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Automatic Call Distribution: Your Ultimate Guide

Imagine every customer call getting connected to the right contact center agent, first time, every time. Not only does that create a more positive customer experience, but it helps agents be more productive, too. With Automatic Call Distribution (ACD), you no longer have to imagine. ACD routes customer calls to the agent best equipped to help. With this guide, you can learn more about the ways that ACD can benefit your business.

Illustration of a call center agent at work in front of a computer, talking into a headset to a customer. In the foreground is a telephone icon, with an arrow showing the call being transferred to another agent.


What Is ACD (Automatic Call Distribution)?

An ACD system is a call-routing feature that sorts incoming calls and connects them to the right agent or department. For example, ACD in Vonage Contact Center can route calls based on the agent skill set, customer channel, and more, depending on how you leverage the solution for your business needs.

Most ACD phone systems can integrate with other tools like your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) or Interactive Voice Response (IVR) software. 

What’s the Difference Between ACD and IVR?

Automatic call distribution systems route calls automatically based on a customer’s profile and needs.

IVR is a self-service menu that gives customers a list of routing options. For instance, “Press one for sales, press two for customer service, press three for …” and so on. Customers can also perform simple transactions, request callbacks, and more.

IVR can be part of an ACD system and is often the first feature your customers interact with. If a customer chooses to speak to a live agent, the automatic call distributor routes the call to the best agent to meet their needs.

A cloud communication solution can bring together these two automated systems for a better customer experience.

How Does ACD Work?

ACD consists of three main steps:

  1. Caller identification: First, the automated call distributor tool identifies the caller and the reason for their call. It may do this with Caller ID, IVR, Automatic Number Identification (ANI), Dialed Number Identification (DNI), or another method.

    Also, if you link the ACD software to your CRM, it can use that information — e.g., the customer’s sales history, VIP status, communication preferences, and more. An agent who answers the call can then use this information to personalize customer interactions, which is a key ingredient in a superior customer experience.

  2. Evaluation: The ACD system uses the caller’s information to determine who is most suitable to help them. This could be a department, ring group, call queue, or individual agent.

    The software considers factors like which agents have the right skills to help and who is available. It can also use the information to prioritize call queues. Most systems give priority to the customers who called first, but you can also prioritize VIP callers.

  3. Routing: Finally, the ACD system routes the call and alerts the appropriate agent(s). If the first agent doesn’t pick up, it moves on to the next agent based on the call-distribution rules you have set up. Speaking of which …

The Different Types of Call Distribution

Traditionally, the call center ACD routes calls to the next available agent. Today, there are a variety of routing methods to choose from. Below are the eight most common types of call distribution and how they work:

1. Fixed Order

Agents are ranked according to their expertise and experience in a fixed order. The most-skilled agent is at the top of the list.

Whenever a customer call comes in, it’s automatically routed to the first agent on the list. If they’re busy, the call is routed to the second agent, then the third, and so on until someone takes it. This is a good method when agents have different capabilities.

2. Priority-Based

ACD uses the information in your CRM to prioritize customer calls according to their sales potential and importance. Customers with VIP or premium status are either routed immediately to the best agent to help them or placed at the top of the call queue.

3. Circular

Agents are in a continuous loop, so they take turns answering calls. The first agent on the list answers the first call, the second agent answers the second call, and so on. This method ensures an even workload for all agents, so it’s a good system if all your agents have similar skills and experience.

4. Skills-Based

Agents receive a score (or tag) based on factors like expertise, efficiency, and language skills. In this system, the ACD tool routes a call to the agent with the best skill set to handle it.

For example, if a customer is calling from France, their call gets routed to an agent who speaks French. This is a great method for boosting customer satisfaction, as it helps to increase first-call resolution (FCR).

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5. Channel-Based

When talking about various communication channels and not just calls, ACD can be defined as Automatic Contact Distribution. ACD solutions route the customer to an agent on their preferred channel 一 whether that’s email, phone, chat, SMS, or social media. Since most customers now expect an omnichannel experience, this method is another way to increase satisfaction and loyalty.

For instance, in a recent survey, nearly 50% of customers preferred customer service on social media. So businesses that offer this support channel can gain an edge over competitors that don’t.

6. Idle Time 

Calls go to agents with the greatest idle time between calls (or the lowest talk time). For instance, if Agent One has been idle for five seconds and Agent Two has been idle for one minute, the next customer call will go to Agent Two.

This is another way to ensure an even distribution of workload. It also helps to maximize efficiency.

7. Simultaneous

Calls go to all agents simultaneously, and the first one to pick up handles the call. This is an ideal way to reduce customer wait times while boosting agent productivity.

8. Availability-Based

The ACD solution routes incoming calls according to agent availability. This is based on their work schedules and (for international companies) time zone. The first available agent who picks up handles the call.

Availability-based routing is perfect for businesses with a remote workforce or offices in several countries. You can serve customers while ensuring agents only answer calls during their work hours.

Essential Functions and Features of ACD Systems

The functions and features of ACD systems vary according to the software provider you choose. Some ACD systems are more sophisticated than others, but there are a few features every ACD setup should have:

Call Routing

Call routing is a core functionality of ACD. Some ACD systems offer intelligent routing based on AI; others are simpler. Some also connect to a virtual receptionist so callers can route themselves.

The routing strategy you use will depend on your agents’ skills and your business needs (for instance, fast response times, support for different time zones, etc.).

Call Queuing

Call queuing is an important feature that lets you sort and prioritize your ACD calls. It also gives customers more choices: They can stay on the line, leave a voicemail, or opt for an automatic call-back when an agent is free.

Most ACD software providers let you choose which hold music to play. You can set a custom greeting and give customers more information while they wait. You can even create a call queue for each department.

Caller ID

Automated call distribution systems can use caller ID to identify the caller’s profile. It can ID priority customers while filtering out suspected spam calls. Spam calls actually account for one-quarter of all calls in the United States, according to the Hiya Global Call Threat Report that’s based on observations of  6.5 billion suspected spam calls worldwide. ACD can also block any numbers on your deny list.

Call Recording

Call recording lets you automatically record inbound and outbound phone calls. Your agents can also manually start and stop recording at any time.

Supervisors can review call recordings and give agents coaching to help them improve.

Call Forwarding

Call forwarding lets you forward calls to another phone when you’re away from your desk. This could forward calls to your mobile phone, another device, or even a colleague.

It's a great feature for mobile and remote employees that ensures customers can always get in contact with someone.

Call forwarding is one of the features included in Vonage Business Communication’s Never Miss a Call suite of mobility options that route calls.

Virtual Voicemail

Voicemail gives customers more control over how they interact with your business. Each extension can have its own voicemail box, and you can create personalized greetings.

Some providers also offer visual voicemail. This automatically transcribes your voicemails into text and emails it to you, along with the recording.

Management Tools

Finally, your system that handles ACD should also offer management tools like call monitoring, call barging, and whisper coaching. These tools let supervisors track calls, offer live coaching to agents, and even join calls-in-progress to offer assistance.

Plus, many cloud communication providers offer a range of reporting and analytics tools. That way, supervisors can track key metrics and streamline operations.

The Key Benefits of Automatic Call Distribution

So how can ACD help your business? From improving productivity to increasing customer satisfaction, there are multiple ways that an ACD system can benefit your business:

Greater Productivity and Efficiency 

An automatic call distribution system can improve the efficiency of your business by routing calls to the most appropriate agent or department. This also improves agent productivity since they won’t be spending time transferring calls. Instead, agents can use their areas of expertise to address customer issues and to deliver results.

Improved Workforce Management

ACD can improve the agent experience. The system helps to distribute calls more evenly, especially if you use idle time and circular-based routing methods. Even call distribution can reduce the potential for agents to burnout from overworking. The result? An improved agent experience.

What's more, ACD ensures agents only receive calls when they’re on duty. This makes it easier to manage remote teams, even in different time zones. It also improves morale, as agents can take breaks knowing the system will route calls to colleagues who are working. Plus, they’ll only get calls they’re equipped to handle.

Seamless Integrations

ACD easily integrates with your organization's existing tools, reducing the need for agents to switch between multiple platforms. They can access the information they need from a single place, improving productivity. 

ACD also allows agents to have more informed calls with customers, as information from past interactions is readily accessible. Customers won’t have to repeat themselves and agents are equipped to succeed.

Higher Customer Satisfaction

By routing calls more effectively, ACD can increase your First Call Resolution (FCR) rate as customers are more likely to get the answers they need first-time. This helps to boost customer satisfaction (CSAT). Why? According to recent research by Qualtrics based on conversations with 33,000 consumers in 29 countries around the world, if a customer has to call more than once, CSAT drops 22%.

The research also found that satisfied customers are 62% more likely to spend more money with your business. So, by helping to improve FCR and CSAT, ACD can also boost your revenue.

Lower Costs

Improving your FCR can also reduce your contact center costs, as fewer customers will have to phone up more than once. Better call routing can also reduce waiting times and call transfers, which would otherwise eat into agents’ time and increase costs.

Resource Optimization

The best ACD systems sync with your reporting and analytics dashboards so you can track your important metrics.

Examples include FCR, cost per call, waiting time, and Net Promoter Score (NPS). You can identify areas that need improvement and allocate resources more effectively.

Finding the Right ACD System for Your Business

To sum it up, ACD (automatic call distribution) is an invaluable tool that helps you improve productivity, lower costs, and boost customer satisfaction.

So how can your business benefit from all that ACD has to offer? Start with finding the right system for you! Make a list of the features you need and compare the different solutions on offer. Most ACD systems are part of a cloud contact center or business phone solution. So research different providers and make sure they offer ACD as part of your preferred plan.

Interested in learning about ACD system capabilities with Vonage? Connect with a Vonage expert today.

FAQs About Automatic Call Distribution

A good automatic call distributor system offers a variety of features, including the following:

  • A range of call-routing methods

  • Automatic callback and voicemail options

  • Integrations with IVR, virtual receptionists, and CRM

  • Call queuing and holding

  • Caller ID (including VIP identification)

  • Call forwarding

  • Call recording, coaching, and other management tools

  • Reporting and analytics

ACD routes customer calls based on preset rules (such as prioritizing VIP callers or routing calls based on agent skill).

A virtual receptionist (also called an automated attendant or auto attendant) lets callers press a button to choose where they’re routed. This could be an internal extension, an external device, or a recorded message.

The main difference is that ACD telephony routes incoming calls automatically, while virtual receptionists provide options for callers to route themselves.


Usually, an automated call distribution system comes as a feature of a contact center platform or business phone system. For instance, Vonage offers ACD as part of our contact center plans.

Plans with ACD will differ in price depending on your provider, the other features they offer, and a range of other factors.


Contact Us

Let's connect!

Want to know more about automatic call distribution (or our other business communications solutions)? We’d love to help! Call us at 1-844-365-9460, or fill out this form! A dedicated specialist will show you how ACD can help you:

  • Route incoming calls to the agent best equipped to handle a specific issue
  • Deliver an awesome customer experience AND boost employee productivity
  • Seamlessly connect agents and customers through integration with your CRM, IVR, and other business tools

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