The Automated Call Distributor, or ACD, is the central command center, ...
instance, or “copy” of the software application. Since then, the hosted or cloud-based model of delivery has completely
Tier 3 data centers and is part of a comprehensive, tightly-integrated suite of contact center applications that are built...
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Automated Call Distributor White Paper


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Your customer needs to be connected with the agent that is most qualified to address their needs. Today, the ACD does much more than connect callers to agents: By integrating the ACD with external databases, an organization can have full control over how every call is handled, thus vastly improving customer service and creating operational efficiencies.

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Automated Call Distributor White Paper

  2. 2. THE ACD: THE ‘BRAIN’ OF THE INBOUND CONTACT CENTER The Automated Call Distributor, or ACD, is the central command center, or “brain” of any inbound contact center system. Almost all other applications that comprise the contact center software “ecosystem” are in some way connected to, or dependent upon, the ACD. In fact, it can be argued that had the ACD never been invented, the inbound contact center as we know it today could not exist. Simply said, the ACD is a telephone switch responsible for distributing calls among contact center agents.As calls flow into the contact center, the ACD facilitates a “call queue” where callers wait on hold until the next agent or representative becomes available.The earliest ACDs, which evolved from the Private Branch Exchange, or PBX, in the early 1960s, were limited to distributing calls in the order in which they were received:As callers connected they were given position in the queue and placed on hold until the next agent became available. Today, the ACD does much more than connect callers to agents: By integrating the ACD with external databases, an organization can have full control over how every call is handled, thus vastly improving customer service and creating operational efficiencies. Through Computer Telephony Integration, or CTI, customer information such as name, address and purchase history can be “screen popped” onto the agent’s desktop, enabling the agent to deliver personalized service. As customers or prospects connect, the ACD and corresponding database work together to identify the customer, typically via Caller ID. Once a caller has been identified, the call can then be routed to the proper agent based on a range of criteria set by the organization. For example, callers who are identified as being repeat or “high value” customers can be given priority in the queue and can be connected exclusively with the contact center’s top-performing agents. Similarly, calls can be routed to one or more of the agents who handled a particular customer’s past transactions. Today’s ACDs also facilitate what is known as “skills based routing,” which is when calls are routed based on an agent’s particular skill set. For example, a call from a customer who has a specific question about a particular product or service can be routed to just those agents who have knowledge about that product. Likewise, a call from customer seeking to complete a simple transaction rather than getting information can be routed directly to agents who are dedicated to processing transactions. By allowing for the assignment of calls based on agent skill set, an organization can minimize call transfers and reduce agent call times.What’s more, as businesses grow and become more complex, contact centers must often deal with a greater variety of call types, thus predicating the need to route callers to those agents with the correct skills and knowledge to handle specific requests. Helping the ACD to identify customers and determine why they are calling is its close companion: The IVR, or Interactive Voice Response system. An add-on module that often accompanies the ACD, the IVRs job is to categorize calls so that they are routed more efficiently.Forexample,acustomermightbepromptedtodescribetheirproblemorstatewhich department they are trying to reach. That information is then used to route the call to proper agent via the ACD. When the call is connected, the agent will have the necessary information about the customer. Although an IVR is an optional application, many SMBs are deploying IVRs to ensure calls are routed ef ficientlyandimproveservice—andnodiscussionoftheACD would be complete without mentioning the IVR. Up until about 15 years ago, the ACD and the other components that make up a contact center were typically hardware-based systems that were installed and maintained on premises.The ACD and accompanying systems required their own dedicated hardware in the server room, all of which had to be maintained by in-house IT staff and, sometimes, multiple third party support teams. Starting in the late 1990s contact center software makers started offering their products on a hosted basis — meaning the servers are located in a data center off-site and the software is delivered to the organization’s premises via a dedicated network on a subscription basis. In the early years of hosted systems, the software was often proprietary, making system integration difficult, time consuming and costly.Additionally, voice sometimes had to be handled via a dedicated or “managed” IP network (in the event the contact center was not using TDM, or traditional phone technology) to ensure quality of service. By the mid-2000s, hosted systems had come a long way. Most contact center software providers had re-coded their products to make them fully Web-based and compatible with a wide range of other systems — including, for example,Workforce Management, Customer Relationship Management and Call Recording.As network capacity increased and packet-switched networks became more efficient, call quality across IP networks was no longer an issue — more importantly, it no longer mattered where the ACD was physically located. For example, the system could just as easily be hosted in a third party data center, and accessed on a “multi-tenant” basis, meaning that numerous organizations could share the same
  3. 3. instance, or “copy” of the software application. Since then, the hosted or cloud-based model of delivery has completely changed the software licensing/system deployment paradigm, in that an organization could now “lease” contact center software in an “on-demand” fashion. This new model of delivery presents numerous advantages. Primarily, it gives companies a fast and simple migration path to deploying a contact center:Typically all that is needed is a single appliance which is deployed on site (i.e. on the customer’s side of the firewall), a high speed internet connection, the phones and/or the computers.All of the software is delivered via the network and no other equipment is needed.This not only makes it faster and simpler to deploy a contact center, it also greatly reduces the upfront cost. No longer does an organization need to make a big capital investment in new servers and equipment. Next, it gives organizations the ability to scale their contact center systems based on their current needs.With the hosted or cloud-based system, an organization can subscribe to as many seats or users as needed, based on call volume.This is particularly beneficial for organizations that staff their contact centers based on seasonal trends:An organization can readily add or drop seats and pay only for the capacity it is currently using.This saves organizations a bundle on software licensing, additionally they also avoid having to invest in on-premises equipment with enough capacity to handle peak volume. The hosted model also greatly reduces the need for ongoing support and maintenance, which can bog down an organization’s IT team.With this model, responsibility for system performance — including all software patches, upgrades and troubleshooting — becomes the software provider’s responsibility.This is in contrast to the on-premises model, which requires not only ongoing monitoring and maintenance by in-house IT teams, but also reliance on multiple third party vendors. Contrary to popular belief, when an organization outsources its contact center infrastructure to a hosted provider, it doesn’t necessarily result in a loss of control.This is because today’s Web or Cloud-based contact center systems are truly “browser- based,” software makers are now giving their customers unprecedented control over system configuration via Web-based administrative interfaces.These interfaces are so intuitive that IT staff are often not needed to make system changes — contact center managers can easily add/drop agents, change hold music, adjust queues and make a range of other changes from any Web-enabled computer or other device. As mentioned, an ACD that is hosted “in the cloud” can be programmed to route any incoming call to any other designated number or network end point.This is an important advantage because it gives organizations the ability to have calls routed to agents who are outside the main center. For example, many organizations are now embracing the home-based agent model, where agents field customer service calls from a home office or, alternatively, from a mobile device or smartphone. In addition, organizations that want to stay nimble in the face of a tough economy may wish to use a mix of smaller, remote centers and home-based agents so as to maximize flexibility and efficiency.Today’s hosted ACDs give organizations unprecedented capabilities for routing calls to any end point on any network — PSTN, IP or mobile — through virtualization of the contact center system. In addition to facilitating the home-based agent model, today’s cloud-based ACDs give organizations the ability to route calls to remote or outsourced contact centers based on predefined business rules. For example, an organization might decide to outsource a third party’s calls at night.The cloud-based ACD can be programmed so that when agents in the main center go home for the evening, all calls are seamlessly and automatically routed to the outsourced center, thus saving the organization resources, reducing costs and delivering superior customer service, 24-7. Similarly, many organizations are using outsourced centers for call overflow — once call volume at the main center hits a certain threshold, calls are then automatically routed to the outsourced center as an overflow facility via the ACD. Flexible deployment options have become a hallmark of the cloud- based contact center system. Importantly, today’s ACDs deliver both historical and real-time reporting that can be automatically uploaded to various databases and business applications.This data can be used to boost agent performance, increase operational efficiency, gain insight into customer behavior, and improve customer service. Real time stats allow contact center managers to react quickly to changing conditions, while historical reporting gives upper management insight into trends upon which business decisions can be made. In this respect, the ACD is used to create repositories of data that can be drawn upon to improve operations in a myriad of ways. ABOUT THE CONNECT FIRST HOSTED ACD Connect First offers a carrier-grade, cloud-hosted ACD that was built from the ground up by the company’s developers.This highly scalable, fault tolerant ACD is hosted in the company’s virtualized
  4. 4. Tier 3 data centers and is part of a comprehensive, tightly-integrated suite of contact center applications that are built on customized open source software and off-the-shelf hardware. Contact centers with 20 seats or less can deploy the Connect First ACD effortlessly and with no upfront cost — all that is needed are the computers and a high speed Internet connection. For organizations with more than 20 seats, Connect First requires the deployment of a single appliance that sits at the edge of the organization’s IP network at each location.This appliance, which is practically “plug and play,” is preconfigured and customized for each customer’s exact needs before being shipped by the Connect First team. Prior to deployment, Connect First works with prospective clients to determine the most cost-effective method for terminating calls to the platform. Once an organization’s hosted contact center system is configured and deployed, they are issued one or more toll free numbers which are used to terminate all inbound calls to the Connect First servers. From there, each call is passed to the intelligence layer of the platform, which applies the configuration and preferences set by the organization’s management. Many of these settings can be controlled via the system’s Web-based administrative interface. When selecting a hosted ACD, it is especially important to con sider integration with other systems. Many contact center software vendors have formed technology partnerships with developers of other systems, such as workforce management and customer relationship management, and thus offer connectors which make it fast, simple and cost effective to integrate their products. Beyond this, many vendors are now offering software development kits that enable faster and simpler integration between non-partner systems. With Connect First’s commitment to agile integration, the ACD can be seamlessly with practically any other contact center application — whether from one of Connect First’s many technology partners or other third party vendors. In this regard the Connect First system gives customers not only a smooth migration path to the latest and most advanced contact center technologies, it also gives them the opportunity to get more life out of existing technology investments (which in turn can help organizations save on agent training). The Connect First ACD offers most, if not all, of the advanced features and capabilities found on more expensive, enterprise grade systems, including call recording, call monitoring, historical and real time call reporting and skills-based routing.When used in concert with the Connect First IVR, calls can be classified into categories, using information provided by the caller (for example, Spanish language) and then routed to the most appropriate agents. Further, when integrated with a customer database, the ACD is capable of identifying customers via caller ID, which in turn can be used to deliver more personalized service. Other advanced features include In-Queue Callback, which allows a customer who is on hold to hang up, yet keep their place in the queue and receive a call-back once a live agent becomes available; Flexible On-Hold Messaging, which allows organizations to customize the pre-recorded messages customers hear while waiting on hold; Estimated Wait Time Announcements, which provides approximate hold times to callers who are waiting in the queue; and Geo-Spatial Routing, which allows inbound calls to be routed based on the physical location of the caller. When shopping for a hosted contact center system, it is important to consider the ACD’s design and capabilities, as these can play a huge role in overall system reliability.The Connect First hosted ACD is a field-tested, battle-hardened routing engine that is now deployed by more than 200 organizations.With this fault-tolerant, secure and full-featured system, organizations can enjoy the advantages of extreme scalability, flexible deployment, improved redundancy and lower communications costs via Voice over IP technology. ABOUT CONNECT FIRST Connect First is an award-winning SaaS telecommunications and cloud contact center software provider that focuses on customer satisfaction and elegant hosted solutions. Connect First offers a robust platform, designed and supported by a team of highly experienced engineers, designers and business analysts, and backed with personalized in-house customer care. Solutions include Cloud Routing, Inbound ACD, Outbound Dialing, Call Tracking, InteractiveVoice Response (IVR),Voice Broadcast, Disaster Recovery, Predictive Dialer, Real-Time Telemetry, CDR Reporting, Live Agent Chat and more.Through a consultative approach with each customer interaction, Connect First builds customized solutions to meet the needs of a discerning customer base.