ACD vs. IVR: Which One Will Save You More Customers?

Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems both have a role to play in your call center. But they also function differently.

The big difference? IVR systems allow your customers to self-serve through automated menus, while ACDs connect customers with the right human representatives. This extra human touch can be one of the big advantages of ACD, as it gives your customers the personal interaction that’s required to solve more complex and nuanced issues. 

IVR can streamline call handling and potentially improve your business’s bottom line in the short term. But ACD’s ability to swiftly connect customers with the right agent, equipped with the necessary skills and expertise, is often more aligned with the reasons customers pick up the phone in the first place. That’s why we think that for most businesses, ACD is the better choice. But let’s dig a little deeper to make sure it’s the right fit for your specific situation. 

5 (More) Reasons Why ACD is the Better Choice

1. Enhanced Customer Experience

Since ACD connects customers directly to the right agent without unnecessary delays, it can deliver a better customer experience. Consider that many of your competitors may be using automated or self-service systems like IVR. These have their place, but they also tend to fall short when it comes to resolving more complex issues. 

That’s why many customers ultimately prefer an immediate connection with human representatives. Even as AI and automation improve, the majority of customers still say they prefer talking to a human customer service agent on the phone.

The ACD system’s ability to understand caller needs and route accordingly can reduce the frustration that comes with navigating lengthy IVR menus. Depending on the reason for the call, ACD is often a more direct and efficient approach.

2. Improved Call Center Efficiency

The efficiency gains of ACD systems aren’t just great for your customers. You’ll also likely see them showing up in your own KPIs. 

Since ACD intelligently routes calls based on factors like agent availability, expertise, and caller history, it minimizes average handle time (AHT) and elevates the likelihood of first call resolution (FCR). These are some of the most important metrics that indicate effective call handling. 

But why exactly do ACDs tend to bolster these KPIs? 

Basically, efficient routing ensures your agents are well-equipped to address specific customer issues. This increases the chance of resolving the query in just a single interaction. 

This also creates a win-win ripple effect where customers are rewarded as the efficiency and bottom line of the business improves. You’re boosting customer satisfaction while also enhancing the operational performance of your call center, so everybody wins.

3. Personalized Customer Service

Personalization is playing a more and more important role in the world of customer service, with 69% of customers saying they appreciate it. ACD is one way to give your customers this personalization.  

Since ACD systems leverage skills-based routing, they’re aligning caller needs with agent expertise. This matchmaking capability ensures that customers with technical issues are routed to tech-savvy agents, or those with billing queries are directed to agents skilled in financial matters. 

This level of personalization in your service delivery won’t just streamline the resolution process. It’ll also significantly improve your customer’s experience. 

Personalized interactions, where customers feel understood and their issues are competently addressed, contribute enormously to customer satisfaction and loyalty. Skills-based routing and ACD is a powerful strategy you can use to cultivate this kind of loyalty.

4. Higher Agent Satisfaction

Again, ACD won’t just positively impact your customers. Agents’ satisfaction and morale will also improve. 

It makes sense: when calls are routed based on an agent’s skill set and experience, it leads to a more fulfilling work experience. They’re less likely to face the stress of handling calls that fall outside their area of expertise, which can be a significant source of job dissatisfaction. 

This tailored routing also helps maintain a balanced workload among agents, which can prevent burnout and foster a more positive work environment. With some studies showing as many as 74% of agents at risk of burnout, it’s worth embracing anything you can do to improve their satisfaction, including ACD.

Plus, when agents are satisfied and equipped to handle their calls effectively, it not only enhances their performance but also radiates through their interactions with customers. This further improves your service quality.

5. Brand Loyalty and Trust

We’ve mentioned that ACD can improve brand loyalty and trust among your customers. These aren’t just hand-wavey metrics. They’re crucial differentiators in competitive markets, helping cement your reputation for customer service and ensure repeat business, referrals, and more.

Brand loyalty is all about getting customers to know, like, and trust you. And the best way to do that is to provide efficient, personalized, positive customer interactions at each touchpoint. That’s where ACD systems come in. 

ACD systems can create consistently positive experiences by keeping your customers out of the maze of automated menus that can come with IVR systems. Instead, with ACD, they’ll be quickly connected to the right resource.  

Afterwards, customers who’ve experienced your quick resolutions and attentive service will be more likely to return and recommend your brand to others. 

ACD Features to Look For

Not all ACD systems are created equal. To help find the best one for your business, there are some specific features to keep in mind, and even some advanced, lesser-known features that you might want to consider.  

Round-Robin Routing 

Round-robin routing helps with managing agent workload and ensuring equity in call distribution. It works by rotating incoming calls among available agents, which prevents any single agent from becoming overwhelmed. 

This is particularly helpful during high-volume call periods, because it ensures a steady flow of calls without overburdening individual agents. 

The biggest benefit of round-robin routing is that it can bolster agent morale while also guaranteeing each customer receives an agent who is “fresh,” rather than fatigued by excess consecutive calls.

Simultaneous Ring 

Simultaneous ring is all about reducing customer wait times. When a call comes in, it rings on multiple agents’ phones at once, increasing the likelihood of a prompt answer. 

If you have small teams or have certain times when fewer agents are available, this feature can be especially helpful. It will keep your customers from waiting in long queues, which will likely improve their experience and perception of your company’s responsiveness. 

Plus, this feature can be set up on your team’s mobile devices, giving your agents flexible working conditions.

Least-Occupied Agent 

Another helpful function is routing calls to the least-occupied agent.  This helps ensure a balanced and efficient use of your team’s human resources. 

This feature works by identifying which agent has spent the least amount of time on calls, so that it can distribute incoming calls more evenly. It’s just one more intelligent way to manage workload, preventing certain agents from becoming burnt out while others are underutilized. 

It’s great for giving agents a more balanced experience, but also great for customers since it ensures calls are handled by an agent who’s relatively more available and can perhaps dedicate more time and attention.

Skills-Based Routing 

You can also route calls to agents based on their specific skill set. This is skills-based routing, and it’s another great feature for personalizing the customer experience. 

This ACD feature directs calls to agents based on their specific skills, whether that’s technical expertise, language proficiency, or experience with certain product types. 

This precise matching process quickly connects customers with the most qualified agent to address their specific query, leading to faster resolution times and increased satisfaction. 

Time-Based Routing 

How about routing calls based on when they’re received? Time-based routing can manage calls according to the time of day or your agents’ work schedules. 

This feature allows for calls to be routed differently depending on when they are received, which is especially beneficial if your business operates across multiple time zones or runs a 24/7 call center. 

With time-based routing, your calls will always be directed to agents who are actively working, regardless of their geographic location or time zone. This optimizes your resource utilization and ensures consistent customer service at all hours.

Customizable Distribution and Ring Groups 

Customizable call distribution and the creation of ring groups add a layer of tailored efficiency to the call management process. 

By configuring how calls are distributed among different departments or groups based on specific criteria, businesses can ensure that each call is handled by the most appropriate team or individual. 

Ring groups can be set up based on departmental functions, language abilities, or product knowledge, streamlining the call handling process and ensuring a more targeted and effective customer service experience.

Advanced Features

In addition the features above, some ACD software offers more advanced features like:

  • Automatic Callbacks: This feature gives your customers the option to receive a callback instead of waiting on hold. It not only reduces perceived wait times but also demonstrates a respect for the customer’s time, and it’s another great way to make a positive impression..
  • Virtual Voicemail: Integrating virtual voicemail within the ACD system can help ensure that no call goes unanswered, even outside of business hours or during peak times. This gives your customers the option to leave a message, which can then be addressed promptly by an appropriate agent.
  • Call Queuing and Monitoring: Effective call queuing, coupled with real-time monitoring, helps supervisors manage the flow of calls and assess agent performance. This insight is invaluable when it comes to making real-time adjustments and long-term strategic decisions for improving your call center operations. For example, a supervisor might use this to identify peak call times and adjust staffing levels accordingly, or pinpoint which agents could benefit from additional training based on their call handling metrics.
  • Integrations: Lastly, some ACD systems today can integrate with your CRM software and other analytics tools to give you a more holistic view of customer interactions. By integrating these together, you’ll get valuable data you can use to personalize customer interactions and streamline the resolution process.

ACD with IVR: Use Them Together for the Best Results

We’re talking a lot about the benefits of ACD, but it’s worth noting here that IVR systems also have their place. 

Even more—these two systems aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, their combined use often yields the best results. By incorporating both of them into your strategy, your call center can strike a balance between efficiency and personalization.

Here’s how combining them, and getting the best of both worlds, might look. 

IVR would serve your initial contact point for customers, because it’s great at efficiently gathering essential information about the caller’s needs. For example, an IVR could ask callers to specify the reason for their call or to enter account information. This preliminary data collection would then inform the ACD system so that it can route that call more accurately to the most suitable agent.

By using IVR to pre-screen calls, your ACD system would actually operate even more effectively. ACD would use the information collected by the IVR to make informed decisions about call routing based on agent skills, availability, and other criteria. Plus, using IVR for routine inquiries or common customer requests can help free up agent time for more complex or sensitive issues. 

Critical Metrics for Measuring ACD Success

We’ve seen how implementing an ACD system can take your call center operations to the next level. But once your ACD is up and running, can you really tell whether it’s moving the needle or not? Luckily, the answer is yes. To gauge the effectiveness of your ACD, we recommend focusing on a few key metrics:

First Call Resolution (FCR)

FCR is a crucial indicator of how effectively your call center addresses customer issues. A high FCR rate suggests your ACD system is successfully routing calls to the right agents.

A low FCR rate suggests your ACD is routing calls to agents who may not have the skills and knowledge to resolve issues promptly. 

FCR is a key metric because it not only reflects efficiency in your call routing, but also the quality of customer service provided. That’s why it’s one of the best metrics to monitor to identify areas for improvement in agent training and call routing strategies.

Average Handle Time (AHT)

AHT provides insight into the operational efficiency of your call center. It’s a simple way to track how quickly and effectively agents are handling calls.

An optimized ACD system should contribute to a lower AHT by reducing the need for transfers and ensuring efficient call routing.

A low AHT is excellent because it indicates your agents are spending more time resolving issues rather than just navigating calls.

Customer Satisfaction (CSAT)

This metric directly reflects your customers’ perception of their call experience. 

High CSAT scores are often correlated with efficient call handling and quick resolution of issues, hallmarks of an effective ACD system. 

Regularly tracking CSAT scores can help you understand customer needs and expectations so that you can make targeted improvements in service delivery.

Service Level

Your service level is a measure of your call center’s ability to manage incoming call volumes effectively. 

A high service level indicates that a significant percentage of calls are being answered promptly, which is a sign that your ACD system is efficiently distributing calls among agents. 

Since customers expect prompt service, this metric is another proxy for tracking customer service and customer experience. Improving it means that more customer inquiries are being addressed in a more timely manner.

Abandonment Rate 

The abandonment rate tracks how many customers are giving up and abandoning calls with your center. It’s indicative of caller patience and your overall call center performance. 

A lower rate is desirable and often results from shorter wait times and efficient call handling, which can both be achieved with a well-configured ACD system. 

Agent Occupancy Rate

How effectively are your agents being utilized? Your agent occupancy rate measures this. 

A balanced occupancy rate is a sign that your agents are actively engaged in call handling but not overburdened. 

ACD systems can help optimize your agent occupancy rate by evenly distributing calls and keeping agents’ workloads at a manageable level.

Net Promoter Score (NPS)

NPS essentially measures customer loyalty and the likelihood of a customer recommending your service to others. A higher NPS usually results from customers having a positive experience with the call center. 

Tracking your NPS can show you just how satisfied your customers really are, and whether your NDS is having a positive effect on your overall customer service.

Final Thoughts

If you had to choose just one, ACD offers more benefits and bang for your buck than IVR. The personalization and efficiency gains it unlocks are sure to result in a better customer experience.

But realistically, this isn’t actually an either-or decision. You should embrace the benefits of both ACD and IVR, rather than worrying about picking one over the other. 

ACD systems will help connect your customers to the best agents, while IVR systems help manage call volumes and offer self-service options for easier queries. Plus, the IVR system can be used to enhance the ACD system by collecting preliminary information from callers, which can then be used to help route the call.