ACD vs. IVR and Why Most Call Centers Use Both

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Most successful business owners know the importance of hiring people who both specialize in their roles and can collaborate effectively with their colleagues.

The same principles apply to call center communications technology.

For instance, Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems are two critical elements of a modern call center’s operations. They both excel in their distinct, respective jobs but work in tandem to provide an elevated customer experience.

Automatic Call Distribution, for example, manages and routes incoming calls to the most appropriate agent or department in a call center. Its main job is to optimize call routing by making sure that callers are connected to the right person or team based on parameters such as agent availability, skills, and priority level.

Another way of looking at ACD is to imagine it as a traffic cop for incoming calls; it prevents bottlenecks and keeps people moving toward their destinations.

Meanwhile, Interactive Voice Response technology connects callers to an automated system that lets them navigate phone menus via voice and/or keypad inputs. They use pre-recorded voice prompts to collect information and guide callers through a tree of options. This empowers callers to access self-service opportunities for simple tasks and get routed to the appropriate department or agent for more complicated issues.

In other words, a good IVR is like a virtual receptionist who handles routine inquiries and provides basic information. When it can’t get the job done, it connects callers to a human agent.

Together, both ACD and IVR are used to create a seamless customer service experience. While IVRs handle the initial interactions, ACD ensures calls are prioritized and routed properly.

An Example to Differentiate Between ACD and IVR

Imagine a customer named Jamie calling your customer service line to initiate a return for a product she recently purchased.

After dialing the customer service number, Jamie gets greeted by a friendly IVR system. A pleasant voice offers her several menu options.

“Welcome to Example Company. For returns, press 1. For order status, press 2. To speak with a representative, press 0.”

Jamie presses 1 to start a return, and the IVR presents more options.

“For returns of online purchases, press 1. For returns of in-store purchases, press 2.”

Jamie presses 1, and the IVR system guides her through more prompts to get important information about her purchase.

At this point, the system routes the call to the ACD, which begins working in the background. In just a few seconds, it takes the information collected by the IVR and cross-checks it with things like current agent availability, the nature or category of the call (in this case, a return), and any specific skills that would make an agent a great choice for handling the particular call.

When these computations are finished, the ACD quickly routes Jamie’s call to an available agent skilled in handling return requests. When the agent connects, the system will automatically provide them with the information Jamie relayed to the IVR.

A Closer Look at ACD and IVR

Now that we’ve covered how these two technologies collaborate, let’s take a closer look at their individual skill sets and specialized features.

An in-depth look at ACDs

Automatic Call Distribution systems are the backbone of modern call centers, especially those handling a high volume of calls.

The basic optimization capabilities you can expect from an ACD system include:

  • Call routing to distribute calls based on predefined roles like agent availability, skills, and priority levels
  • Queue management to organize incoming calls and prioritize urgent, high-priority calls.
  • Load balancing to ensure an even distribution of calls among available agents and prevent overloading

The best ACD systems come with advanced features like:

  • Intelligent routing to adjust call routing dynamically using real-time analytics and historical data
  • Multichannel support to extend the system beyond voice calls by including email, chat, and other communication channels
  • Customer resource management (CRM) integration to provide access to customer data and prep agents with vital information so they can serve callers more effectively
Nextiva graphic about the benefits of Automatic Call Distribution.

All about IVRs

Since IVRs both empower customers to interact with automated self-service prompts and connect callers to the right agents the first time around, they are an essential tool for busy call centers.

The essential features of every modern IVR include:

  • Menu navigation to guide callers through a series of options for gaining access to the services they need
  • Information retrieval to provide pre-recorded information on frequently asked questions and other general knowledge
  • Call routing to direct callers to the correct department or agent based on their selections
  • Self-service options to give callers a way to look up their account information, check balances, and perform other actions without the need for help from a live agent

The highest-performing AVRs also include a range of advanced features, such as:

  • Natural language processing to give callers a way of interacting with the IVR by speaking the same as they would with a live agent—thus creating a better customer experience and reducing the need for pushing buttons
  • Database and CRM integrations to pull data from other systems so agents can provide customers with a personalized experience
  • Transaction processing to empower callers with a way to pay bills, schedule appointments, and track orders without connecting to a live agent

ACD and IVR are a Dynamic Duo for Call Centers

Today’s call centers face the challenge of providing quality 24/7 service in order to meet the expectations of modern customers.

Combining ACD and IVR technologies can help you meet that challenge with a number of benefits that arise when you put them together.

  1. Better customer experience: IVRs provide self-service options that let customers access information and perform actions quickly without waiting for an agent. When live help is needed, ACD backs up the IVR, efficiently routing calls to the most qualified agent. This reduces wait times and improves customer satisfaction.
  2. Lower stress for service teams: While IVR cuts down on the number of calls that get routed to agents by handling many basic questions and tasks, ACD ensures calls go to the right person so that no single agent gets overloaded. This cuts down on customer service team stress by providing more time to focus on complex and critical issues while minimizing the burden of many repetitive tasks—which can ultimately increase the level of service and decrease employee turnover.
  3. 24/7 availability: Since IVR can handle initial interactions and basic inquiries, call centers with ACD and IVR can offer round-the-clock service. This allows customers to access key information and start certain processes at any time, thus increasing accessibility and satisfaction.
  4. Consistent service quality: IVR systems deliver a standardized and consistent customer experience by giving every caller the same information and options. ACD ensures calls are routed based on predefined criteria, and this helps maintain a similar level of service across all customer interactions.
  5. Cost savings: Automating routine tasks with IVR and optimizing call distribution with ACD can cut costs significantly. Specifically, by reducing reliance on live agents for routine tasks, the two technologies can lead to savings through reduced customer service costs.
  6. Data analytics: ACD and IVR systems can collect valuable data on customer interactions. While ACD collects metrics on call volumes, agent performance, and service metrics, IVR gathers data on caller preferences and frequently asked questions. You can use this data to identify trends, optimize processes, and improve the overall customer experience.

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