Article | 11 min read

Skills-based routing: definition, process and best practice

Use skills-based routing to streamline ticket handling and ensure customers speak to the agent best equipped to resolve their problems. This increases customer satisfaction and creates a more convenient customer experience (CX).

By Kristen Mirenda, Staff writer

Last updated February 21, 2024

If you have a large support team, it can be difficult to maintain complex workflows. In an ideal world, your team would easily distribute tickets to the people who know how to handle them best – with no time lost unnecessarily bouncing support tickets between different agents or departments.

Without the right tools, teams have to use cumbersome and costly workarounds to route tickets to the right places. But using multiple features to route tickets leaves room for error and the tendency to cherry-pick tickets, which impacts agent productivity. If you have a considerable or consistently growing customer base and ticket volume, it might be time to consider skills-based routing.

What is skills-based routing?

Skills-based routing (SBR) is a strategy support teams use to direct customer requests and questions to the most suitable pool of agents based on their skills and knowledge – rather than showing tickets to all available agents, regardless of whether they’re qualified to answer them.



Skills-based routing vs. automatic call distribution (ACD)

An automatic call distributor (ACD) routes calls to the first available support agent (often for queue-based routing). It’s commonly used in the telecommunications sector to manage high-volume inbound customer calls.

Skills-based routing systems are a technological progression of the ACD system, ensuring support tickets across all channels get routed to the most qualified agent.

Skills-based routing is a more modern and robust approach to ticket assignment because it accounts for more factors than just availability.

How does the skills-based routing process work?

Skills-based routing works by matching customers with agents who have the most relevant skill set to help resolve their issues.

To do this, the system administrator notes business needs and agent skills and then assigns those agents to the skill groups that apply to them. An administrator then sets up routing rules and configurations to ensure inbound support tickets go to an agent with the appropriate skills.

You can base these skill groups on factors important to your organisation, such as:

  • Language: some common global languages that may be beneficial in a call centre include English, Spanish, Mandarin, German and Arabic.
  • Subject matter expertise: agents who are well versed in a subject area or have a formal education may be better suited to certain tasks.
  • Experience: agents who have been with your company longer and have had more training and time to build up their expertise will likely be a big asset when providing customer service.

What are the roles and processes used in skills-based routing?

Intelligent routing is a support strategy that allows contact centre agents to direct conversations to the right agent based on their availability, capacity, skill and conversation priority, so they can resolve tickets faster.

Generally, an IVR is used to direct inbound calls, while an AI tool helps route digital tickets to the best support agent by discerning the customer’s needs and reviewing agent skills listed in the system.

When set up properly, the skills-based routing process should look something like this:

  • Administrator: adds agents to the support system and categorises them by skills. They then build out routing rules to ensure AI can accurately assign support tickets to the right agent.
  • Customer: experiences an issue and places a support request.
  • AI: opens a support ticket, whether the customer placed a traditional request or simply commented on your business’s Facebook page with a question. AI then routes the ticket to the best agent based on the customer’s intent and the business rules the administrator set up.
  • Support agent: if limited agents are available, the customer will be placed in a queue.

All of these roles and processes need to work seamlessly to ensure a timely resolution.

Benefits of skills-based routing

Skills-based routing benefits

The main benefits of skills-based routing include higher agent productivity, more efficient workflows and a better bottom line.

Whether you’re running a busy contact centre and fielding inbound support tickets across several communication channels or a small business helping customers make the most of your product, skills-based distribution can help. Support your team with an optimised ticket or call assignment process so they can focus on their specialisations.

Improved agent productivity

With SBR, efficient customer service reps can focus on the tickets they know how to answer.

This leads to happier agents – because they can get straight to solving problems rather than rerouting tickets – as well as higher productivity, increased first-call resolution and decreased first-response time.

But it gets even better…

Customers get better answers because they get the opportunity to speak with a well-trained agent who understands them and, more importantly, how to resolve their problems.

More efficient workflows

Sometimes, skills-based routing systems become tedious due to an overwhelming catalogue of features that complicate workflows, confuse reps and slow down resolution times.

However, with skills-based routing, support reps can work out of a single view that matches their particular skill set to the tickets they’re handling. With the Zendesk SBR feature, it’s easy to update workflows by adding or removing a skill or adding new agents.

What’s more, as there is often a certain standard of support outlined in customer contracts called a service level agreement (SLA), support teams have to properly prepare themselves to meet those expectations.

Fewer costs and higher profit margins

Removing complex ticket triaging processes frees up hours agents would otherwise spend assigning and routing support requests. Don’t waste time and energy tracking who has what skill – your software should do that for you.

Skills-based routing can help lower costs in a couple of different ways:

  • Speeding up time to resolution so you can help more customers without raising payroll expenses
  • Reducing the need to have triage agents route tickets, which can easily be a full-time job

Types of routing and when to use them

Holding phones

Skills-based routing is a top solution for companies because other routing types tend to be less effective. Of course, this is entirely subjective and ultimately depends on your business’s needs.

But the three primary skills-based ticket routing strategies you may want to try are: queue-based, omnichannel and value-based.

Queue-based

Best for: smaller businesses with fewer technical support requests

While some organisations use queue-based and skills-based routing interchangeably, there is a key difference – with queue-based routing, support agents address tickets in the order they receive them.

This strategy differs from skills-based routing because rather than sending customers to the most appropriate agent, they typically get sent to the next available agent. With skills-based routing, a customer can jump ahead of others if there isn’t a line for the agent who specialises in solving their particular problem.

Queue-based routing can lead to longer wait times for customers because agents who don’t specialise in a specific area may take longer to resolve an issue.

Queue-based routing could be a good strategy for your business if it:

  • Isn’t too large
  • Doesn’t receive a lot of support requests
  • Isn’t particularly technical

Omnichannel

Best for: businesses with a presence on multiple communication channels

Omnichannel routing shares similarities with traditional skills-based routing but has some new, enhanced features.

With a typical skills-based routing solution, tickets get routed to a shared interface that qualified agents can pull from. However, with omnichannel routing, tickets are assigned to specific agents based on criteria like:

  • Skill
  • Availability
  • Capacity
  • Ticket priority

These routing rules typically depend on the business’s internal objectives but you can use standardised routing rules if you prefer.

Value-based

Best for: businesses with customised pricing

Another form of smart skills routing, value-based routing prioritises tickets based on client value. You can determine the criteria for high value as you like but it can include:

  • Customers with high lifetime value (LTV)
  • At-risk customers
  • Relationship-dependent customers

AI can assess factors like previous interaction history, language, customer demographics and more to determine if it should push a support request to the front of the queue.

Enable your support team to create better customer experiences

Be there for your customers wherever they are. Use intelligent skills routing to match customers with the best agent for the job and provide better customer experiences.

Skills-based routing best practice

Learn how to implement skills routing in your organisation to maximise productivity and boost customer satisfaction.

Identify the skills you need

Customer service skill types

We suggest that you first figure out what makes your support reps unique from one another. Consider things like seniority, training and specialisations.

Some specific skills that you may find relevant to your organisation include:

  • Language: spoken and written language proficiency for multilingual agents
  • Communication: adept communicators who can resolve complex issues and de-escalate situations
  • Technical skills: compliance, troubleshooting, programming, etc.
  • Aptitude: scope of abilities, skill level and propensity for solving topical problems
  • Experience: internal training and time with your company

Once you’ve done that you can then think about what sets your incoming calls and tickets apart. Consider the types of enquiries your company receives from customers, the difficulty of the questions you receive and customer service metrics.

Another good idea is to talk to your team. Try to identify any “go-to” or “no-go” people for certain topics.

Lastly, consider the current setup you have when it comes to routing tickets to agents.

Document agent skills

Before you set up routing rules, you need to take note of agent skills. This information is essential to creating ticket conditions and ensuring you have enough agents to handle high-volume support tickets, especially when it comes to tricky or technical topics.

If you have only one agent who can help with a specific issue and dozens of others trained to handle standard support questions, you don’t want your one expert to get bogged down by tickets outside of their expertise.

Avoid this by documenting agent skills and creating an organisational chart for your team to defer to.

Create an organisational chart

Once you finish documenting what agents have which skills, create an organisational chart using PowerPoint slides or a spreadsheet.

This can keep your staff, their skills and their responsibilities organised as the system administrator sets up routing rules and assigns agents to skill groups.

Create a comprehensive organisational chart by including:

  • Employee names
  • Contact information
  • Job descriptions and key responsibilities
  • Skill sets

Add skills to skill types

At this stage, your primary concern is category organisation. After you decide on your skill types, you can create specific skills.

Here are some examples of what that would look like:

  • If “French” is a skill, the associated skill type is “Language.”
  • If “PCI security certified” is a skill, the associated skill type is “Compliance.”

Assign agents to skills

Once you assign the agents who specialise in a specific skill to a category, you may also want to add someone who might not know the answer straight away but is still working on growing their knowledge. This can help them hone their support superpowers or act as a failsafe when you don’t have enough to cover every skill.

Set routing goals that make sense for your business to find the best people to add. You can base this on the following and then assign agents accordingly.

  • Most efficient workflow
  • User needs
  • Urgency
  • Organisational structure and staffing capacity

Set routing rules and triggers

When you have all the information you need regarding agent skills, you can set up ticket routing triggers and rules.

The main things you may want to customise include:

  • Rules: customise existing rules or make your own to streamline internal workflows.
  • Triggers: determine what actions should happen when a specific event occurs.
  • Ticket distribution: choose between pushing tickets to support agents automatically or manually or allowing agents to select their own tickets.

How to set up skills-based routing with Zendesk

It’s important to determine which abilities are most important to your support org before you start routing.

Our system is built on the idea that a support rep should be able to answer any ticket they see. If a ticket doesn’t require any special abilities, let anyone answer it – this makes it available to the largest pool. If a ticket requires a unique set of skills, you can hide it from general support agents and ensure that specialised reps get eyes on it. This can help improve the efficiency of your support team.

Routing with Zendesk

With our skills-based routing capabilities, you can make each ticket available to a select group of agents rather than routing it to one particular rep by:

  • Creating skill types to organise agent skills
  • Adding skills that make sense for your organisation
  • Assessing agent strengths and weaknesses to accurately assign them to skills
  • Building out routing rules specific to your company’s workflow and priorities
  • Setting up ticket filtering so the right agents have access to relevant support requests

That way, you don’t have to worry about routing a ticket to a customer support rep who is unavailable, out of the office or overburdened.

Learn more about skills-based routing with Zendesk.

Route your way to success

With a skills-based automated ticketing system, admins can configure agent skills and assign agents to specific ticket types, which ensures they receive a ticket they can solve every time. The ability to automate routine tasks – in this case routing – and getting the right ticket to the right agent can improve efficiency, ultimately making for happier employees and a happier bottom line.

Enable your support team to create better customer experiences

Be there for your customers wherever they are. Use intelligent skills routing to match customers with the best agent for the job and provide better customer experiences.

Enable your support team to create better customer experiences

Be there for your customers wherever they are. Use intelligent skills routing to match customers with the best agent for the job and provide better customer experiences.

Learn more