Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Disgruntled Customer

In my last post, I reported on  a recent lesson where my intermediate group and I went to a local department store to do some "shopping".  The lesson went well ... and we had a bonus adventure!  I saved the details on that for today.

As our group of nine entered the department store, I was intent on establishing a place and time for regrouping after everyone finished their assignment.  My attention was diverted, though, by a man speaking very loudly.  He was inviting passing customers to participate in a "marketing survey" (read: sales pitch) and promising participants that there would be a drawing for a free necklace afterward.  Members of my group were intrigued, so I quickly postponed our planned activity and we gathered in front of the man's display with about six or seven other people.
I was carrying my iPad because I had been planning to take pictures of our "purchases" at the meeting place before we concluded our outing.  Hoping to use the promotional event as a listening exercise later, I fired up my newly-acquired Audio Memos app just moments before our host began his spiel.  I couldn't imagine what a useful recording it would turn out to be!

Our host promised us that his pitch would take three minutes and he wasted no time getting started.  He held up a sparkling gold necklace, said a few words about it, named a price ($69.95), and asked everyone to raise their hand if they thought it was worth buying.  He counted the raised hands, and would have gone on to tell us how he was ready to include a bracelet at no additional cost!  His plan (as I learned later) was to show two more necklace/bracelet sets and ultimately offer ALL THREE sets for $30.  That's right, 6 pieces for $30!  However, just as he finished taking the first show of hands, a woman's voice rang out from directly behind me.

"How 'bout everything I bought from you tarnished?", she asserted.  Over the next 40 seconds, there was an exchange between this angry customer and the sales guy which ended with her storming out of the store.  He was taken slightly aback but recovered rapidly, picking up his thread and forging onward through the rest of his spiel.  As promised, there was a drawing and one member of our group walked away with a free necklace, hooray!  I'm pretty sure that no necklace/bracelet sets were sold that afternoon, however.

After our adventure, we continued with our shopping activity and we returned to the library for debriefing afterward.  In addition to sharing about their shopping experience, students compared notes about what they thought had happened with the unhappy customer.  Everyone had the gist, but I could see that they had missed many details.  Unfortunately, we were out of time so I held off on exploring the recording until we met again.

The experience with the disgruntled shopper formed the base of our next class meeting.  To warm up and set the stage, students who shopped shared the results of their activity with those who hadn't attended that day.  The lady who won the gold necklace was wearing it -- she had added a lovely pendant and it shone beautifully against her dark skin.

I invited learners to tell the story of the dissatisfied customer while I took notes on the left side of the board.  I asked them to try and reproduce as much of the conversation as they could remember and made it clear that it didn't have to be exact: paraphrasing is a good skill!  Students recalled that the angry woman had used a bad word, but they weren't sure they remembered what it was.  It was proposed that the word was "shit" and I duly wrote it on the board, with a little hand-drawn call out next to it that read "Warning!  This is very impolite language!" and a wink to the class.  After a little more negotiation on their version of the text, students were ready to hear the real thing.  (Are you? The recording and text are included at the end of this post.)

To begin, I wrote the actual first sentence of the exchange on the right side of the board and asked students to comment on it.  No one knew the word "tarnished" -- in fact, their theory was that the woman had bought one necklace and it broke.  Once they understood the first sentence, they had to revise their ideas about what happened.  They realized that the woman had bought a set of jewelry and that her problem was that it all turned color.  I began playing the recording from a bookmark at the beginning of the incident and paused it after another sentence or two passed (the exchange went very quickly -- sometimes the participants were talking on top of each other) and students told me what they heard.  We listened again and again, adding a few seconds at a time and they worked hard to discern what they were hearing, letting me clarify if they couldn't figure it out.  Finally, we had the whole encounter mapped out on the board.  When the group compared the text to their version on the left, they were pleased to see that they had remembered two sentences verbatim. They didn't seem to tire of hearing the recording, especially once we had the whole thing up on the board and they could read along.

In addition to new vocabulary, some of the group was fascinated to learn that tone of voice could have such a huge impact on the meaning of some sentences.  In this case, the man was sarcastic when he said "Did it really?" and later when he referred to the angry woman as "sweetheart". By the way, the bad word was "crap" and students weren't familiar with this word.  I'm fascinated that some knew when tart language was used and got the correct meaning, paraphrasing it with "shit".  Emergent language, the salty version!

To follow up, the class broke into three groups to discuss how someone who had bought jewelry which later tarnished might have handled the situation more effectively.  I asked them to write a new dialog demonstrating what might have happened.  Each group came up with something different.  One scenario involved talking to customer service. Another asked to see a manager.  The third group had a phone dialog involving a toll-free number (from the warranty card). 

I believe students will remember the words "tarnish" and "vermeil" (not to mention "crap"!) far better than they would if we had simply had a textbook lesson on shopping.  Actually, they wouldn't have learned these words at all.  I think part of the success of this activity was tied to the length of the recording.  There was a lot to hear in those 40 seconds!  The full demonstration clocked in at around six minutes.

I'm very happy with the Audio Memos app and have already used it to collect more authentic language for my other classes!

Here's the recording we analyzed and the text to go with it:

Check this out on Chirbit

A: So, raise your hands if you simply like this one. Hold ‘em up. I got one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight?

B: How ‘bout everything I bought from you tarnished?

A: Did it really?

B: Yes, every piece of it. I threw it in the trash.

A: Are you sure it was from me?

B: Yes, it was you.

A: Why didn’t you bring it back? Because we do replace ‘em for free.

B: It’s a bunch of crap.

A: Make sure it’s my company, sweetheart.

B: It was you. I remember your face!

A: Well then, why didn’t you come back and give it back to me? Well, that helped a lot, didn’t it? Anyway, like I said, this piece on QVC is $69.95 … and I just counted and I forgot what I said. Hold your hands up if you like it, ladies. I got one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine … and nine it is.

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