Article | 11 min read

Skills-based routing: Definition, process, and best practices

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 must use tedious and costly workarounds to achieve routing. But using multiple features to route tickets can leave room for error or 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 customers’ 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 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 important to your organization, such as:

  • Language: Some common global languages that may be beneficial in a call center 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 skill-based routing?

Intelligent routing is a support strategy that allows contact center 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 the agent skills listed in the system.

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

  • Administrator: Adds agents to the support system and categorizes them by skills. Then, they 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 just commented on your business’s Facebook page with a question. Then, AI 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 center 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 optimized ticket or call assignment process so they can focus on their specialties.

Better 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.

Another bonus?

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 catalog 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.

Also, since there is often a certain standard of support outlined in customer contracts called a service level agreement (SLA), support teams must 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.

Skill-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

Skill-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.

The three primary skill-based ticket routing strategies you may want to try include: queue-based, omnichannel, and value-based.

Queue-based

Best for: Smaller businesses with fewer technical support requests

While some organizations use queue-based routing and skills 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 skill-based routing because rather than sending customers to the most appropriate agent, they typically get sent to the next available agent. With skill routing, a customer can jump ahead of others if there isn’t a line for the agent who specializes in solving their particular problem.

Queue-based routing can lead to longer wait times for customers because agents who don’t specialize 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, elevated 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 standardized routing rules if that’s your preference.

Value-based

Best for: Businesses with custom pricing

Another form of smart skills routing, value-based routing prioritizes tickets based on client value. You can determine the criteria for high value, 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.

See routing in action

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

Skills-based routing best practices

Learn how to implement skills routing in your organization to maximize 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. Seniority? Training? Specializations?

Some specific skills that you may find relevant to your organization 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

Then, think about what sets your incoming calls and tickets apart. Consider the types of inquiries your company receives from customers, the difficulty of the questions you receive, and customer service metrics.

Another good idea? Talk to your team. Are there general “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 agent coverage to handle high-volume support tickets, especially regarding 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 organizational chart for your team to defer to.

Create an organizational chart

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

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

Create a comprehensive organizational 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 organization. After you decide on your skill types, you can create the 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 specialize in a specific skill to a category, you may also want to add someone who doesn’t know the answer straight away but is still working on growing their knowledge. This can help them hone their support superpowers or be a failsafe when there isn’t enough skills coverage.

To select the best people to add, set routing goals that make sense for your unique business. You can base this on the following and then assign agents accordingly.

  • Most efficient workflow
  • User needs
  • Urgency
  • Organizational 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 primary things you may want to customize include:

  • Rules: Customize 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.

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 specialized 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 organize agent skills
  • Adding skills that make sense for your organization
  • 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.

See routing in action

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

See routing in action

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

Watch demo