What Is Call Queuing & How Do Businesses Use It?

December 12, 2023 11 min read

Dominic Kent

Dominic Kent

what is call queuing

You know when you call a business and there’s a wait? Sometimes, you get a message to say how long the hold time is. Sometimes, you hear music to soothe your frustration.

That’s a call queue.

Next time you’ve got your phone on speaker waiting for a customer service rep to take your call, you’ll know exactly what’s going on behind the scenes.

And, if you’re a business owner, you’ll know everything you need to create your own!

What Is a Call Queue?

Think of a call queue as a waiting room for people who call a business phone number — a virtual waiting line, if you will. Several callers can be on hold at any time, trying to get through to a department or individual.

When setting up a call queue, businesses may opt to use features such as automated greetings, estimated wait times, and music or pre-recorded messages for customers on hold, but we’ll get into that later.

Contact centers or customer service operations use call queues to help the flow of incoming calls and manage high call volumes. 

The end result? Calls are answered in an efficient and orderly manner, reducing caller frustration and optimizing the use of agents’ time. 

How a Call Queue Works in 4 Stages

Stage 1: Call arrival

When a customer calls, your business phone system automatically places them in a queue if an agent isn’t immediately available. Or you may choose to direct calls to a queue to play a message or present a menu instead of immediately trying for an agent. 

This allows you to play important messages to inform customers of opening times, high call volume, or mass outages.

Stage 2: Call queue management

Your call queuing system organizes calls based on predetermined rules, such as arrival time or customer priority. You can configure these as you wish and change them at any time.

For example, if a customer is flagged as VIP because they spend a certain amount of money per month, they can skip the queue by calling a dedicated or toll-free number.

Regular customers won’t know this is happening in the background. Instead, they’ll hold until an agent becomes available.

Stage 3: Hold time

Callers remain on hold until an agent is available. During this wait time, they might hear music or on-hold messages.

A good example of an on-hold message is one that lets callers know how long the expected wait time is. Using pre-configured call center metrics, you can feed real-time information into your call queue.

Another example is hold music to ease the frustration of waiting for an agent — it’s best practice to choose relaxing music, but for some brands, such as Kerrang, a rock music magazine, it’s best to stick with what your customers like.

You could provide a menu of options for your customers to choose from. Virgin Media, a UK telecom provider, presents callers with a list of six music genres to select from. It’s a good way to kill time and make the wait for an agent seem shorter.

Stage 4: Agent allocation

When an agent for a specific department or query becomes free, your call center software routes the call to them. 

Call routing may be based on pre-configured agent skills, the nature of the call, or any other criteria you choose to program into the system.

Types of Call Queues

Call queuing is customizable. You can choose from four main types of call queues.

1. Linear call queue

Linear call queuing

This type of call queue operates on a first-come, first-served basis. The first caller in line is the first to be connected to an available agent.

It’s as simple as that. Some businesses think this is the fairest way to treat customers. Everybody expects the same experience and gets treated as equals.

2. Circular call queue

Circular call queuing

Circular call queues help agents who have just taken a call by giving them time to complete their wrap-up procedures and make high-quality notes.

In a circular call queue, once an agent completes a call, they move to the bottom of the call distribution list. If a call reaches the end of the list without getting answered, it circles back to the start. The cycle repeats every call.

3. Priority-based call queue

Priority call queuing

As the name suggests, certain calls are given priority based on predefined criteria. 

These criteria could include customer status, such as:

Or the nature of the call, such as:

4. Skills-based routing

Skills-based call queuing

By assigning skills in your call center back end, you can route incoming phone calls to agents based on their specific skill sets or knowledge areas. So when Julie calls Apple to troubleshoot her iPad, she doesn’t get connected to the iPhone team. Instead, she gets routed through to the agent best suited to handle her query.

Skills can include:

Best Practices When Setting Up Call Queues

When setting up your first (or any) call queue, take note of these best practices to ensure your customers and agents get the best experience. 

❌ Don’t trap your callers

It should go without saying, but how many times have you called a business and felt stuck in its phone tree?

You choose option 2, then option 4, wait for a while, then end up back at the beginning. 

When designing your call queues, include options for self-service or alternative contact methods. As the bare minimum, give the caller an escape route. By adding an option to “Press 9 to speak to an agent,” you have a clear option with an obvious outcome.

You can even choose to have an option dedicated to voicemail. When customers don’t have time to spare, give them the option to provide you with some context and ask for a callback.

Don’t skip the basics, such as after-hours call routing.

Don’t wait for a customer to navigate through a multi-step call flow just for them to hear, “Thanks for calling the support department. We’re open Monday through Friday between 8 am and 6 pm Central Time. Goodbye!

That is a poor user experience and could be avoided with an after-hours call flow. 

To avoid this scenario altogether, spend a good chunk of time upfront making sure your calls don’t just queue but flow.

You May Also Like: What Is a Call Flow? Simple Strategies for Managing Inbound Calls

✅ Provide regular updates

When waiting in a call queue, the last thing a caller wants is the unknown. 

They’re sitting waiting…

And waiting…

Until sometimes, eventually, they hang up.

Instead, update callers on their position in the queue or offer to call them back when it’s their turn. 

The position in the queue shows that call handling is happening, and your customers are more likely to hold on until their position. 

The alternative — a callback — keeps their position in the queue and triggers an outbound call when their turn comes around. Customers love this option as they can carry on with their day, safe in the knowledge you’re calling them back soon.

🕐 Manage your overflow

When you experience high call volumes, planned or otherwise, it pays to have a backup.

You can use interactive voice response (IVR) systems to introduce self-service for frequently asked questions. This might be the point at which you redirect calls to an online FAQ knowledge base. Instead of queuing, they can access common questions there.

The alternative, and often more expensive, solution is to hire temporary staff or use an outsourcing company during peak periods. For example, the Christmas period in the retail sector is full of extra calls checking on delivery statuses and processing refunds for duplicate gifts.  

A helping hand, be it via an IVR or extra agents, goes a long way to keep your customers and agents happy.

🌀 Implement feedback loops

To discover whether your call queues are working, start using surveys to gather customer insights. You can do this on a post-call basis or on a regular monthly, quarterly, or annual basis.

Post-call surveys often get the highest response rates as the caller is there in the moment. Surveys such as the net promoter score (NPS) survey question:

How likely are you to recommend our company to a friend or colleague?

Respondents can score from 0 to 10. 

0 means “not at all likely,” and 10 means “extremely likely.”

Taking the results from this question, you total the number of responses, apply the NPS formula, and arrive at a final score.

What is net promoter score

For queue-specific information, you may favor a longer survey with questions relating to hold times, FCR, or customer experience.

Using online customer survey software, you can create all types of surveys to send to your customers. When you have enough responses, use these to understand how well your queues are performing and where you need to make changes.

📋 Conduct ongoing training

To ensure your call queues and agents are working in tandem, conduct regular training sessions for agents to handle various types of calls effectively. This way, you can assign more calls to experienced agents and start to cross-skill so customer wait times for complex queries decrease.

As the number of agents per queue increases, the wait times decrease. Make sure, however, that these new agents are skilled in the right areas so you don’t see a dip in FCR or customer satisfaction.

📩 Integrate your customer data

If you use a customer relationship management system, explore integrating it with your call center. 

By creating a two-way data exchange, you can empower agents with information about customers, including recent orders and ongoing support tickets. 

Once integrated, computer telephony integration features, such as screen pop and advanced call management, become available to agents, making customer transactions more efficient.

Nextiva Call Pop

📈 Monitor, analyze, and experiment

When reviewing call center best practices, one issue that comes up time and again is continuously monitoring key performance indicators and call center analytics, such as average wait time, call abandonment rate, and customer satisfaction scores. 

If you keep your eye on these and make adjustments when they fall below your success metrics, you’re implementing continuous improvement. If something’s not working, trying a new process, call queue, or style of agent training may pay dividends for your overall customer process.

Essential Call Queuing Features To Look For

While call queues have many components, especially behind the scenes, this section covers seven that you should be aware of.

1. Automatic call distribution (ACD)

ACD routes incoming calls to the appropriate agent based on pre-set criteria. It’s considered best practice and a vital part of most call center strategies.

You can distribute calls based on caller ID, business hours, support level, and IVR selections. As a result, inbound calls reach the right agent or department quickly and without the caller having to dial a different number.

There are five different ACD methods to choose from:

2. Queue announcements

You can add messages during hold times to provide callers with information, such as estimated wait time or queue position, or the option to leave a message or request a callback.

Rather than waiting in silence (or to music of your choosing), a queue announcement reassures callers they’re not stuck in a queue that’s not moving

3. Hold music/messages

A basic hold message keeps customers engaged during their wait with music or informative messages about services, promotions, or trivia.

You can play hold messages in between music, using the fade in/out moments to change the listening experience.

During peak periods, you can get creative and host quizzes or play games. You might also like to use queue announcements to promote special offers or your latest marketing campaign.

4. Real-time queue monitoring

When callers waiting, real-time queue monitoring allows supervisors to keep an eye on wait times and agent availability. 

Analytics dashboard Nextiva

When enabled, supervisors can make adjustments on the fly, such as moving inactive team members into different queues or playing custom hold messages to inform of extended delays.

5. Post-call surveys

A post-call survey collects immediate customer feedback as soon as a call finishes, providing all sorts of insights for call center supervisors and the agents they manage.

At the beginning of a call, you may choose to play a message asking customers to opt-in to the survey at the end of the call. 

When the transaction between the caller and agent ends, the survey kicks in automatically. Customers can respond by pressing the relevant numeric option on their keypad.

6. IVR 

Before a caller makes it to an agent, you can use an IVR system to direct them to self-service options. When a customer selects one of these options, you decrease the burden on live agents and provide customers with faster responses to their queries.

If there’s no appropriate self-service option, your IVR becomes the call routing platform, ensuring callers are routed to the best-suited agent or department based on the option they selected.

How IVR works

7. Queue whisper

Just before an agent is connected to a new inbound call, you can enable a brief message that informs your agent of the type of call they’re expecting.

Messages play based on the phone number dialed or the option chosen on your IVR or auto attendant.

This feature, coupled with a screen pop, empowers agents with information about both who and what to expect before the call starts.

Manage Call Queues Efficiently With Nextiva

If you’re serious about looking after your customers, call queues are vital.

When you have a high number of calls, value customer time, or get lots of complaints about long hold times, call queues are likely the remedy.

You can start managing inbound calls better using features such as:

If call queuing is a priority for your business, take a look at Nextiva’s call center suite, which is packed with features that complement call queuing.

It’s suitable for contact centers just getting started, with an easy-to-use interface and a comprehensive repository of self-service support documents. But it also helps support larger businesses, boasting 99.999% uptime and a 5.0 rating on Down Detector.

Need the insights and technology to perfect your business’ call queue? 

Look no further than Nextiva.

Dominic Kent


Dominic Kent

Dominic Kent is a content marketer specializing in unified communications and contact centers. After 10 years of managing installations, he founded UC Marketing to bridge the gap between service providers and customers. He spends half of his time building content marketing programs and the rest writing on the beach with his dogs.

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