Social Pulse: Empathy Through Action

By: Nicole Martin, MPH

April 17, 2020

Clarabridge Analytics
Clarabridge Engage
Customer Experience
Digital Customer Service

A positive customer experience comes from reliable, empathic, and responsive service. Now during the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations display their values by respectful actions, transparency, and personalized communication. 

Date of Data Pull: 4/16/2020 4:42PM
Source: Twitter, API Connectors
Current Volume: 10,606,620
Date Range: March 12, 2020- April 16, 2020
Tweets Related to COVID-19 & Supplemental Topics Classification Models Used: WHO Framework Model, Emotions Model, & Industry Specific Models

“I’m sorry.” Oftentimes it is the first thing a consumer wants to hear after an exceptionally long wait time or an order mix-up. However, a simple apology fails to meet consumer expectations. Companies meet and excel expectations by providing an apology that fully recognizes responsibility, explains what happened, acknowledges the impact on the individual, and offers a solution to better fulfill customer expectations.[1] Saying “I’m sorry” shows that a company is listening; yet a well-tailored apology, with pieces such as, “I understand your frustration,” indicates compassion.

Single-service interactions define only one piece of a customer’s experience with a company. Sincere concern for the health and safety of employees and customers showcases compassionate service—the hallmark of an empathetic organization. During times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, people need clarity and compassion from the corporations they rely on for goods and services. Our social media analysis clearly illustrates the value of proactive communications and reliably acting with integrity.


The Findings

Consumers rely on a corporation’s ability to provide an answer in a timely matter, listing out exactly their points of concern and providing resolution. Organizations maintain and grow consumer trust by meeting expectations in a reliable and predictable manner. [2] The COVID-19 pandemic places an unprecedented strain on customer service capabilities, requiring companies to identify new ways to demonstrate their care to consumers. Policies and communication strategies to customers and employees demonstrate the priorities of a company, shaping consumer perspective about organizational values. A rise in Twitter usage raises the stakes for companies to maintain trust; breaking that trust leads to large-scale backlash and churn.[3] Below, we look at various methods companies have implemented in reaction to unprecedented changes while cultivating consumer relationships and identify the success stories and mistakes.


Policy Pitfalls Generate Consumer Backlash

Non-essential businesses began to shut down in response to the pandemic in mid-March (3). However, GameStop, the top video game retailer in the country, insisted it was an “essential” business in order to remain open. GameStop, according to reports, told employees to use plastic bags to cover their hands when interacting with customers and ignored protocols encouraged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.[4] On March 22nd, GameStop forcibly shut down its in-store operations—not in compliance with government orders, but as a result of customer backlash. Using Clarabridge’s natural language detection features, such as company brands, to look for mentions of Gamestop in social media data, the graph below demonstrates the intensity of emotions regarding Gamestop prior to its closure of stores.


Figure 1: GameStop Conversations

Figure 1: Gamestop mentions and conversations, identified through Clarabridge’s Natural Language Understanding feature of company detection, has a large percentage of conversations showing medium to high emotional intensity. Highly emotional conversations include the business’ decision to remain open as “essential.”


GameStop’s actions demonstrated their lack of concern and respect for their employees and customers, failing to show compassion regarding the evident health risks of in-person social contact. Consumers expect corporations to demonstrate respect in all aspects of their business functions, not merely how they interact with consumers.[2] Online commentary, as seen above, promoted awareness to GameStop’s practices and encouraged consumers to purchase via digital channels rather than in GameStop brick-and-mortars—a key threat to the business as its stock prices continue to drop.[5] Policy and actions, as showcased here, contribute to consumers’ perceived image of corporate awareness and can cause a collective backlash when it falls short of expectations.


The Totality of Actions Must Match Individual Touchpoints.

Companies that provide consumers with an apology and follow-up with appropriate action see an increase in satisfaction.[6] As more consumers leverage Twitter to engage companies, the critical differentiator between earning or losing customer respect, and ultimately trust comes from overall actions, not an individual service touchpoint. To understand this relationship, both one on one interactions and external brand mentions were compared between two companies.

Below shows how Amazon and Sam’s Club communicate on Twitter with those who have poor customer service experiences.

Both companies provide a tactile apology by recognizing the issue and offering suggestions to achieve resolution. However, when looking across all discussions on Twitter about these brands, a clear disparity arises between each corporation’s ability to communicate empathy. Clarabridge’s sentiment feature combined with company name detection highlights the variation in sentiment towards Amazon compared to Sam’s Club.


Figure 2: Amazon and Sam’s Club Sentiment


Figure 2: Amazon and Sam’s Club mentions and conversations, identified through Clarabridge’s Natural Language Understanding feature of company detection, are broken down by sentiment. A larger percentage of conversations related to Amazon had negative sentiment compared to conversations about Sam’s Club.

Both organizations provide similar individualized feedback to customer complaints on Twitter. However, Amazon’s broader corporate actions—in particular, their lack of workplace protections—communicated to consumers that Amazon lacks the compassionate values they expect in a corporation by prioritizing profits over the health and safety of its workers. Consumers reacted similarly to GameStop’s profit-focused decision instead of proactive protection for its customers or employees. Sam’s Club, which responds in the same fashion as Amazon, sees positive social dialogue. On April 14th, Sam’s Club launched Hero Hours for those supporting the COVID-19 pandemic (regardless of membership to their club). They consistently provide clear information to consumers on the rationale of their policies and force competitors to follow suit in their innovative practices. Other companies provided special shopping hours for elderly and immunocompromised individuals; Sam’s Club expanded on this gesture welcoming not just its own club members, but extending special shopping privileges to all healthcare workers, setting a new standard. While other companies scramble to follow the new standard and thus experience negative feedback for not offering the same service, Sam’s Club reaped the benefits in positive social engagement.


Proactive Notifications Builds Trust

Direct and proactive communication by companies assures consumers of an organization’s capabilities to handle crisis. Proactive outreach increases reliability and trust. Brand perception improves 68% when customers receive a proactive notification.[7] Personalized messaging and direct communication, rather than avoiding business-consumer conflict, improves consumer perception of a business. Though a customer may receive news they do not like, by staying aware that a business is (as an example) reviewing their refund request, there is less friction when receiving bad news compared to waiting two weeks to find out they were denied without notice.

Companies must communicate and act with empathy due to the unprecedented situations resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Seen through our analysis, when actions fail to match words or consumer expectations, the backlash immediately ensues. Practices, policies, and innovations directly define a corporation’s image as reliable, responsive, and empathic, critical components to quality service.[2] Staying innovative in policies, communication and actions enhances customer experiences and perceptions. By building a reliable and transparent relationship, companies can maintain and grow consumer trust even amidst instability.


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What’s Next

As the relationship of action, communication, and trust weave across our analysis, we will begin to look at opportunities for industries to enhance their public image and success stories. I will explore emerging cross-industry trends. Together, we will continue to see the new practices used and how we continue to foster those relationships after the COVID-19 pandemic.


Other Articles in This Series:
Social Pulse: An Opportunity to Create Trust with Consumers
Published April 9, 2020

Social Pulse: A Craving for Understanding
Published April 2, 2020

Social Pulse: The Way We See COVID-19 Relate to CX & the Globe
Published March 26, 2020

Social Pulse: How is the World Reacting to the COVID-19 Pandemic?
Published March 20, 2020

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Nicole Martin is currently a consultant at Clarabridge. Prior to Clarabridge, Nicole received her Master of Public Health in Epidemiology from The George Washington University. During her time at GW, Nicole wrote her graduate paper on sexuality, sexual behavior, and mental health. In addition, Nicole taught as a Graduate Assistant for the Biostatistics Department at The George Washington University. During her time at Clarabridge, Nicole has worked with healthcare accounts to enrich their analytic capabilities, created customer journey maps for property and casualty insurance companies, and continued to support innovation for clients across various industry verticals.



[1] Association for Psychological Science. (2016, May). Effective Apologies Include Six Elements. Retrieved April 2020, from

[2]  Berry, L. L., Parish, J. T., & Dikec, A. (2019). Creating value through quality service. Organizational Dynamics, 100716. doi: 10.1016/j.orgdyn.2019.04.002

[3] Al Jazeera. (2020, April 14). Lockdowns, closures: How is each US state handling coronavirus? Retrieved April 16, 2020, from

[4] Gilbert, B. (2020, March 29). GameStop reportedly told employees to wrap their hands in plastic bags while they continued working during the coronavirus outbreak. Retrieved April 16, 2020, from

[5] Gilbert, B. (2020, January 23). The world’s biggest video game retailer, GameStop, is dying: Here’s what led to the retail giant’s slow demise. Retrieved April 16, 2020, from

[6] Chambers, S. (2019, July 18). The Art of Saying Sorry – How to write a Customer Service Apology. Retrieved April 16, 2020, from

[7] Microsoft. (2017). State of Global Customer Service. Retrieved April 16, 2020, from

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About The Social Pulse Series

Clarabridge has embarked on an independent research project to actively analyze the “emotional pulse” of social media users worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic. The effort’s main goal is to assess how people are feeling using Clarabridge’s Natural Language Understanding to glean insights from millions of unstructured data records. We hope to inform the public, provide insights to the scientific community and educate Clarabridge customers. The analyses in this series leverages Twitter data collected beginning March 12th using keywords such as “coronavirus,” “covid19”, and “covid-19” from Twitter. We continue to refine data collection and models as the situation evolves.

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