Profs Study How to Build a Better Online Forum
Award-Winning Management Paper Shows Companies How to Handle Problems
Jan. 30, 2012
Two UT Dallas professors won a best-paper award from the annual Information Systems Society Conference for research aimed at helping companies determine when to offer expert assistance to online forums.
Both information systems professors at UT Dallas’ Naveen Jindal School of Management, Dr. Vijay Mookerjee and his wife, Dr. Radha Mookerjee, worked on the paper with Dr. Wael Jabr, a PhD alumnus of the Jindal School who is now at the University of Calgary.
The group studied online user forums, which are Internet discussion sites that typically rely on user and volunteer contributions. Their research could help companies manage these forums, where occasional expert input could help resolve tough or time-consuming issues for customers.
The group studied hardware and software firms, but their findings have potential for many types of customer online user forums, according to the paper, “An Analysis of the Delay in Customer Support Forums: An Analytical and Empirical Approach.”
“Firms benefit from these forums by having some support requests diverted away from their costly help desks,” the paper states. Additionally, such forums “help firms establish a network of loyal users.”
“Our findings suggest that managers should adopt a proactive policy to maintain the usefulness of forums,” the group wrote.
The Information Systems Society Conference on Information Systems and Technology was held Nov. 12 and 13. The annual conference convenes in conjunction with the national meeting of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences.
Looking at factors, such as poor-quality responses that jeopardize the viability of forums, the researchers determined that response times offered a practicable means for measuring success. Using a database of past transactions, the researchers labeled each response as either short or long.
They then established guidelines based on past delays and modeled a computer program designed to detect the likelihood of future delays. Companies can use this model for “early intervention” as a signal to send in their experts, said Dr. Vijay Mookerjee, who is the Charles and Nancy Davidson Chair of Information Systems and Operations Management at UT Dallas.
The group is working to extend the capabilities of their computer program. Rather than predict the delay-time after a question is posed on a forum, it may be better to wait and more accurately determine whether expert help is needed.
“Early results indicate that the intervention accuracy improves rapidly at first but quickly tapers off as time passes,” Vijay Mookerjee said. “Finding the best time to intervene will make for better use of scarce expert resources.”
In addition to providing help-desk specialists clear-cut rules on when to offer assistance to forums, Mookerjee said, the program ultimately will reduce issue-resolution time, leading to more well-satisfied forum users.