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ACD (Automatic Call Distribution) Systems in Customer Service and Call Centers / Contact Centers

What is an ACD System, How do I choose an ACD system, and Most Common ACD Providers

What is Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) System? What is an ACD?

An Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) system is a combination of software, hardware (servers for on-premise systems, for example), and connections to external systems that directs incoming calls to relevant departments or individuals. 

An ACD works with a telephony system to provide additional functionality. While a telephony system uses extension numbers, an ACD uses lines. Incoming calls to these lines can then be distributed in a complex manner  through custom-made call flows, which describe the path an incoming call takes when reaching a line. This path can include different phone lines, agent groups which are attached to those phone lines, different waiting groups, and so on. (The infographic below illustrates the relationship between an ACD system and a telephony system.)

Call flows can include complex distribution settings and, depending on the ACD configuration, can include an option where callers are routed to the correct destination via automatically collected information, such as caller ID or caller information from an integrated CRM (customer relationship management) database or via customer-selected options enabled by specialised technologies, such as an IVR system (Interactive Voice Response). Call centers that employ ACD systems along with other technologies can save their agents valuable time and provide their customers with a better service experience. 

How can I boost the functionality of my ACD system?

ACD systems can do much more than just direct callers to the correct department or agent. With the correct connection to databases and software, an ACD system can use rule-based algorithms, powered by historical data, to direct callers to the correct department. For example, an ACD could direct callers with a +49 country code to German-speaking agents. Or as a more advanced example, an ACD system with a connection to the customer database, could route a caller to an agent skilled with a specific product, after detecting that the caller had recently purchased said product.

ACD systems can also be used in conjunction with IVR, CTI (computer telephony integration), and automation bots to perform simple tasks, like retrieving information from a database, entering data into a form (e.g. make an insurance claim), and more. Different ACD software allows for different functionalities, especially if it’s integrated with external systems, e.g., customer databases, speech recognition.
Integrated ACD software allows for greater customer service options than stand-alone ACDs, but a small office or customer service center may not need such an advanced solution. We talk more about this in the sections below.

How do I choose an ACD system for my center?

We’ve outlined a few questions that will help guide you towards selecting a proper ACD system.

What is your budget?

Your budget largely determines which software you ultimately purchase, especially if your center is newly starting out. If your budget is extremely low and your center needs are limited, you may be interested in a stand-alone ACD that only handles call routing. However, if your budget is higher and your needs are greater as well, you may be interested in enterprise ACD software.

What is the structure of your contact center, e.g., number of agents and incoming calls?

The next thing to take note of is the structure of your contact center. Here are a sample questions that you might want answers to:

  • Who’s making the calls?
  • Are they employees whose sole job is to make and/or answer calls?
  • What are your business hours, e.g., opening/closing hours, number of days in the week? For example, if your business was receiving 200 calls a day, this would mean 25 calls per hour, assuming an 8-hour work day. If this were spread across 4.5 employees, this would be manageable, and you wouldn’t need an ACD - just a basic telephone system.
  • How long is the average call/processing time?
  • What’s your ideal service level?
  • When are peak calling hours?
  • What’s your planned agent workload?

After you’ve answered these questions, you’ll have a better idea of whether you need an ACD system. Generally speaking, if you have less than 5 employees making/answering calls and everything is manageable, and you don’t project out a growing number of calls, you probably don’t need enterprise software; a stand-alone ACD may suffice.

But a word of warning –  it’s generally difficult or expensive to upgrade or connect stand-alone systems to other software or CRM and CMS systems, outside of pre-existing integrations or vendor partners. So be aware of technical limitations, as you may need to shop around for independent software platforms to add additional functionality in the case your current ACD isn’t enough.

Additionally, if you expect to scale your business up in the future, you may also want to consider:

  • The maximum number of agents that smaller ACD systems support
  • The cost of adding additional agents
  • The cost of an upgrade from a smaller system to a larger system within the same company. Sometimes, the cost of the upgrade is about the same as purchasing a larger ACD system.

If you’re a medium-sized business or larger, e.g., receiving hundreds of calls a day, you’ll need to begin looking at larger sized ACD systems, which means you might need to invest in additional equipment, such as  servers, computers, a proper PBX, and enterprise software for ACDs. Note that the cost of physical ACD servers can easily go up to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the number of incoming calls to the call center.

Be sure to also enquire about workforce management tools, such as data reporting, employee scheduling systems, call recording, and real-time reporting. Some ACD systems are limited in the amount of data that they store or allow you to track. However, such equipment is really only necessary if you decide to host on-premise contact center software. So this decision naturally leads to our next question – do you want an on-premise or a cloud-based contact center?

What are the differences between an on-site ACD and an ACD cloud solution? (Do you want an on-premise or a cloud-based contact center system?)

Hosting an on-premise call center system requires the presence of physical, on-site communication hardware and servers, software, and infrastructure. All of this requires an in-house or third-party IT (information technology) team for maintenance and integration upgrades. 

Using a cloud-based contact center system, however, does not require much of the physical infrastructure, if any at all, as the center itself exists in the cloud. Further, a cloud-based center is hosted and maintained by a third-party who owns and manages the communication hardware and servers, software, etc. for ongoing performance. 

Due to the lack of physical infrastructure, agents in a cloud-based call center can work remotely from anywhere, this does however require both the agents and the service center to have a strong internet connection to ensure the service remains live and high quality. 

The type of call center system that you use will impact your options for an ACD system, though stand-alone ACD systems are available.

On-Premise Systems

On-premise systems require more physical hardware, e.g., large physical servers and the buildings to hold them, but they also tend to be more data-secure, as the data is stored on company grounds and is much harder for malicious entities to access. Companies that require strict data security may prefer on-premise systems. 

In the event a company prefers on-premise systems but still wishes to include the benefits of cloud-based software, e.g., enabling remote work, eliminating the need to install software for each, individual computer, etc., the company can invest into building a private cloud, which is usually made up of physical servers or terminal servers, and is only accessible by company employees. 

Be aware that creating a private cloud is not cheap –  it’s an investment, as the price ranges between 10,000 – 20,000 euros. Further, a private cloud still requires an IT team, making you responsible for upgrades, maintenance, and data security.

Cloud-Based Systems

Cloud-based systems are divided into two types: a private cloud, and a public cloud. We’ve already discussed private cloud systems in the previous section, so in this section, we’ll talk about public cloud systems. 

Contact centers that are just starting out can benefit greatly from public cloud systems. As mentioned earlier, on-premise systems include not just costs from purchasing equipment, but also ongoing dedicated IT effort to maintain them. In contrast, a cloud-based system is maintained by a third-party. Public cloud system providers own their own equipment, e.g., servers, and are in charge of maintaining such systems, along with data security. This, of course, means that if the provider is hacked, your data may be stolen, but not erased, as providers tend to make back-up copies of your data. Another advantage in using cloud-based systems is the ability to scale up and down the number of agents that use the software. Many systems allow for contact centers to purchase as little as just one license. 

In summary, if you want a flexible, scalable system, a cloud-based system would be better for you. However, you want to ensure data security, an on-premise system would be better for you. And in the case that you want to take advantage of both systems, this is possible too. Many companies that own on-premise legacy systems that date back 20-30 years are using a hybrid system, by using cloud-based systems on top of their on-premise systems.

Which kind of software: all-in-one, or best-of-breed?

An “all-in-one” software refers to software with multiple functions or features inside of it, while a “best-of-breed” software refers to software that holds only one function or feature, but that function or feature is considered to be the best in its class. 

With more at stake in customer service than ever, ACD software is usually offered in an all-in-one format with multiple functionalities, which may include IVR systems, call monitoring and recording, CRM, Analytics, Agent training, and more. The following comparisons lay out the advantages and disadvantages of going with one or the other:

All-in-one software

Advantages

  • Priced competitively
  • Multiple features designed to interact with each other smoothly
  • Single point of contact if anything goes wrong with the software

Disadvantages

  • Entire system is more likely to crash if one feature crashes
  • Overpacked software with many unwanted or unneeded features
  • Quality of features may be imbalanced, as one feature may be more advanced than others
Best-of-breed software

Advantages

  • Best and/or most advanced feature in the market
  • Freedom to switch to another software if another company offers something better

Disadvantages

  • Risk of software not interacting well with other pre-existing software in the system
  • Possible additional costs from building API connections
What features are you looking for with an ACD software?

Be sure to understand which features you want to provide for your customers, e.g., customer self-service tools, IVR, and ask whether the ACD supports these features. 

Some features are add-ons that you can easily connect to your ACD, but others require a connection between the ACD and external software, e.g., CRM system, HR databases. You will need to  find out whether your ACD hosts external links to these systems, or the costs of building an additional external link.

Default settings for an ACD system:
  • Queuing
  • Phone forwarding
  • Answering machine
  • Standard routing
Additional features, which your ACD system may or may not support:
  • Intelligent queueing

    Using artificial intelligence to determine how to best queue callers, e.g., pushing callers to a queue during high call-volume hours, then returning callers to the center during lower call-volume hours

  • Intelligent IVR

    Using speech recognition technology to understand caller intent, and route them to the correct agent or department

  • Skill-based Routing

    Using data from a customer database, caller id, previous call log data, ERP system, social media post, or other information to determine how to best route a customer to the most appropriate agent to handle the customer’s case

  • Automation bots

    Using connections to an external system like a customer database or ERP systems to automate tasks, e.g., filling out a ticket or a form, retrieving customer data, and so on.

  • Omnichannel/Multichannel

    Connecting and communicating with your customers via different channels, such as phone, email, messaging apps, chat bots, social media, website, and more

  • Video communication

    Routing customers to chat with your agents via video conferencing

  • Unified communications platform (UC platform)

    Allows for you and your agents to access every communication channel with your customers from one platform, e.g., facebook chat, whatsapp, call, text, and more.

Top 21 Most Common ACD Providers
  • Avaya (Avaya, Avaya CIE, Avaya IP)
  • Enghouse AG (Voxtron, Elsbeth, Andtek)
  • WTG
  • Sikom
  • Cisco (Cisco Broadsoft)
  • Unify
  • Genesys
  • Asterisk
  • Solidus
  • 4com
  • 8×8
  • Altitude
  • BlueCall
  • Mitel
  • Swyx
  • Talkdesk
  • Aspect
  • Five9
  • LeadDesk
  • SAP
  • Alcatel
Mandatory Plug for virtualQ Solutions 😉

Congratulations! You’ve finished reading this extremely long article! And now, you’re on the part of this article that’s a mandatory advertisement for our services 😉 (Of course, we need to still support our business to keep making articles like this, right?!)

Maybe you’re looking at this article because…

  • You want to digitally transformation your customer service department
  • You want to handle more calls on less resources
  • You want to increase the quality of your customer service

…and here’s why virtualQ can help you in all three of these goals!

That’s great! Purchasing an ACD system is a decision that takes a long time, and we’re glad that you’ve finished up the process of getting it! Regardless of the ACD system solution you choose, you can improve your contact center efficiency even further with virtualQ. Many of our large enterprise customers with working cloud contact center solutions from top name brands (see our Top 21 list above!), still choose virtualQ because of our capability to make their service centers more efficient. Our predictive algorithms choose when to return callers back to your center – when your center is less busy, and not when it’s swamped with calls – in order to make your center far more efficient with far less resources!

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All about ACD

In this white paper, you learned about ACDs, their benefits for call centers, and the different types of ACD software.

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