You define what each agent is good at or particularly knowledgeable about. This can be done on a per-agent basis or by placing each person into a group associated with a specific skill.
  • The software then analyses the characteristics of the customer who’s making the call. It also looks at the problem they’re having – this sort of information is normally picked up by the IVR or by screening their number against your CRM.
  • Each call is then allocated to the agent who is the most qualified person to deal with the customer and their problem, assuming they’re available. This will (in theory) massively improve your customer experience, especially if you tend to deal with a wide array of similar but still quite complex issues.

However, depending on the solution you’re using, this process might be a little more complex. You’ll generally have a few more options with regards to whether (for example) multiple agents are given the opportunity to answer each call, what happens when the customer’s problem isn’t clear, and how call prioritisation works when the most appropriately-skilled agent isn’t available.

The benefits of skills-based routing

Happy customer receiving a phone call.

Obviously, having a caller connect with the agent most-suited to solving their problem is going to be awesome for your customer experience. Less time on hold, clearer-to-understand answers and less “um-ing” and “uh-ing” are never a bad thing.

However, there are also a few less obvious benefits of managing inbound calls this way:

  • Issues are dealt with more quickly, helping cut costs.
  • First-contact resolution will be higher, meaning fewer future calls for your agents to deal with.
  • Agents can specialise in what they’re good at, maximising job satisfaction and enabling them to improve their specific skill-sets into the future.
  • Hiring and training new hires should be easier. You know exactly what you need each agent to be good at, which makes interviewing applicants and designing onboarding programs much simpler.

For outbound initiatives, the potential benefits are even greater. You can dramatically increase the number of successful outcomes you achieve, by ensuring that each customer/prospect is speaking to the person most likely to understand their needs and genuinely engage with them.

The issues with intelligent call routing

Woman receiving a phone call.

Skills-based routing isn’t as simple as just setting and forgetting it. Implementing this system without the proper frameworks in place can actually harm, rather than help, your customer service processes.

Here’s what you need to be aware of:

1. Dealing with overflow

What happens when a call comes in for a particular problem, and the agent(s) assigned to deal with that sort of issue are all on-call? You have two options:

  1. Put the call onto another agent. But if you’ve trained everyone to specialise in a certain area, this other person might not be equipped to deal with the problem specifically.
  2. Keep the customer on hold. The issue with this is that unless you’ve got a large amount of agents (which will be expensive), this hold time might be quite long. Customers will obviously get frustrated if they have to wait a long time for a resolution.

In the longer term, you can also expand the team dealing with the problem “pool” that often has overflow. But what if the types of calls coming in suddenly switch to another sort of problem? If you’ve got a particularly fluid product (like an app), the sorts of calls you’re dealing with can change drastically on a weekly or even a daily basis.

If things do change, you’ll be left with the same problem you had before you changed your team structure – just with a different set of idle agents and a different set of overworked team-members.

2. Problems are always changing

Customer dealing with an issue.

As we just discussed, things are bound to be fluid, which can make it very hard to prepare agents to deal with specific problems. If you don’t know exactly what issues you’ll be dealing with in the future, how are you going to train agents to resolve these problems ahead of time?

Before setting up skills-based routing, you’ll need to look back at the sort of problems you’ve been dealing with. Are there a few very well-defined categories? How many calls are about an issue that was specific to that customer?

Ultimately, you want both your customers and your product or service to be quite static (meaning, not subject to change too much) before investing time and money in intelligent call routing.

Universities, insurance companies, and banks are examples of organisations for which this software works wonders. But if you provide a particularly personalised service, or have a fairly low-volume contact centre, it’s definitely worth considering the potential ROI of your investment before going down this path.

3. Problems aren’t always well-defined

Man making a phone call in the snow.

What happens when a customer calls in about two completely different issues? Who takes the call, and can your IVR identify that there are two separate inquiries?

If it can’t, your client will likely explain their first issue and then say “By the way, I’ve also got a question about…”. If the agent isn’t qualified to answer this question properly, you could always transfer the caller. But there must be a protocol in place to ensure that this happens smoothly, with minimal time on hold.

It’s also possible that customers will call the wrong number or mash the IVR in frustration, meaning it won’t pick up on what their actual problem is.

4. Ongoing optimisation

Even if your inbound calls are pretty homogeneous, skills-based routing will require a significant amount of ongoing work to keep it running smoothly.

How will the system adapt as your organisation grows and new staff come on-board? Can fresh employees be given the chance to field only basic calls while they learn the ropes? How do you decide when they’re ready to take more complex calls?

You should also consider how your IVR is impacting your customer experience. Could it be optimised to make the problem-identification process easier while still being able to gather the necessary information?

5. Identifying expertise

Manager helping a call centre agent.

Figuring out exactly what the customer needs help with isn’t your only challenge. You’ve also got to identify what specific expertise each agent has, and how this knowledge can be best-applied to incoming calls.

You have a few ways of doing this:

  • Reviewing an employee’s performance – what do they excel at?
  • Going back to your notes (hopefully you have some!) from when you first interviewed the staff member – what impressed you?
  • Listening to successful/unsuccessful calls and making a subjective judgement.
  • Analysing agent KPIs – is their resolution rate higher in certain areas? Remember that some sorts of problems will be generally easier to solve, no matter the agent.

Once you’ve done this, you’ve got the translate these skills into priority groups or rules your intelligent routing software can understand. Your solution should have an intuitive but powerful method of setting up these routing guidelines. Ideally, it’ll be simple enough to set up, but advanced enough to enable you the flexibility to define whatever rules you want.

How to get the most out of intelligent call routing

Now that we’ve looked at some of the issues with skills-based routing, we’ll show you how to get the most out of such a system – if you choose to go down this path.

1. Plan ahead

People in a planning meeting.

Nothing ever goes exactly according to plan. You and your team have to be prepared for those moments when calls aren’t allocated to the right agent, or when there’s an overflow of people calling about a specific problem.

You should have a plan for when:

  • Calls come in but an appropriately-skilled agent isn’t available.
  • A customer misdescribes their issue (or has multiple issues) and may need to be transferred to another agent. Or if you’re just using simple prioritisation, don’t transfer them – just have the first agent deal with the problem.
  • A segment of agents isn’t particularly busy (calls that require their expertise aren’t coming in). Can they begin taking other calls or doing some other useful administrative activity? Having agents sitting around doing nothing is the last thing you want.

2. Set up frameworks ahead of time

It’s all well and good to have plans relating to how your intelligent routing process is going to work, but you also need to have the mechanisms in place to enable things to work properly.

Are staff aware of how the system is going to work? Are they trained to deal with mis-allocations or any other issues with routing rules?

Get your group together and go over exactly what’s involved – this will enable the process to work as smoothly as possible.

3. Don’t go all-in (at first)

Man jumping from a cliff.

As we discussed above, having very distinct groups of agents who are only equipped to deal with specific types of calls can lead to problems. For example, reduced efficiency when only certain types of calls come in on a particular day.

Your best bet (particularly as an SME) is to define a couple of skill groups and begin just prioritising a small proportion of calls to the most appropriate agents. Other team members should still be able to deal with problems they haven’t been specifically assigned to.

Once you’ve tried the process out for a while, you can assess the results and decide whether or not it’s worth moving to a more skills-based approach. If the calls that are being allocated to specific agents are being resolved much faster, it could be worth defining more skill groups and making the allocation rules a bit firmer.

4. Watch your results like a hawk

Before diving into intelligent call routing, define some KPIs with which you can monitor how your performance is going. For example:

  • First-call resolution.
  • Average hold time.
  • IVR abandonment rate (if the change will involve setting up an IVR or modifying your existing one).

After setting up the new allocation process, monitor these metrics closely. Find out if there are any issues with your skills-based routing setup, and assess if the system is working as intended. Are there settings or staff instructions you could change in order to resolve any issues that come up?

Apart from monitoring KPIs, you can also use your QA module to listen to calls which were transferred to another agent, for example. This allows you to figure out whether there’s room for improvement in your IVR process.

5. Do a cost/benefit analysis

Person holding up money.

Figuring out the ROI of such a change can be difficult ahead of time. If you like, you could perform a small pilot test first (with a few basic allocation rules) before figuring out a rough cost/benefit analysis.

First, figure out exactly what the change will cost you. If you’re investing heavily in skills-based routing, consider the following expenses:

  • Expanding teams in order to deal with high volumes of calls for a specific problem.
  • Training agents to specialise in certain areas – how much further guidance is required?
  • Training your team to deal with any issues associated with the new processes.
  • Customer dissatisfaction associated with potentially increased hold times/dealing with your IVR. Is the potential cost of this worth it over the cost of hiring more agents to ensure there’s always someone ready to deal with the problem?

And then you obviously need to look at the benefits of being able to deal with calls quicker and more effectively.

Outbound skills-based routing

Woman receiving a phone call on an iPhone.

With the contactSPACE platform, you’re not just limited to allocating inbound calls to agents based on the skills they posses. You can also define skills for outbound campaigns, so that the right agents are contacting the right people.

There are two broad methods of achieving this:

1. Priority-based allocation

Essentially, this works like inbound skills-based routing. You assign broad categories for contacts, and define which agents you’d like to have talking to each type of contact as a priority.

For example, say you segment your leads into those who are CEOs and those who are managers. For each team-member, you can give them a priority score for each category type.

If an agent has a priority of 10 for both categories, they’ll be allocated both types of leads equally. But if their priority is 10 for CEOs and 5 for managers, they’ll be allocated more CEOs than managers, assuming you have a similar volume of both types of leads.

2. Advanced filtering

When you apply advanced filters to your call routing, you have a lot more choice when defining where each lead goes. This process involves priority-based allocation, but works better for larger, more diverse lead groups.

First, you need to define very specific categories and make a filter for them. For example, male managers living in Sydney working in companies in the IT sector.

Then, you can use these filters by assigning a high priority score to agents you want to be talking to this specific type of person.


Skills-based routing can have a huge amount of potential benefits, both for those in customer service and inside sales. Nothing’s better than being able to deal with issues quickly without sacrificing contact quality on inbound, and being able to assign the best possible agent to each lead on outbound.

However, you’ve got to be sure that this sort of system is a good fit for your organisation. Will it enable you to achieve better overall results, and if so, at what cost?

This is why introducing routing rules gradually (or just setting up some simple prioritisation logic) is a great idea. Holding back from a full implementation initially gives you a bit of an escape route if things don’t quite go as expected.