Foundational Routing Practices: Balancing Low-Volume, High-Value Work

High-value but low-volume work often is the bane of contact centers because it’s difficult to balance efficiency and effectiveness. Part 1 of this blog series looked at skill-based routing — where only skilled agents receive an interaction. In Part 2, we explore less-frequently used, but often more critical, routing patterns for low-volume but high-value work.

Borrow/Lend Rules Routing

Most businesses have a good reason to have specialist teams. For example, a special work type might require unique training, but there’s not enough volume to justify a dedicated team. This means that the specialists also do general work. Unfortunately, when the special work comes in, the specialists are busy doing general work. As another example, a critical type of work requires expensive training. The right number of people are staffed to be available, but that team sits around while others sweat.

Because the law of large numbers drives contact center staffing, specialist teams inherently have low utilization if they only do the special work — there’s no escaping the math. The same math will favor the high-volume work. Borrow/lend rules are a way to address those challenges. Here’s how the flow goes.





This is still a skill-based routing model; the difference is that target expansion uses more than a timeout.

1. Is the current state bad enough? This rule prevents large-volume work from overrunning low-volume work unnecessarily. The logic only expands when the goal is at risk.

2. Is the current state of target expansion good enough to lend? This is the protection rule. Consider the following to define your rules:

  • The order of expansion matters. If your goal is to protect critical work, the team covering the highest priority work will be your last target. If your goal is to balance occupancy, the most underutilized team will be first.
  • Determining if a team can lend reflects priorities and required protection. Reserving agents provides the most protection. Measuring the target team’s goal provides fairness of goal achievement.
  • Checking interactions in queue prioritizes an agent’s primary work over backup work.

3. If either the borrow or lend rule doesn’t pass, then the work continues to wait without target expansion.

Borrow/lend rules complicate your routing logic, so use them where it matters. In the spirit of the 80/20 method, stay as simple as you can. But do what you need to do to balance multiple objectives.

Relationship Routing

Relationship routing matches a specific agent to work that’s related to a specific customer. Implementing relationship routing is simple: Identify the customer and then look up the assigned agent. However, companies size customer lists to keep agents busy so, often, they aren’t available for a specific customer. Here are four ways to handle that.

1. Wait for the personal agent.

  • When to use: The relationship is more important than speed of service and the customer chooses to wait.
  • Dangers: Manual effort to re-distribute work when the agent is out of office.
  • Considerations: First, offer the customer alternatives in addition to the option to wait. Second, route based on a lookup of the customer ID; dedicated phone numbers, mailboxes and handles make it difficult to manage work when the agent is out of the office or quits.

2. Route to backup team. Work is sent to a set of agents who back each other up.

  • When to use: There’s a level of complexity in the relationship where even infrequent interactions with a client are better than handling them cold.
  • Danger: Representatives handle each other’s clients at the same time, which frustrates agents and increases transfers.
  • Considerations: Compensation needs to be at a group versus individual level to keep pay fair when agents inevitably handle each other’s work.

3. Route to a team of backups. Agents who are only backups.

  • When to use: The relationship is preferred but not required. Someone unfamiliar with the customer can still deliver quality service.
  • Danger: The customer is dissatisfied because they aren’t receiving promised personal service.
  • Consideration: The backup team must have very experienced agents so that a high quality of service takes the place of a personal relationship.

4. Callback. Instead of waiting, queue a “personal callback.”

  • When to use: Only for real time-channels at the discretion of the customer.
  • Danger: See considerations.
  • Considerations: Offer when staff is available, not at the end of a shift, not if the personal agent is out of office. If offering scheduled callback, account for that type of work in workforce management schedules.

While I have my personal favorite (Option 3), consider the following as you choose the option(s) that’s best for your customer experience strategy:

  • Choice. For real-time channels, provide the customer choices with Option 1 at the end.
  • Shared addresses. Don’t use direct phone numbers, handles or email boxes to more easily handle out of office and staff turnover.
  • Acknowledge personalization. Have backup agents acknowledge that they aren’t the primary agent to add confidence. An example text could be: “I am supporting that agent and have your information in front of me.”
  • High-skill agents. Backup agents must be skilled so that the disappointment of not reaching a personal agent isn’t compounded with a low-quality interaction.

Strategic Agent Use

Low-volume, high-value work can’t beat contact center math. But borrow/lend rules and backup strategies for personal agents are ways to balance availability with proper staff utilization.

In the final part of this routing series, we’ll guide you through choosing your approach. To learn more about delivering great customer experiences, check out our journey mapping ebook.