Is skill-based routing overrated?

The world is a happy place with traditional queue-based routing. Telecom administrators can set up queues on the PBX easily — blindfolded, standing on one leg, with one arm tied to the back. Contact center managers can precisely illustrate what they expect in regards to queue-based routing… A queue for premier customers, a queue for Spanish-speaking customers, a queue for late payments, etc. Everything in the contact center is in harmony.

Then somebody had the idea to throw a wrench into the whole deal: skill-based routing. Don’t think about your agents as members of a queue (or queues), but instead think of all the skills they have to serve the customer. Ah, ingenious! And so customer focused!

But here’s the problem. Many PBX administrators and contact center managers simply have a hard time wrapping their heads around SBR. QBR is so ingrained in their lives that anything straying from queues will cause confusion. And if not confusion, obfuscation. That is, their attempt at QBR-to-SBR transformation often results in a implementation and maintenance disaster.

Traditionally, there’s a license fee associated with a PBX queue. It’s like any other phone extension, except having different characteristics. So consequently contact center managers understand not to go crazy with queues.

But with the newer PBXs and contact center servers supporting SBR, these managers found out that there’s hardly a limit on the number of skills. They can set up hundreds and hundreds of skills (hey, it’s a big enterprise!) with ease and have fun assigning them to agents. In fact, it’s so easy that I’ve found in my previous projects that some supervisors will change agent skills on a daily basis. (So today this agent has the Spanish skill but tomorrow she won’t.)

Plus, it’s quite often that they will not let go of queues. They want to keep the queues for overflows or as a catch-all bucket to dump calls, i.e. if a caller is holding too long in SBR go ahead and dump the call into a queue. The caller probably wouldn’t enjoy that experience any more than having remained waiting for a skilled agent. Essentially, the contact center now becomes a mixed QBR and SBR implementation. That translates to more effort in terms of design, deployment, testing, maintenance, and troubleshooting.

If SBR is in your future then by all means totally commit to it and learn to forget about queues, even to handle overflows and catch-alls. Invest in a virtual hold or callback integration instead of resorting back to QBR. In the planning and design phase, also bring out the agent training materials to grasp a better idea of what constitutes an agent skill. Go through a few iterations to define skills until you’ve got a set of skills that’s manageable and easily maintainable down the road.

And if you’re just satisfied with good ol’ QBR? Well, there’s no rush to join the SBR crowd. According to a friend who works at a major telecom company which also offers managed hosted (cloud) services for contact center infrastructure, he hasn’t seen one customer using skill-based routing…


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