What Is Automatic Call Distribution? A Guide for Small Businesses
This article is part of a larger series on VoIP.
An automatic call distributor (ACD) collects customer information through an interactive voice response (IVR) system and routes calls to agents based on preset criteria. ACD is found in voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) and private branch exchange (PBX) systems—enabling businesses receiving a large volume of inbound calls to improve customer service through efficient call routing.
How Automatic Call Distribution Works
Once a call comes in, your interactive voice response (IVR) navigates callers through an automated menu of options. The IVR collects information regarding the customer’s concern or reason for calling. After the customer responds via voice or touch-tone keypad, the IVR places them in the queue. Using routing algorithms, ACD transfers customers accordingly—an agent, voicemail, or prerecorded messages.
An ACD provides a structure for incoming calls directed to the most appropriate department or agent. This leads to a reduction in customer wait time, better call handling, and improved productivity and customer satisfaction. The rules are based on parameters such as the call location, membership tier, required skills, and urgency.
ACD systems help manage incoming calls in a call center, especially when traffic is too high, call center agents are unavailable, or calls are received outside business hours. It ensures optimal engagement as call centers connect you to your customers and potential clients.
On the agent’s end, ACD works with computer telephony integration (CTI), which connects your phone technology with your help desk or customer relationship management (CRM) software. When integrated, ACD matches caller IDs and numbers with customer records—arming your agents with relevant caller information for more meaningful, productive interactions.
The steps of an ACD process differ per system or organization, but the general routine is:
- Greet customers through your call center’s IVR system
- Prompt client’s selection through a menu of options
- Route calls based on predetermined routing algorithms to agents, voicemail, or prerecorded messages
Types of Automatic Call Distribution
Agents handle a high volume of call tickets daily, and solutions like ACD platforms help automate the process of matching callers with appropriate agents. Automatic call routing systems are programmed to route calls based on specific criteria and protocols.
Below are some examples of call routing options found in many call center phone systems:
- Rotation or round-robin call distribution: This method has a set rotation where all agents take turns answering phone calls. This ensures equal workload and call volumes among agents. Once all agents have taken a call, the cycle resets and has the first agent answer a call.
- Simultaneous call distribution: This arrangement rings all agents simultaneously until someone picks up the call. Whoever answers will handle the customer. This type of distribution ensures minimal wait time for customers and is typically the main method used in auto-attendant phone systems.
- Time-based call distribution: Calls are routed to available agents during a specific time window. This is typically based on the schedule of employees or manually adjusted to reflect individual out-of-office hours.
- Talk-time or idle agent call distribution: The number of calls is based on the average talk time, and agents with the lowest airtime or idle for the longest period are given calls to optimize workloads.
- Data-based call distribution: Calls are transferred to agents based on the customer’s data. Factors typically include the customer’s membership, priority status, or preferred means of communication.
- Weighted call distribution: Weighted call routing assigns higher call volume percentages to agents. For example, veteran or senior agents would have higher call volumes, with new hires receiving less.
- Skills-based call distribution: Calls are routed to agents with specific skill sets, like information technology (IT) technicians or multilingual agents. In addition to IVR selections, skills-based routing also considers a caller’s location or IVR entries.
Top Features of ACD Systems
Automating your phone lines saves you money and frees up your team to focus on quality conversations with clients. Here are some key automatic call distribution features that help improve your small business operations:
Programmable Call Routing
Call routing automatically distributes inbound calls based on predefined rules or criteria. There are various ways to direct calls through an ACD system, with each company selecting types based on its current call center setup. ACD solutions offer the flexibility to create the most appropriate system for your business call center operations.
Read our What Is Call Routing & How It Benefits Small Businesses article to learn more about this feature.
Call Center Overflow Management
When there is a shortage of agents or calls are received outside of call hours, ACD systems are equipped to send customers to voicemail or include them in automatic callback features. Customers leave callback requests and messages, which agents assess and act on upon availability.
Extensive Third-party App Integrations
ACDs become more powerful when integrated with other phone systems and software. ACDs are usually combined with CRM systems that automatically pull up client records. This enables call representatives to personalize calls and track client history to provide better support.
Call Monitoring & Agent Coaching
Similar to call answering services, with ACD call monitoring, call center supervisors are able to monitor agents’ performance by using whisper and barge features to optimize performance in real time. Insights on monitoring serve as the basis for further training and coaching.
Benefits of Automatic Call Distribution
Automatic call distribution systems facilitate prompt, intelligent routing that directs your customers to the best agents to handle their concerns. It puts in place preferential response times for VIP callers, transfers calls based on customer needs, and segregates simple inquiries and basic processing to self-service options.
Below are some of the key benefits small businesses bank on when using ACD systems:
Improved Workforce Management
Having an ACD in place reduces the time your employees spend on misrouted phone calls through orderly call routing, ensuring agents only handle calls they are meant to. This means agents quickly address customer needs and improve agent confidence and client satisfaction. Intelligent routing of customers through preset conditions, such as routing to available agents, also means a more equitable call distribution and reduction of agent downtime.
Enhanced Customer Service
With improved call distribution, clients are routed to qualified team members and channels where their issues are likely to be resolved on the first attempt. Directing customers to the most capable agents armed with CRM data facilitates more in-depth conversations, higher resolution rates, and fewer callbacks. VIP customers also appreciate prompt routing and immediate attention, leading to your priority clients’ brand appreciation and loyalty.
Faster Response & Resolution
ACD’s self-service options make your company available 24/7. Advanced systems allow customers to proceed with IVR self-service options or leave a voicemail when agents are unavailable. Automated call routing based on determined parameters means customers interact with the right agent or department.
Reduced Operational Costs
ACD contributes to cost reduction by improving staff performance, minimizing setup and maintenance costs, and enabling businesses to maintain lean live receptionist teams. As a VoIP solution, automation of call routing eliminates costly errors, streamlines employee productivity, and saves money on labor and equipment expenses. Omnichannel ACDs also collate inquiries from various channels and include them into a single system.
Top Providers That Offer ACD Features
As beneficial as ACD is in VoIP and PBX phone systems, not all providers have ACD in their menu of services. If you’re in the market for core contact center features, such as automated routing with reports and analytics, here is our list of the three best automatic call distribution system providers:
Freshdesk Contact Center (formerly Freshcaller) is a cloud-based PBX with VoIP features. Its services combine ACD with IVR, allowing you to automate screening and call transferring so your agents spend more time attending to customer concerns. Freshdesk also includes holiday and business hours routing and idle agent call distribution.
Freshdesk Contact Center has three plans: Growth, Pro, and Enterprise. Its Growth plan comes with 2,000 free incoming minutes with a starting price of $18 per agent when billed annually. Features include call and wait queues, voicemail, call recording, and queue transfer. Freshdesk Contact Center’s 21-day free trial provides prospective users access to all its Enterprise plan features.
Freshdesk Contact Center is suited for small businesses with remote call center agents or lean teams needing affordable call routing solutions. Read our Freshdesk Contact Center review to determine if it matches your needs.
RingCentral Contact Center is an omnichannel customer experience software that allows customers to connect with your business across multiple platforms, including voice calls. Its intuitive interface allows your team to handle customers from various channels across one interface. Its ACD solution includes key features such as automatic call back, call recording, skills-based routing, and database connectivity.
RingCentral Contact Center has four plans: Essentials, its base plan, features ACD with skills-based routing, advanced IVR, click-to-call function, open APIs, and real-time and historical reports. At the time of publishing, rates are not readily available on its website, but similar providers offer parallel plans anywhere from $15 to $170 monthly, per user. Contact sales for more information on RingCentral’s plans and prices.
RingCentral is one of the most popular call center and cloud-based business phone system providers. Our RingCentral Contact Center review provides insights on use cases and alternatives to suit your specific needs.
Talkdesk is a cloud-based contact center solution that offers flexible and advanced omnichannel services, including ACD and call monitoring. Its ACD and call routing software integrate with CRM software, allowing you to collect and retrieve customer information to personalize routing decisions and conversations.
Talkdesk’s base plan, CX Cloud Essentials, starts at $75 monthly, paid per user, and includes routing, voice engagement, virtual agent, and application programming interface (API) access. It is suited for small businesses looking for ACD and advanced calling features, such as automated outbound dialers.
Read more about this provider in our Talkdesk review and find out why it’s one of our recommendations for the best predictive dialer providers.
Want to strengthen your ACD system? Predictive behavioral routing is a feature that uses the caller’s data, including personality, interaction history, and communication preferences, to identify the best point of contact. Learn more about this artificial intelligence (AI)-based function that works best with ACD by reading our feature spotlight on predictive behavioral routing.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the difference between ACD & IVR?
ACDs are automated call routing systems that receive inbound calls and route them to agents, voicemail, or other channels based on your criteria. A well-programmed system transfers callers with the right technician or department to address their needs. On the other hand, an IVR is an automated voice response menu that navigates callers through self-service options. Advanced IVRs collect user data for self-propelled solutions.
Want to know more about IVR? In this guide, we’ve identified some of the best IVR systems to help you set up an automated self-service menu for your hotline.
How much does ACD cost?
ACD is not a standalone service but a telecommunications feature included in a VoIP business phone system. Depending on your plan and provider, monthly pricing for services that include ACD begins at about $15 to $20 per user. There are various phone systems that include ACD and other services. Read this article to explore the best business phone systems available.
Is ACD better than live receptionists?
ACD programs help businesses manage phone calls more efficiently. Its distinct advantage over a live receptionist lies in its ability to manage a larger volume of calls at much lower rates. The decision to use an automated call service over a live receptionist depends on your company’s volume, type of calls, and available resources. ACDs complement live agents by fielding calls to allow employees to focus more on quality customer interactions, as needed.
What industries & company sizes are best suited for ACD?
Regardless of industry and business size, ACD is helpful for companies that handle a high volume of customer service and sales phone calls. ACD is advantageous for small businesses with a handful of agents wanting to automate call routing. It is also used in hospitality, finance, education, and healthcare industries that receive a range of customer concerns, such as billing, account updating, and scheduling and reservations.
ACD systems are ideal for managing incoming calls and customizing your routing strategies, especially for small businesses handling a large volume of phone interactions. Most ACD services combine IVR and CTI with CRM integrations, allowing you to personalize customer conversations. To learn more about ACD and other must-have phone features, check out our article on the best call center phone system features.