Skill level based routing.

Yesterday I told you that Dell was considering asking customers about their skill levels and routing calls appropriately. I briefly discussed this over a year ago (!) and have always thought it was a good idea.

There are some obvious pros to using skill level based routing:

  • Able to better utilize agent skills. Level 1 agents can deal with level 1 issues, level 2 agents can deal with level 2 issues, and so on.
  • Less transfers/elevations. If an advanced issue gets to an advanced representative off the bat, less elevations and transfers.
  • Happier customers. Advanced users don’t need to feel frustrated because they are treated like they are dumb. Novice users don’t need to feel frustrated because they have to keep asking the representative to explain everything.
  • No wasted time/effort. An advanced Windows user doesn’t need to be told how to get to the Device Manager. A novice probably does. Also skips the need to elevate issues.

Just like anything with pros, skill level based routing definitely has cons.

  • People lie. Some people may mark that they are an expert when they definitely aren’t. Or, some people may mark they are a novice when they are fairly advanced (less common I would imagine, but still possible).
  • Interpretations differ. What company X considers to be expert level may be different than what I could to be expert level. Compared to my mother, I’m expert with Linux (I’m not sure if she knows what Linux is). Compared to a senior Linux system administrator, I am a newbie.
  • Areas of expertise differ. It can be confusing to rate yourself as well. I’m great with software, but know almost nothing about software. Does that mean I’d rate myself as a novice or an expert?
  • Subsequent problems. If someone lies or the interpretations differ too greatly, that could cause problems with the system. A person may end up talking to an under-qualified rep, or a person may end up talking to a rep who isn’t stopping to explain everything.

The best part of pros and cons are solutions. Here are some possible ways to deal with some of the cons:

  • Make skill level based routing optional. Ask customers if they would like to rate their skills and be transferred accordingly. Some customers may want to do that, others may not.
  • Ask questions. Instead of flat out asking for a skill level, ask a few questions (see below). Based on the answers to those questions, route the call accordingly. Take it a step further and tell the customer what level you think they are.
  • Tell about skill levels. The IVR could give a few sentence description about each skill level. Something like “Expert users are users who are proficient with operating and configuring Windows, can troubleshoot most issues by themselves, and are confident in browsing the Internet safely and securely.” can help explain what the company’s expectations are.

Sample Questions:
Here are some examples of questions you can ask (this is for PC support):

  • Do you know how to access the device manager? Yes | No | What’s the device manager?
  • Are you familiar with the command prompt? I know the basics | I am an advanced command prompt user | I don’t know what the command prompt is
  • Are you comfortable installing and un-installing programs? Yes | No
  • Do you know how to open your computer (physically)? Yes | No
  • Can you check if internal cables are fitted properly? Yes | No
  • Do you run regular spyware/virus scans on your computer? Yes | No

Those are just some sample questions that you can ask. Depending on the type of issues you deal with most frequently, the questions can be adjusted. For example, if your company dealt with 90% software issues, they would need to focus on that. Questions could also ask about what the customer does with their computer. If they say “gaming”, chances are they are a bit more skilled than the average user.

What are your suggestions for making a system like this work?

Edit: Dave at Angel IVR blog has posted a great follow up to this post.

4 Responses to “Skill level based routing.”

  1. Dave said:

    May 10, 07 at 7:34 am

    Great post! Rating yourself on skill level for routing to the appropriate agent is definitely an interesting idea, and one that I could see employed in a number of companies. I would caution making the IVR system too long / long-winded with a lot of questions or definitions of the skill levels, but these could work if kept brief. Consumers are notoriously impatient with lots of automated talking and choices.

    I think this could be taken a step further to help repeat callers though. By asking the caller questions to determine their skill level the first time, then saving this skill level into a CRM system through a database integration with the IVR, the next time the caller calls he/she can be recognized with the saved skill level value and not put back through the questioning process.

    I work at a company called IVR Solutions and we push our customers to develop an integration with their customer database to provide a more “personalized” experience for the caller. By integrating a database, the IVR system can identify the caller based on caller ID, pull their info from the database and automatically decide how to best handle the call based on certain parameters — such as the skill level saved in the database for the caller. We’ve developed a set of “turn-key” integrated solutions with CRM systems like, Netsuite and SugarCRM specifically for this.

    I think you’re right that the first step is how to appropriately route consumers to the proper place. I think the next step is to help the consumer out and not make them jump through the same hoops the next time when you can capture the data the first time. Can’t wait to see the article on your interview with Dell!

  2. Service Untitled said:

    May 10, 07 at 8:32 am

    Thanks for your comment, Dave!

    I agree that saving the information would be quite valuable. Maybe ask for an update every year or so (because I’m sure some skill levels change). Reps could also update it if they feel the customer was more or less experienced than the automatic system though.

  3. IVR Blog » Skills-Based Routing vs. Skill-Level-Based Routing… see the difference? said:

    May 11, 07 at 7:34 am

    […] A nice blog I’ve recently come accross that I recommend reading is the Service Untitled customer service blog.  One topic they’ve spoken about recently is the concept of Skill-level-based routing and given a pros/cons list on the idea.  This topic came up again in an interview they have with Dell’s VP of support, and it’s an interesting topic.  […]

  4. Service Untitled » Dell Customer Service Ideas - customer service and customer service experience blog said:

    May 18, 07 at 1:36 pm

    […] “Geek to Grandma” support aka skill-level based routing (which we talked about here). […]