Posted on May 12, 2021 by Wendy Frost

Graduating with his Ph.D. in marketing, Qiang Zhou leaves UTSA with a job offer from Renmin University, a leading Chinese university, and an accepted publication in the Journal of Marketing –one of the top journals in marketing.

Qiang Zhou giving a thumbs upZhou’s path did not initially point to academia. After graduate school, he pursued an entrepreneurial venture with a friend, then tried the corporate lifestyle working as a marketing manager. “Working in that company gave me an idea of how little work-life balance a corporate job provides,” said Zhou, who is from Western China. “I started having doubts about that career path, so I began thinking about an academic career.”

Working as a research assistant at a local university, he soon realized that he enjoyed the versatility of a research career and knew he wanted to pursue a Ph.D. in the United States.

Initially interested in UTSA because of a shared research interest with a faculty member, he soon discovered that all of the department’s faculty members had impeccable research credentials.

“I checked all of the marketing faculty profiles, and I was amazed that the UTSA faculty were publishing in the top journals in marketing,” said Zhou. “I wanted to be here and work with UTSA professors. When I learned that I’d been admitted to the program I was so excited that I ran out of my office and phoned my parents.”

The first two years of his doctoral program Zhou read a lot of research papers, attended doctoral seminars and decided upon a research emphasis. “I soon learned that doing a Ph.D. was harder than I initially expected. You become emotionally connected to your research,” he said.

Zhou’s research dissertation topic resulted from a conversation that he had with a friend in Beijing while he was home visiting. The friend worked for an online nursing service platform. He discussed a problem that they were having with independent contractors luring customers away from the platform. The idea piqued Zhou’s interest, even more when his friend said that he could share company data with him.

Returning to the United States, Zhou worked with former chair Suman Basuroy on a nondisclosure agreement that would allow the company to share their transactional data with Zhou.

“The faculty in our department have been extremely supportive,” he said. “As a Ph.D. student in terms of research direction, you count on your supervisors and co-authors a lot to help guide you. My co-chair Richard Gretz has been so encouraging and has given me so much support in this project.”

His paper, “Platform Exploitation: When Service Agents Defect with Customers from Online Service Platforms,” was accepted by the Journal of Marketing and is the first of two chapters in his dissertation.

Service platforms like Amazon Home Services connect independent contractors with potential customers. The platform charges a commission for each transaction that they facilitate for their role in finding the potential clients.

“We found that service providers take advantage of the platform and use it as a prospecting tool,” he said. “It is a big problem for the platforms, but previously no empirical studies or research had studied this issue.”

Pursuing this issue, Zhou was asked by the reviewers to verify that this phenomenon really existed. So, he worked with the platform to interview real nurses and patients about their experiences.

“We found that if the contractor provides high-quality service, the customer is more likely to contract with them directly instead of through the platform,” he said. “The chances for them to get caught are low. The provider receives more compensation, and the client typically pays less for the service.”

The second part of his research involved developing actions that the platforms could take to combat the problem. One idea that he proposed was developing a sliding scale fee structure so that the provider that conducts more transactions pays lower fees. He also proposed that if the platform provides social benefits for the providers such as social events and recognition that would increase their loyalty to the platform.

“It was a big relief to complete my dissertation defense,” said Zhou. “I’ve finished this long journey. I feel a deep appreciation for the business school, and the professors who have provided so much support to Ph.D. students like me. Without their support, it wouldn’t have been possible to finish this journey.”

This summer Zhou will return to Beijing to begin his new role as an assistant professor at Renmin University. “Beyond the skills of doing research, I have learned from the faculty how to treat others with compassion, something that I want to pass on to my future students.”

Hoping to find more unique data sources in Beijing, Zhou looks forward to pursuing interesting research topics and continuing to collaborate with UTSA professors.

“I really feel San Antonio is a place I’m going to miss a lot. It is a great city, and UTSA is a great school with an amazing marketing department .”

— Wendy Frost