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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.

By Kristen Mirenda, Staff Writer

Last updated May 31, 2024

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. Rather than sending a ticket to the next available agent, SBR sends it to the rep most qualified to resolve the issue or answer the query.

For example, a customer may ask a specific product question like, ‘How do I create a customised report?’. With SBR, that customer would be directed to an agent specialising in reporting.

It can be difficult to maintain complex workflows with large support teams. In an ideal world, your team could distribute tickets to the most qualified agents easily and efficiently. Unfortunately, without the right tools, businesses may use costly and time-consuming routing methods.

Skills-based routing is a ticket management strategy businesses can use to streamline the ticketing process. This guide details how this process works, the types of routing you can use and how it contributes to a positive customer experience (CX).

More in this guide:

How does the skills-based routing process work?

Skills-based routing works by matching customers to agents with the most relevant skill set to resolve an issue.

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 must then set 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 critical to your organisation, such as:

  • Language: Some common languages a support team may encounter include English, Spanish, Mandarin, German and Arabic. Assign agents who speak these languages appropriately.
  • Location: If you operate in different time zones or use a follow-the-sun model for support, you’ll want agents on call who match your customers’ time zones.
  • Subject matter expertise: Agents who are well-versed in your product or have a formal education in a subject area may be better suited for particular tasks.
  • Experience: Agents who have had time to build their expertise will likely be an asset in providing good customer service.

Whether you use these skills or others, finding the best fit for your process is important.

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

Skills-based routing combines predefined roles, automation and customer input to create a flexible and comprehensive support structure. When set up properly, the skills-based routing process should look something like this:

  • Administrator: This person adds agents to the support system and categorises them by skills. Then, the admin builds routing rules to ensure automation can accurately assign support tickets to the right agent.
  • Customer: A customer experiences an issue and places a support request.
  • Automation: The system opens a support ticket, whether the customer submitted a traditional request or posted a question on your business’s Facebook page. Then, automation routes the ticket to the best agent based on the customer’s intent and the business rules the administrator set up.
  • Support agent: The customer will be placed in a queue if a limited number of agents are available.

These roles and processes must work seamlessly to ensure a timely resolution.

Skills-based routing vs automatic call distribution (ACD)

Automatic call distribution (ACD) systems route calls to the first available support agent (often for queue-based routing). They are commonly used in telecommunications 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 are directed to the most qualified agent.
Skills-based routing is a more modern and robust approach to ticket assignment because it accounts for factors beyond agent availability.

Benefits of skills-based routing

Whether you’re running a busy contact centre, call centre or a small business support team, skills-based distribution can help. Support your team with an optimised ticket or call assignment process so they can focus on their specialities.

Three icons detail the benefits of skills-based routing.

Better agent productivity

With SBR, businesses can improve agent productivity, empower support reps to focus on the tickets they know how to answer and provide efficient customer service. This leads to happier agents because they can get straight to solving problems rather than re-routing tickets.

Another bonus is that customers receive better answers because they can speak with a well-trained agent who understands them and, more importantly, how to resolve their issues.

Increased customer satisfaction

It’s no secret that customers want answers as fast as possible, and skills-based routing can help speed up the support process. With SBR, you can increase first contact resolution (FCR), lower average resolution times, decrease first reply time (FRT), improve customer effort score (CES) and more. All this creates a more streamlined experience, boosting customer satisfaction.

Lower operational costs and higher profit margins

Skills-based routing can help lower costs and increase profit in a few different ways:

  • Speeding up time to resolution so you can help more customers without raising payroll expenses

  • Reducing the need for agents to route tickets manually, which can easily be a full-time job

  • Routing higher-priority conversations and VIP customers to agents with more specialised knowledge – opening the door for upselling opportunities and reducing churn.

Removing complex ticket triaging processes frees up time and energy agents would otherwise spend assigning and routing support requests. When your routing process is more efficient, your bottom line will prosper.

See routing in action

Watch a quick Zendesk demo to see how to use routing to increase agent efficiency and streamline your support tasks.

Types of skills-based routing

Skills-based routing utilises three strategies that work in harmony to create a comprehensive support structure. Here are the types of SBR.

Three icons represent standalone, omnichannel and conversation priority SBR.

Standalone skills-based routing

Standalone skills-based routing is exactly what it sounds like – routing tickets based on agent skill. Just like other methods, this starts by categorising agents based on skill groups, such as product knowledge, language, location and experience. From there, standalone SBR routes customer support tickets to the appropriate agent.

Omnichannel skills-based routing

Omnichannel routing allows you to direct customer tickets across various channels – including email, the phone and messaging apps – to agents based on their availability, capacity and conversation priority. When paired with skills-based routing, conversations can also be routed by skill across channels.

Conversation priority skills-based routing

This type of routing prioritises tickets based on the nature of the conversation. High-priority ticket criteria typically include:

Automation 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.

Combining standalone, omnichannel and conversation-priority routing puts your organisation in the best position to succeed. With these methods, you can ensure that customer tickets reach the most suitable support agents – regardless of the channel they came in from – and that agents handle priority tickets effectively.

Skills-based routing best practice

Here are some of our top SBR best practices and ticketing system tips to help you implement skills-based routing in your organisation. Follow these tips to maximise productivity and boost customer satisfaction.

A bulleted list details skills-based routing best practice.

Identify the skills you need

First, figure out what makes your support reps unique. 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 and more
  • Aptitude: the scope of abilities, skill level and propensity for solving topical problems
  • Experience: internal training and time with your company

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 your customer service key performance indicators (KPIs).

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 agent coverage to handle high-volume support tickets, especially for 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.

Create an organisational chart

Once you document agents’ skills, create an organisational chart using slides or a spreadsheet.

This can keep your staff, their skills and 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 primary responsibilities

  • Skill sets

Add or replace other variables based on your team and your organisational needs.

Add skills to skill types

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

Here are some examples of what this looks 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’.

Identify the most important skills and organise them accordingly.

Assign agents to skills

Once you assign agents who specialise in a specific skill to a category, you may also want to add a rep who’s working on growing their knowledge. This can help them hone their support superpowers or be a fail-safe when there isn’t enough skills-based coverage.

When matching agents to categories, set routing goals that make sense for your unique business. You can base this on the following:

  • Most efficient workflow

  • User needs

  • Urgency

  • Organisational structure and staffing capacity

Once you establish your goals, you can assign agents accordingly.

Set routing rules and triggers

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

Consider customising:

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

You can add more rules and triggers based on your business’s needs.

Frequently asked questions

Route your way to success with Zendesk

Skills-based routing is a critical process that helps support teams solve customer enquiries as efficiently as possible. That said, your software is just as important as your strategy.

Zendesk routing capabilities help businesses direct conversations to the right agent, keeping them organised and, most importantly, ensuring their operations run smoothly.

Try us for free today.

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