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1. Evelyn C. White on Emancipation Day

Spurred by her memory of a photograph that captured the murder of Martin Luther King, the author instinctively pointed “freeze frame” skyward. Photo: Contributed

A famous photo taken moments after the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Cardinals extending their range northward. The history of slavery in the Maritimes. Watermelon mango ale.

The incomparable Evelyn C. White brings together these elements and more in an essay on Canada’s first national celebration of Emancipation Day.

The smug Canadian position that slavery never existed here is simply untenable. As White writes, “ the Nova Scotia Archives is chockablock with evidence of the prevalence of slavery in the province.” Emancipation Day marks the day the British Slavery Abolition Act came into effect, making slavery illegal in most of the British Empire.

White says she will celebrate in part by downing a watermelon mango beer brewed by Good Robot and developed with African Nova Scotian activist Corey Wright. And she will reflect on King’s legacy.

I was fascinated by White’s description of the backstory of a famous photo taken moments after King’s assassination. One that White says she’s “carried within me for more than 50 years.”

I researched the person who’d taken the iconic photograph. His name? Joseph Louw. Louw was a “coloured” South African journalist who, fed up with apartheid, had fled his homeland in the early 1960s. He’d travelled to Memphis to film King for a documentary and was staying a few doors down from the civil rights leader at the motel when he heard a loud noise. He rushed out of his room to find King mortally wounded.

In a riveting broadcast three days after King’s murder, Louw detailed the tragic sequence of events. Louw later returned to Africa where he ultimately abandoned his journalism career and became a farmer. He reportedly died in Johannesburg at age 64, in 2004.

Read the whole story here.

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2. Camp Hill Cemetery could become a heritage site

Camp Hill Cemetery. Photo: SimonP/Wikipedia

It had never occurred to me that Halifax’s Camp Hill Cemetery might not be a heritage site. It’s not. But soon it could be.

Zane Woodford reports on Wednesday’s Heritage Advisory Committee meeting, at which the committee recommended according heritage status to both the cemetery and a two-storey building on Inglis.

The request to list the cemetery came from the Halifax Military Heritage Preservation Society. Woodford writes:

In a report to the committee, municipal heritage planning researcher Elizabeth Cushing wrote that the site is “designed in the Rural Cemetery style,” “has been used as an active burial ground since 1844 and is the earliest example of the style in Canada.”

Thousands of Nova Scotians are buried in the cemetery, including Viola Desmond, Joseph Howe, Robert Stanfield, Alexander Keith, and soldiers and veterans from both world wars. There are also thousands of unmarked graves on the site. It’s still in use, with plans for a columbarium (designed to hold cremation urns) underway.

Meanwhile, the Inglis building is a Georgian structure built in 1823.

Looking at the photos in Woodford’s article reminded me of the old days, when then-councillor Matt Whitman would share photos of buildings being considered for heritage status on Twitter and ask his followers if they deserved to be preserved.

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3. 1 new case of COVID-19; nobody in hospital with the disease

A mask discarded on the ground. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

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Not a lot of news on the COVID front in Nova Scotia. Tim Bousquet reports there was one new case reported in Nova Scotia yesterday, and nobody is currently in hospital with the disease. Active cases in the province are down to 10.

There are two drop-in clinics where you can get the Moderna vaccine without an appointment (as long as you have a health card). Here are the locations:

• Rath Eastlink Community Centre (drive-thru)
East side parking lot
625 Abenaki Rd., Truro
Weekdays from 9am-3:30pm

• Dartmouth General Drive-Thru Community Vaccine Clinic
7 Mount Hope Avenue (behind Dartmouth General Hospital)
Open daily from 9am-5pm

Meanwhile, Alberta seems to be tempting fate with new policies announced yesterday, as Frances Willick reports for CBC:

Starting today, contact tracers are not notifying close contacts of people who test positive, quarantining for close contacts is recommended rather than mandatory and asymptomatic testing of close contacts is no longer recommended.

Uh, what other purpose do contact tracers have? Also:

Starting Aug. 16, people in Alberta who test positive will not be required to isolate and mask mandates will be lifted. On Aug. 31, COVID-19 testing will no longer be available at assessment centres, but will be available in hospitals and in primary care settings such as doctor’s offices.

One huge lesson, that governments like Alberta’s are refusing to learn, is that it’s not a case of public health vs the economy. Or climate change vs the economy. If we don’t deal with these issues the economy is fucked.

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4. Poll says Nova Scotians want rent controls

A SaltWire story by Noushin Ziafati says Nova Scotians want “stronger” rent control. (Stronger than nothing would be good! We currently have a temporary limit on rent increases.)

Ziafati writes:

According to the results of the latest poll from Narrative Research, about 81 per cent of Nova Scotians support the introduction of stronger rent controls when the next provincial government takes office, including 51 per cent who completely support stronger rent controls.

The survey also looked at other issues, including guaranteed annual income:

Of the 521 people surveyed, 77 per cent said they were in support of introducing a guaranteed minimum income, including 47 per cent who completely support it.

Another 21 per cent oppose introducing a guaranteed minimum income, including 10 per cent who completely oppose it. Two per cent were undecided.

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5. Now here’s some useful advice

Killam property. Photo: Suzanne Rent

If you are in the mood to throw things at the wall, please allow me to direct you to a story published by the Financial Post on July 28.

Titled “Six ways to prepare yourself for a rental bidding war,” it offers ways you can demean yourself, I mean, outdo every other competitor for a crappy apartment you’re going to wind up overpaying for. Or, as the story puts it, “A rental bidding war is no joke. If there’s a property you want, you’ll need to bring your A-game to land it.”

Suggestions include writing a personal letter to the landlord explaining why you should get the place, and putting up with discrimination:

Put another way, things that shouldn’t matter — your appearance, the persona you present on social media, what turns up in a Google search — matter. If you’re serious about finding an apartment in this climate, treat a meeting with a landlord like a job interview.

“They’re going to judge you as a candidate,” [real estate agent David] Fleming says. “Whether or not that’s discrimination is an entirely different topic, but every landlord has a slightly different criteria of what they’re looking for.”

Ultimately though, you can just win the game by throwing piles of money at the landlord:

First and last month’s rent isn’t going to cut it in this market.

“There are sometimes instances when tenants have offered to pay six-to-12 months of rent up-front,” [real estate agent Braden] White says. “This is often desirable to the landlord as it will reduce any concerns of not receiving the rent.”

Having four, six or 12 months’ rent on hand is a tall order, but landlords don’t have an obligation to hand their keys over to just anybody. With the market as tight as it is, they want to be blown away.

So there it is. Start saving now, and by the time you can put aside $24,000 or so, your dream apartment could be yours!

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Views

1. Does customer feedback really matter? Survey says …

It seems that every interaction these days results in a request to complete a survey.

Are you inundated with surveys? Does every customer service interaction result in a request for feedback? Do you wonder what will happen if you don’t rate the person who served you 5/5 or 10/10?

A recent ProPublica story featured interviews with Americans providing customer support from home. It detailed all kinds of abuse and indignities suffered by the workers, most of whom are independent contractors rather than employees, and have few if any protections. But the story has only one reference to the feedback surveys, with regards to an agent taking video calls for TurboTax: “Customers weren’t responding to survey questions about her performance.”

My attitude towards customer feedback surveys is to give full points to whoever served me. Generally, if I am unhappy, I don’t respond to the survey. I figure that whoever is working in a call centre has enough on their plate without having to deal with fallout from some schlub who was not completely satisfied with their experience.

In thinking about this, I realized I was making two assumptions about these customer feedback forms. First, that they were designed to terrorize employees with the threat of consequences if ratings dropped below a certain level. And second, that the surveys were aimed at not actually providing any usable data but at producing full marks so that the customer service provider could look good and show they were meeting all their targets.

This last assumption was reinforced by seeing signs like this one, at the Tantallon Superstore.

Who is “me” here? Photo:: Philip Moscovitch

There were other similar signs in the store, one offering a chance to win a barbecue in exchange for providing full marks. This, I thought, was an admission that the store is not looking to collect any useful data.

John Dulong agreed with me. “I don’t understand what you’re supposed to be rating there. I go into the Superstore and don’t speak to anyone. They probably have a target of the number of five-star reviews they need to have for some reason,” said Dulong, a former customer service agent and call centre supervisor. “It does smack to me of somebody not quite understanding the point of the reviews, and just understanding the reward for getting good reviews.”

Dulong worked for the Blue Ocean call centre in Halifax, serving customers of a delivery service in the northeastern United States for five years, until 2018. (A non-disclosure agreement prevents him from naming the company.)

He said that in his experience, both of my assumptions were wrong: customer feedback surveys were not particularly important in assessing the performance of agents, and the goal of the survey was not simply to produce perfect results. Dulong said a scale of one to five is “more of a checkmark than anything else. You’re either rating five or you’re rating none. Either you’re satisfied or you’re not. I don’t think the middle really exists, at least in my experience.”

A one rating might lead a supervisor to listen to a call and find out if the agent could have done anything differently. But most of the time, Dulong said, bad ratings reflect customer anger over something outside the agent’s control. “If there’s a snowstorm and we can’t get a truck to you, there’s nothing that we can do. If it is a genuine customer service failing, then that’s a teachable moment if nothing else.”

That matches Samantha’s experience. Samantha (not her real name) has worked for several years at a telecom company’s call centre. Like many other customer service reps, she’s been working from home during the pandemic. She describes her job as “mostly being yelled at by people who are angry about their bills.”

Although many of these people may be angry and give low ratings, Samantha says that’s never had any impact on her work. When I asked for details of what the customer feedback survey looks like she said she didn’t know, because she has never seen one.

There have been times when a manager might pull up a call and listen to it with Samantha after she has been given a particularly low score, but she said managers haven’t done this with her for a long time, probably because poor ratings are almost never a reflection of her own work.

Often, she said, a call that led to a low rating would be “this long spiel about how the company is screwing them over and how we’re the worst company, and irresponsible, and that sort of thing. It’s not even anything really useful for me as an individual employee, because in most overly negative reviews they were frustrated with the company as a whole.”

Some companies try to get more useful feedback by separating scores for the product from those for the service on customer feedback surveys. Anya (not her real name) works for a company offering cloud-based services. After contacting customer support, clients are asked to rate the product and the service on a scale of 1 to 10.

Anya said she sees each individual feedback rating, and that particularly good ones are shared with colleagues on a shared communication channel. On the other hand, “anything super low just comes to you, and your supervisor can see it,” she said. But Anya, who is a relatively new employee, said she isn’t particularly worried about those low ratings, because — even though the company asks about customer service experience and product separately — clients unhappy with the company will give both a low rating.

“I will go to my supervisor and say ‘this is kind of bullshit,’” she said. “It’s never really like, oh shit, I got a one and now I’m going to be fired. I’m always like, oh, I can explain that.”

Anya agrees with Dulong that ratings tend to be all or nothing. “It’s more extremes rather than middle ground. Sometimes you do get an eight or nine and they’ll make a comment about the product.”

She remembers one particular instance in which a customer was upset about something they had misunderstood, soon after Anya had started with the company. “So, they just rated everything quite low, and I was like, oh my God, this is going to be so bad. And I talked to my supervisor, and he said you have some room for bad replies, but also it’s not the solitary thing we use to evaluate you.”

Dulong said other metrics are far more important than the feedback surveys, which, in his experience, only a minority of customers return anyway. “A certain number of metrics are built in to the contract. So you’re looking to have an overall average call handle time of, say, five minutes, an average wait time of under 45 seconds on average, an average answer speed of 10 seconds or whatever. And an average star rating of whatever might be in there. If it goes above that, it looks good on the contact centre. And if it goes below that, it’s probably not going to break anything.”

If the company doesn’t meet those targets, there may be financial penalties, but Dulong said that still isn’t an excuse to get people off the phone without helping them. He said, “I remember this one guy who completely, incorrectly told the customer that he couldn’t help them with another one of their problems, simply because he wanted them off the phone, because he was approaching his five-minute handle time. And I was like, quality still matters!”

Samantha said she has call handling targets, but isn’t sure what they are (“I think it’s eight to 10 minutes, or maybe less”) because it’s never been an issue. Most calls can be completed in that time “unless it’s something stupidly complicated or requiring a supervisor or the customer is just being really unreasonable,” she said.

Individual feedback is far more important than star ratings, Dulong said. “The actual substance of what people are saying about the company is much more important than the actual star ratings. If there were people saying bad things on social media, particularly if they were considered to have enough clout, a bit of a following, we would really jump on that.”

Conversely, he said, “If you do get exactly what you need and it’s super easy and the person is fantastic, ask to speak to the manager, because that can mean the world in terms of bonuses and raises.”

Dulong said many people who contact customer service have a sense “they’re dealing with Comcast, traditionally known as being absolutely the most terrible customer service experience that anybody’s ever had.”

Comcast is renowned for its terrible customer support. Screenshot from trustpilot.com

He advises callers to not assume the worst. “You’ll probably get what you need. Be confident about what you need, and ask for it by name.”

Samantha said, “When someone calls in, I generally do want help. I tend to put myself in their shoes and try to be at least empathetic — unless, of course, they are being a complete dick bag… The one thing I hate is seeing on the account that someone’s calling back about the exact same problem. I don’t want that to happen. I want someone to leave the call and not have to call back again for the exact same problem. I try to actually resolve it.”

In the ProPublica story, a few of the people interviewed said they were not allowed to hang up, even when customers berated them with misogynistic or racist abuse — or, in one case, masturbated while on the call.

Samantha said she accepts a certain amount of being yelled at is part of the job, but there are lines that can’t be crossed. “We do have rules where if they’re belligerent or things like that we can warn them and say, listen, if you continue with that I will end the call. And I’ve had to do that, sometimes. I’ve had to hang up on a few people just because they refuse to stop yelling at me or swearing at me.”

We don’t have a survey for you, but you can let us know how satisfied you are with your Morning File experience today in the comments below.

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2. “One of the worst decisions in broadcasting history” is being (sort-of) reversed

Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler are not radio broadcasters. Photo: Sportsnet.ca

Baseball on the radio has been a staple in my life for almost as long as I can remember. Sure, I might watch the occasional game on TV, but my preferred way to take in a game (other than live, of course) is to listen to the radio broadcast. With the MLB app, I can listen to any team’s broadcast feed easily. I also listen online to minor league games.

So I was appalled when, at the start of this season, Sportsnet announced that instead of having a dedicated radio team calling Blue Jays games, they were just going to run the TV feed — usually consisting of play by play by Buck Martinez and colour commentary by Pat Tabler — on the radio.

Now, I am no fan of this duo. When I plugged their names into my search bar this morning to find a photo of them, the first hit was from a blog post noting they are “actually not the worst TV broadcast team in baseball,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

I tried listening to these guys on the radio. I really did. But radio and TV are completely different media. Even if they were the best TV broadcasters in the business, it would be a lot to ask them to satisfy the needs of both sets of audiences. I would put on the game, and there would be long stretches in the action during which Martinez and Tabler chatted, and I would think surely there must be something going on on the field. There were the times — so many times — when Martinez would say, “As you can see…” or refer to a chart on the screen, saying something like “look at those numbers.” Thanks buddy.

Commiserating with me, one long-time radio host called Sportsnet’s decision “beyond the pale” and “an affront.”

A lot of folks expressed their displeasure on Twitter.

One of many unhappy radio listeners.

At one point, someone wondered if Sportsnet had forgotten to Tell Martinez and Tabler they were on the radio.

Halifax’s Ryan McNutt called it before the season even started.

I did not last long trying to listen to the duo. The experience was too frustrating. Instead, whenever I wanted to listen to a Jays game I would just put on the opposing team’s feed. Often, I didn’t bother listening to the Jays game at all. You know what? The Giants crew is great. I’m happy listening to the Giants.

Asking TV broadcasters to work radio is like firing all the photojournalists at a paper and telling the print reporters to shoot pics on their phones. Yes, several papers have done it. And no, the results are generally not great.

Broadcasters for other teams shared my outrage. The Yankees radio team of Suzyn Waldman and John Sterling expressed their disbelief at carrying the TV feed on the radio. Each Yankees game, just before first pitch, Waldman hands off to Sterling, saying he’s going to “paint a word picture” of the game. (I realize a lot of people don’t like Sterling, but Sterling at his worst is better than TV guys on the radio.) Joe Castiglione of the Red Sox radio crew called the decision to put Tabler and Martinez on the radio “one of the worst decisions in broadcasting history.”

Radio is largely a medium of habit. You listen to the same show at the same time every day. You get familiar with the people you listen to. It is an intimate medium. You listen while you cook, clean up, take a shower, whatever. When people get out of the habit of listening, it can be hard to get them back.

Fortunately, the whole sorry episode is — sort of — coming to an end. Tonight, the Blue Jays return to Toronto, with Ben Wagner in the radio booth. But he’ll be working alone, with no colour commentator, according to The Athletic. Wagner will do home games from the stadium and will do play-by-play of road games from a studio, along with the TV crew.

Let’s hope this is a first step towards restoring a full radio crew.

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Noticed

Mary Jane Copps. Photo: thephonelady.com

For the last 15 years, Mary Jane Copps has run a business called The Phone Lady (tag line: “Pick it up. Make things happen!”) She trains people on how to use the phone more effectively — to make sales, to find jobs, to provide customer service. And she tries to demystify it.

I have not seen Copps in years, but I knew her on my first go-round as a member of the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia board.

To some — generally older — folks, the whole idea of teaching people to use the phone seems ridiculous. Perhaps because I’m someone who has had to learn to at least somewhat overcome the dread of phone calls (yes, a large part of what I do for a living involves phoning people,) I can relate to the anxiety the phone brings up for millennials and younger people.

Copps publishes a blog every couple of weeks — it used to be weekly, but more on that later — and I found her July 3 post, “What Alzheimer’s Has Taught Me About Communication” particularly striking and moving.

Four years ago, Copps’s husband, David, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Thinking about the challenges of being David’s primary caregiver and communicating with him leads Copps to drawing broader, helpful lessons about communications.

The first set of lessons come from communicating with David, and developing strategies to help Copps avoid frustration and having to say “no” so much. She describes what she calls her “most common communication errors:”

  • Saying “no” way too often, i.e. “No, you do it this way.” As an adult, it really gets under David’s skin to be told “no”. I had to change my language to “How about we try this …” or “Let’s do it this way …”
  • Speaking faster when I had to repeat myself or when I was in a hurry. Being in a rush isn’t something I can do anymore … if I want to communicate with David.
  • Speaking louder when he did not understand or react as quickly as I expected. For David, this was yelling. He doesn’t (yet) have a hearing problem, he has a comprehension problem.
  • Saying multiple things in one sentence. David can only take in one idea or thought at a time, and that at a very slow pace.
  • Giving him too many choices. I had to learn to offer only two options or simply say “Let’s do this …” .

These are lessons many of us can apply in the ways we communicate. Sometimes I’m talking and I listen to myself and realize what I’m trying to say is confusing slop because my sentences are going on and on and on and I’m tossing in a bunch of pronouns so it’s not clear who I’m talking about, and I’m going back and forth in time until the poor listener is completely befuddled. And how many times have I caught myself interviewing someone for an article and asking two or even three questions in one go instead of sticking to just one? (Sometimes I’ll actually say, “I guess I should just ask one question here.”)

Copps also shares tips on note-taking, which is important for dealing with caregivers and health professionals.

The next blog in the series, “What Alzheimer’s Has Taught Me About Work/Life Balance” is also worth reading. From the post:

Being an optimist (and a bit of a goof), I thought I could somehow maintain the same level of dedication to the business. That illusion was shattered one spring day in 2019 when, during a coaching call with a client, David disappeared. (Up until this point, he’d always understood he couldn’t venture out alone, that he needed to wait for me.)

Five hours later, after cancellations and apologies were sent to clients, local police thoroughly searched our home, drove the nearby trails speaking to everyone along the way, and posted bulletins on radio and social media, he walked through the front door. Whew!

And so began my new understanding of work/life balance.

One of the adjustments Copps has made is publishing her blog every two weeks instead of weekly. As she puts it, “The balance is in the freedom to choose and to change.”

On a lighter note, several years ago Copps was on This Hour Has 22 Minutes, featured with Brandon Hackett in a segment called “Telephone Lessons for Millenials.” You can watch it here.

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Government

No meetings


On campus

No events


In the harbour

Here are today’s ships, brought to you during a brief work break by the vacationing Tim Bousquet.

Halifax
06:00: ZIM Tarragona, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
08:30: USCGC Richard Snyder, coast guard cutter, arrives at Dockyard from sea
09:00: USCGC Escanaba, coast guard cutter, arrives at Dockyard from Boston
12:00: Acadian, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Saint John
13:30: Algoma Verity, bulker, sails from Gold Bond for sea
15:00: One Helsinki, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka
16:30: ZIM Tarragona sails for New York
17:30: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, sails from Pier 41 for St. John’s
21:30: Taipei Trader, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Kingston, Jamaica

Cape Breton
10:30: MTM Kobe, oil tanker, arrives at Port Hawkesbury Paper from Point Comfort, Texas
22:30: Algoma Victory, bulker, arrives at Aulds Cove quarry from Charleston, South Carolina


Footnotes

I could have been doing beach yoga this morning. The sacrifices the Examiner team makes to bring the Morning File to you.


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Philip Moscovitch

Philip Moscovitch is a writer and audio producer, and the author of the book Adventures in Bubbles and Brine; Website:...

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  1. Part of my job is monitoring surveys, but my experience may be biased because the company I work for actually cares about customer satisfaction. I think their usefulness really boils down to 2 points:

    1) Do they really want feedback, or are they just using this as an opportunity to collect contact info for future marketing?

    2) Do they really care about the customer experience at all, or are the feedback forms just a way to deflect the mildly upset people so that they don’t call and waste a manager’s time complaining about something that the manager can’t change (i.e. Comcast)?

    As a side note, we pay far more attention to comments than to scores. Yes, if a low score comes in, someone will go through that case to make sure it was handled correctly, but every single comment gets read, by people fairly high up the chain. And positive comments really do matter in terms of getting raises.

    1. Thank you! Title is a collaborative effort. Suzanne and Iris deserve credit.

  2. Hi: I am blind and use a screen reader – I must say it is great that you describe the pictures – thank you. Also I agree 100% with the perspective on baseball on the radio – ”ve listened to more NY Yankees radio feeds this summer, especially when they are losing – yesterday’s game was particularly good – although I do lik susan.
    Thanks again for your great work.

  3. I actually did one of the Superstore customer satisfaction surveys this week as my cashier told me she would get some sort of commendation if I mentioned her name. But… I am a social scientist. I design and analyze surveys all day. I do not understand the survey design, or what question the survey is trying to answer. For one part of the survey, I had to check off each part of the store I went to (‘produce’, ‘deli,’ ‘natural foods’, etc. And then I had to rate different aspects of each part of the store. In another part of the survey, they asked how likely I would be to recommend the store to a friend. But that seems to totally miss the point of people’s shopping patterns. In what world am I recommending the nearest Superstore to a friend?

    1. The “recommending to a friend” question is likely the “Net Promoter Score” which is almost always used in a way other than intended – predicting growth. (Assuming it works at all in the best of circumstances.)

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Net_promoter_score

      A company I worked for was wracked by discontent when NPS was introduced to gauge satisfaction with the specialized technical training we provided. Instructors who were always well evaluated were rated “0” because our literal-minded clients had no friends to whom they would recommend, say, “Introduction to SharePoint Site Collections and Site Owner Administration.”

      NPS only works a world where everyone bores each other constantly talking about car insurance and toothpaste .

    2. The whole grocery store survey thing never made much sense to me. How do I decide what rating to give? On the one hand, just about every trip to the grocery store should be a ‘5’, as although food prices have gone up, I still spend less of my income or time on food than my last 100 generations of ancestors did, and eat better than most of them. From a different perspective, just about every visit should be a ‘3’, as the grocery store is a remarkably consistent experience. What makes it a ‘4’? A sale of a food I like – for instance cheap brisket due to restaurant closures. What makes it a ‘3’? Sale items being sold out.