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Abstract

Online user forums for technical support are being widely adopted by IT firms to supplement traditional customer support channels. Customers benefit from having an additional means of product support, while firms benefit by lowering the costs of supporting a large customer base. Typically these forums are populated with content generated by users, consisting of questioners (solution seekers) and solvers (solution providers). While questioners can be expected to keep returning as long as they can find answers, firms must employ different means in order to recognize and encourage the contributions of solvers. We identify and compare the impact of two widely adopted recognition mechanisms on the philanthropic behavior of solvers. In the first mechanism, feedback-based recognition, solver contribution is evaluated by questioners. In the second mechanism, quantity-based recognition, all contributions are weighted equally regardless of questioner feedback. We draw on the pro-social behavior literature to identify four drivers of solver contribution: (1) peer recognition, (2) image motivation, (3) social comparison, and (4) social exposure. We show that the choice of recognition mechanism strongly influences a solver’s problem-solving behavior, highlighting the importance of the firm’s decision in this regard. We address issues of solvers self-selecting a type of recognition mechanism by using propensity score analysis in order to show that solver behavior is a result of forum conditioning. We also study the impact of the recognition mechanism on forum quality and the effectiveness of support to draw comparative analytics.

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