This page gives lays out everything you need to know about call queues and how calls are queued in modern call center ACDs. In brief, ACDs use call queues to “queue” or line up inbound phone calls to be answered by agents as they become available. Here’s what we’ll cover:
What is a call queue?
Call queues are part of any call center Automatic Call Distributor (ACD). Call queues are also part of any office phone system or PBX. A call center simply could not function without some form of call center queue or call center queuing system.
Let’s use an example.
Imagine your call center has 5 agents that handle customer service calls for a product. You schedule those 5 agents to work during hours that customer service calls are expected, but your scheduling isn’t perfect (it never is). Sometimes you receive spikes of calls and more than 5 calls come in at almost the same time. Call routing software makes sure that those customer service calls are routed to the right group of agents.
The call queue software of the ACD saves the day in these situations. Instead of dropping extra calls above 5, or presenting those callers with a busy message or a voice mail message, a call queue can be configured to hold them in queue until an agent becomes available.
If you’ve ever called a customer service or other call center, chances are you were stuck in a call queue at some point.
Call queues allow call centers to handle a larger number of calls than they have agents. Call center queues serve as a holding area for callers. Because calls vary in length and start/end times, agents will continually become available as time progresses. The call queues (hopefully) hold callers in queue until an agent becomes available to handle the call.
Call center queuing allows call centers to handle thousands of calls per hour with just a hundred or hundreds of agents.
Call queue management
Most modern ACDs have a number of management settings that can be used to configure or manage how call queues work. Generally, a call center may have different call queue settings for different campaigns. Here are a few call queue settings that may be used for a campaign:
- Specifying a queue time out threshold. This type of setting specifies how long a caller should be held in queue before “timing out” and taking some other action with the caller.
- Specifying a queue time out action. This type of action specifies what should be done with a call that has stayed in queue for longer than the queue time out threshold period. Some example actions that may be taken include:
- Sending the call to voicemail;
- Sending the call to another call center (often called a “rollout” or “rollover”);
- Sending the call to another queue (maybe one with available agents); or
- Giving the caller an opportunity to schedule a callback or to be placed in a virtual queue.
- Specifying hold music to be played or other messaging.
- Specifying after hours queue handling rules (e.g., after hours calls may all be sent to a voicemail or to a different call center).
Each of these settings are intended to prevent callers from hanging up (often referred to as “queue abandons” or “queue abandonment“). Queue abandons are a problem, particularly in inbound sales call centers where every call is a potential sale.
Most modern call center ACDs have queue management options that are intended to reduce queue abandons and customer frustration.
Another aspect of call queue management may involve supervisor reporting and real time actions that may be taken by a supervisor to manage a call queue. An example view of a call center report showing a real-time queue is shown below.
While the call queue report above does not allow it, many modern ACDs give supervisors the control to move calls in and out of queues. For example, a supervisor may pull a specific call out of the queue (also known as “jumping the queue”) and delivering it directly to a specific agent.
Visualizing the depth of a queue can also allow supervisors to take action to bring more agents into the campaign or to get agents off of breaks and back on calls.
Call center queue software
For the most part, call queue software is provided as a part of a call center ACD. However, there are some add-on software packages that can be used in conjunction with existing ACDs that provide enhanced call queue management features. For example, a third party IVR system can be deployed in front of a legacy ACD to provide enhanced call queuing features such as scheduled callbacks and virtual queues.
Call Queue FAQs
A call queue is a holding area for inbound calls that are awaiting further handling (such as routing to an available call center agent). A call queue can play music or provide other information while the call is awaiting an agent.
An invisible queue in a call center is a call queue where the caller does not know his or her place in the queue. Invisible call queues can lead to caller frustration as there is no feedback to the caller about how much longer he or she needs to wait for an agent.
There are a number of ways that phone system call queues work. (See the discussion in the article above for details of different call queueing approaches).