Understanding the Trust-Building Processes

For Recommendation Agents in Electronic Commerce: A Protocol Analysis



Sherrie Y. Xiao and Izak Benbasat

Division of MIS, University of British Columbia, Canada



The objective of this study is to contribute both theoretically and empirically to our understanding of the processes of building customer trust in recommendation agents (RA) in electronic commerce. Theoretically, prior research on customer/user trust in computer agents is predominantly concerned with cognitive trust largely ignoring emotional trust. We define cognitive trust as a trustorís rational assessment that a trustee will have the necessary competence, benevolence, and integrity to be relied upon, and emotional trust as a trustorís feeling secure and comfortable about relying on the trustee. We posit that both emotional trust and cognitive trust are important because a person always both thinks and feels trust at the same time. We have developed two sets of protocols to analyze the trust-building processes in terms of: a) the source and the destination of a trust-building process, and b) the way that a customer processes his knowledge and his awareness of the unknown to develop his cognitive trust and emotional trust.


To our best knowledge, this is the first empirical study to use process tracing methods to actually track the processes of trust formation, although a few prior studies have discussed the possible set of trust-building processes, in theory.  We have conducted an experiment with a 2 (an RA with low-internalization vs. an RA with high-internalization) x 2 (initial interaction between a customer and an RA vs. repeated interactions) factorial design. Internalization refers to a customerís perception of how well an RA can understand and represent her real needs. 44 subjects (11 per cell) interacted with an RA while they were thinking aloud. At the end of each experimental session, we also collected written protocols by asking the subjects some structured questions. The analysis of both verbal protocols and written protocols indicates how a customer develops his trust (both cognitive and emotional trust) in an RA over time.