Customer Service

Customer Service ESL lesson

‘Tis the season for superb customer service!  Shopping for Christmas presents means many businesses have to step up their game and deliver what consumers expect and so polishing up our vocabulary and speaking skills in preparation for what’s to come is essential.  In the majority of industries today there is some aspect of customer service that is required.  Whether it is the IT industry, hospitality, business, travel or doctors and lawyers, customer service turns out to be an intricate part in all of them.  How we handle ourselves and our customer/clients has a huge impact on whether they will return for our service in the future.  With this in mind, this week’s lesson is dedicated to the topic of customer service and specifically the language necessary for it.

It’s worth remembering that whether you are the customer or the seller/service provider both can get some value out of this lesson.  Younger students may find it a bit boring and not to their liking frankly, because the reality is they don’t get to interact with customer service people much if at all.  Therefore this lesson is more recommended for college kids and/or adults, so let’s get started.

Start off with writing the word ‘CUSTOMER SERVICE’ on the board and asking students to brainstorm what it means for them.  After a couple of minutes get feedback.  There should be a variety of answers including how sellers deal with complaints, giving refunds, and dealing with customers in a shop etc.  Write on the board this quote: ‘The customer is never wrong” ask students whether they agree/disagree with the quote and why.  In feedback ask students to justify their opinions with examples.

From here you can go in two directions.  The first is through a lesson from English Vocabulary in use (Advanced) on Service Encounters.  This route allows you to cover some language related to the topic including words we use to describe good service:

Responsive to complaints, accommodating, impeccable, obliging and get back to me promptly

There is also language on bad service:

Incompetent, impersonal, shoddy, substandard, uncooperative

Make sure you provide additional examples so students are clear on the correct usage. When you deal with travel issues you typically will use accommodating, while obliging will be when, generally, you ask for assistance etc.

Here is a scan of the lesson you can find from the book:

As you can see there are examples that accompany the language and afterwards you can ask your students to complete the first exercise on the right side to check their knowledge.  If students know this stuff then you can go right to exercise two and get them to discuss the questions pertaining to the language.

Alternatively you can skip those exercises and go the second route which is through the Market Leader Upper-Intermediate lesson that has the quote we started with.  Here you have a table with 3 categories of inconvenience whether it be on the phone, in the shop (face to face) or related to repairs and refunds.  Ask students to use the language from the first worksheet here to talk about incompetent salespeople, obliging staff, accommodating, impeccable service etc. Put all these words on the board with maybe additional examples and be vigilant that students use them because even if they say they are familiar with the words, trust me, they never use them.  They are too comfortable with using the words ‘good’ and ‘bad’ to bother incorporating these more sophisticated words.  Also make sure to explain any unknown vocabulary from the worksheet like disinterested, indifferent, dispute. Give additional examples to make it clear.  After a lengthy discussion, students can move on to the great vocabulary exercises on the right side of this sheet. Exercises A and B offer some great vocabulary on the topic.

My personal preference are the idioms.  Anytime you can expose students to language with idioms or phrasal verbs, it’s worthwhile and valuable to students.  Provide examples for the idioms in exercise B and then have some questions prepared from them to practice their use. Here are some ideas:

  • Have you ever known someone at work who passed the buck whenever there were issues in your workplace? Have you ever had a customer service experience where the business was trying to pass the buck? What happened?
  • Have you ever been ripped off? Or have you ever bought something that was a rip off? (explain the difference)
  • When has someone gone the extra mile for you? What happened? Do you try to go the extra mile when you’re asked for something at work or from a friend? Why or why not?
  • Has something ever slipped your mind that was very important? (think of a travel holiday or work project) –explain here the value of using this expression instead of forgot. Forgot has a negative connotation that makes you look like you are at fault, while this expression can express an ‘error” that can happen to anyone from time to time.
  • Did customer service ever get to the bottom of the problem with your complaint? Tell your partner. Explain how this expression really reassures customers and clients that you will search and discover the ‘real’ reason or the root cause of the problem. Excellent idiom!
  • Have you ever talked at cross purposes with a co-worker? What happened? How did you resolve the issue?

The follow-up exercise can be done for homework or in the next lesson as review.

This lesson is not very demanding of students but incredibly practical because it allows them to discuss their experiences, and depending on their line of work, dealing with clients and customers as well (explain the difference between client and customer in the lesson, students should be clear on this – clients are when you provide a service, customers are when you sell something).  It’s a topic all adults have experience with, and so the majority will have plenty to say about it.  Whenever I have used it, students have always left the lesson satisfied so that’s got to be a good sign right?  I welcome feedback on how to make this a bit more creative, or if anyone has a reading or listening that can accompany this lesson.  I feel that this speaking and vocabulary lesson is just right but welcome ideas from fellow teachers.  Hope it all goes swell this holiday season and keep dishing out great ESL lessons to your students because they will always value and appreciate your effort and dedication.  Over and out.

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