Benefits of subject matter experts (SMEs) in BPO call centers

by Andy Nguyen
sme in BPO

While subject matter experts (SME) are always in high demand among KPO services, BPO and other related businesses too can benefit significantly from them. 

An SME in BPO provides much-needed expertise to efficiently carry out a business function and helps with the smooth transfer of knowledge within the company.

As a call center, contact center, or BPO provider, if you’re considering dedicated SMEs for your team, this article is for you.

In this article, we’ll explore the four benefits of having SMEs in your BPO and call center teams and understand their key responsibilities and essential traits.

Table of Contents

Let’s get started.

4 major benefits of an SME in BPO and call center teams

Before we list the advantages of having subject matter experts in a BPO or call center setting, let’s understand who an SME is.

A subject matter expert or SME is an individual who has a deep understanding of a key business aspect and is responsible for sharing their knowledge with other stakeholders. 

They also ensure that all deliverables within their subject expertise meet the expectations of the stakeholders and follow pre-defined standards and policies.

An SME could be an expert on a particular business process, task, system, department, technology, equipment, etc.

For example, an SME in a telemarketing business could be a product or service expert helping agents understand the nuances of what they’re trying to sell. 

Similarly, an SME in a tech support company could be a certified technology expert training agents to resolve customer queries.

In a call center workforce hierarchy, an SME could be anywhere between service agents and supervisors or team leaders. Companies can either hire SMEs or train their high-performing and experienced agents to become one.

Now, let’s explore how an SME helps boost business performance:

1. Better knowledge transfer

Knowledge transfer is the backbone of business process outsourcing and other related outsourcing services. This knowledge transfer happens on different levels:

  • From the outsourcers to the BPO.
  • Within the BPO – from experts to new agents.
  • From agents to end customers.

SMEs play a vital role in enabling knowledge transfer at each level. 

They help capture, process, transfer, and protect mission-critical information about the business function being outsourced. Most importantly, they ensure a smooth flow of this knowledge from the client company to the end customer via agents. 

An SME’s role becomes even more critical in the BPO sector due to the recruitment model they follow.

BPO companies typically hire fresh graduates and train them on the necessary skills, processes, and systems during the onboarding phase. When done right, an effective transition of essential intelligence and information helps:

  • Create a team of skilled and competent agents.
  • Facilitate the smooth transition of a business process.
  • Identify opportunities for system and process re-engineering, such as standardization, optimization, automation, etc.

2. Helps streamline workflow

Once you take over a specific business function from the client, you’re expected to run it with maximum efficiency.

For that, it’s essential to assess and organize all processes, resources, and information associated with that business function to create smooth workflows. A subject matter expert has the depth of knowledge required to make that happen. 

An SME’s experience and know-how enable them to spot inefficiencies and gaps related to communication, knowledge, resources, skills, etc., sometimes even better than team leaders.

Consider a scenario where many of your customer service agents have a low FCR (first call resolution) rate, despite going through extensive training and doing everything by the book. This could affect your service level and the overall customer experience. 

In this scenario, you can have an SME review the agent call and screen activity recordings to identify the root cause. 

It could turn out that your ‘known-issues’ bank is missing some new error codes after a recent product update. This was preventing the agents from offering an instant solution to the customer, resulting in more follow-ups.

Once you identify the root cause, an SME can help update the ‘know-issues’ bank accordingly.

Additionally, with their domain knowledge, SMEs are aware of potential risk factors that can disrupt business operations. They can help you devise strategies to mitigate such factors and protocols to handle them better, ensuring business continuity.

Moreover, companies with limited staff can hand over small and medium scale client projects to SMEs, freeing up managers and team leads for more prominent clients and growth-oriented work.

3. More cost savings

The guiding principle behind the outsourcing industry is to help companies run their operations at lower costs and more efficiently. 

To offer such services, companies in the BPO industry must operate with maximum cost and resource efficiency. 

Subject matter experts, with their specialized knowledge, can help businesses achieve this efficiency. We’ve already seen how they help enterprises identify operational bottlenecks. Fixing these issues also helps plug hidden cash drains. 

For example, fixing the low FCR problem mentioned above will save the company several hours and costs in lost productivity due to follow-up calls.

SMEs can also help reduce project costs with their out-of-the-box ideas and deep knowledge-based insights. 

For example, an information technology expert could help you implement an advanced CRM system to collate customer data from social media and other communication channels. 

Similarly, a business analyst can help you regulate your investment in a future project by gathering insights from historical data.

And perhaps the biggest monetary benefit of having SMEs on your team is a well-trained and highly efficient team of agents, boosting your service quality and the overall brand image.

4. Credibility

With their professional expertise and hands-on experience, SMEs help boosts the credibility of your business. This could be especially important if you are a startup company.

Potential clients look to hand over their projects to well-trained and experienced specialists. So when you market your BPO services, having qualified experts on your team increases your chances of landing well-paying and long-term clients.

For example, if you’re a healthcare BPO provider, you may have sensitive information like customers’ medical records. Having a cybersecurity expert on your team who can ensure data security compliance would surely add to your trustworthiness.

So it’s clear how SMEs can help both large and small businesses operate cost-effectively and put more resources into key competencies.

Next, let’s briefly look at the roles and responsibilities of an SME.

Key responsibilities of a Subject Matter Expert

While the exact role of an SME will depend on their specific area of expertise, here are some key responsibilities generally associated with an SME in the outsourcing sphere:

  • Support the creation of business rules, procedures, standards, policy drafts, guidelines, etc., around a business function.
  • Help define performance objectives and performance benchmarks.
  • Validate the resource requirements and deliverables for products and services under the project.
  • Resolve issues related to project deliverables.
  • Assist in the design and development of training material and other user documentation in their particular area of expertise.
  • Provide suggestions to improve procedures and upgrade technology infrastructure.
  • Engage with decision-makers to identify opportunities and risks.
  • Represent the needs of their business unit to senior management and vice-versa.

With a clear understanding of an SME’s functions, let’s check out a few qualities and traits of a good SME.

9 key considerations when creating a Subject Matter Expert team

Whether you are writing a job description for hiring experienced SMEs or training your top-performing agents to become one, here are nine things that you should focus on:

1. Qualifications and experience

When considering SMEs for your team, you must factor in the length and breadth of their experience.

This means that a good SME should be well trained in their domain and have substantial work experience in their area of expertise.

For example, an SME in corporate communication should possess years of experience in business writing, public speaking, etc.

It’s equally important for SMEs to have the necessary educational background to add credibility to their expertise and experience. 

This included graduate and post-graduate degrees, diplomas, professional training certificates, etc.

For example, a quality assurance expert should ideally have globally recognized certifications like Six Sigma. Similarly, an SME in data management should be certified in courses from leading providers like SAP, Microsoft, etc.

If you’re training SMEs internally, you can sponsor their SME training. But if you’re hiring experienced SMEs, ensure that you verify their credentials. Assess their learning and experience portfolio and test their understanding of the subject through mock scenarios.

2. Passion for the subject

An SME is considered an authority in their field. Such proficiency requires an in-depth study of the subject.

Naturally, SMEs need more intensive training compared to average agent training, which is mostly about mastering step-by-step procedures.

So it’s only when an aspiring SME has a passion for the subject that they can put in the required efforts to reach that level of proficiency. 

This is especially important when looking to advance your top-performing agents to SME levels. You can create aptitude tests to assess and shortlist agents that are a good fit to become SMEs.

3. A learner’s mindset

Today, the world moves at breakneck speed. All services, products, and the technology behind them transform rapidly.

As a result, any SME will need to constantly upgrade themselves and evolve to keep up with the changes in their niche and retain their expert tag. And this can happen only if they have a continuous learning mindset.

4. Analytical skills

While subject matter expertise is paramount, you shouldn’t overlook some other must-have special skills to excel as an SME.

For example, SMEs often face scenarios that test their analytical and reasoning skills. 

Why does an SME need these skills?

An SME needs to capture massive amounts of information, process and organize it, and finally use it as required. All these steps require a mind with strong analytical thinking.

Moreover, without logical thinking, an SME may not be able to use their vast knowledge to good use during a demanding situation.

So make sure you test potential SME candidates’ analytical and reasoning skills with carefully designed tests. During an SME interview, you can question a candidate about some hypothetical scenario to assess their response.

5. Communication skills

Sharing their expertise with other team members is a big part of an SME’s job. 

They could be part of executive-level meetings to present key information, take live agent training sessions, conduct seminars, etc. They may also need to engage with dissatisfied customers and pacify or persuade them.

Their social skill is always at the forefront and critical in effective knowledge transfer. So when you interview or shortlist your SME candidates, ensure they have a pleasant personality and can articulate their ideas and thoughts with utmost clarity.

6. Teamwork

An SME’s job is highly collaborative. For example, in a call center setting, SMEs must regularly collaborate with agents, team leads, graphic design teams, center managers, etc., to ensure smooth knowledge transfer.

They’d fail to fulfill their responsibilities effectively if they aren’t good team players and prefer working in silos.

When looking at potential SMEs, examine how well they understand the organizational dynamics and assess their rapport-building, empathy, listening skills, etc. 

7. Leadership qualities

Subject matter experts are typically required to guide and mentor new agents on key customer support processes. This mentorship role requires them to have good leadership skills as well. 

Moreover, a good subject matter expert often goes on to become a team lead or project manager in the future, making leadership traits all the more important.

8. Time management skills

SMEs play many different roles and perform diverse duties within an organization. It’s essential that they manage their time well to function effectively. 

They should be able to prioritize their tasks and balance their workload across functions to get enough time to hone their skills and expertise. 

9. Hands-on approach

Their thorough knowledge allows them to see opportunities and threats that aren’t visible to others.

So when you onboard a subject matter expert, ensure they don’t just stay subject experts but become drivers for change and innovation.

For that, it’s essential to groom them to be hands-on with their knowledge and leverage it to drive process improvement and positive transformation in the company.

Key takeaways

Subject matter experts can help you transform your outsourcing services with highly specialized knowledge in a specific subject or business area. Leverage their expertise to improve operational efficiency, drive innovation, and improve your bottom line.

Go through the article to find how SMEs can add value to your business. Also, create an effective SME job description with a clear understanding of their responsibilities and must-have skills.

 
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