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Messaging: Parents, empathy and the attention span myth

It's Back to School time, and Púca MD Eileen Carroll shares her take on why parents of school-going kids need to be treated with empathy if you want to get your service message across.

Messaging: Parents, empathy and the attention span myth

As any parent who has just weathered the maelstrom of Back to School knows – it is a challenging time!

It’s not just the expense. There’s the sheer amount of coordination that is required: managing anxious children, uniforms, new timetables, healthy eating, after school activities, childcare… the list goes on.

And it doesn’t end on the first day back.

In my experience there is a sort of lingering post-back to school mental fog that makes it hard to concentrate. Everyday tasks and decisions become more difficult because there’s just so much going on. This normally settles down after a couple of weeks, but could it be the case that we parents have shorter attention spans in general?

And if so, how does that impact on how we consume information?

The attention span myth

I always assumed that parents have a lower attention span than people without kids, but it turns out this is somewhat of a myth.

Most studies on attention span focus on kids not parents, but I found an interesting study by CreditDonkey in the US. They asked more than 1,200 participants to rate their attention spans on a scale from good to fair to poor.

Key findings on parental attention span

  • 74.2 percent of parents said their attention spans are “good” while working, compared with 60.1 percent of non-parents who gave themselves the same assessment.
  • Interestingly, parents also reported better focus than non-parents while texting: 49.9 percent to 43.2 percent
  • However parents are more also likely than non-parents to believe their memories aren’t what they used to be.

(Source: CreditDonkey)

The study concludes that parents have to work hard to maintain focus in the midst of constant opportunities for distraction.

“Initially, we were surprised by the results,” said CreditDonkey founder Charles Tran.

“You tend to think new parents are torn in many directions, from their demanding tots, demanding households, and the needs of their professional lives. But over time, these parents evolve or else they’d never get anything done. They develop ways of maintaining their focus and concentration in the midst of the near-continuous distractions caused by children.”

Of course no-one is immune from distraction, but it’s fair to say that parents and carers experience it at another level.

Schools, emails and Information Overload

Schools vary widely in how they communicate with parents. I’m therefore going to limit my observations to my own personal experience which is this;

I have 2 primary email accounts; work and personal. During business hours I generally ignore the personal emails for hours at a time. A couple of times during the day I scan the personal emails very quickly to decide what’s important and actionable and what I can read later at leisure. Unfortunately (and especially around back to school time when there is a barrage of emails) this means I regularly miss important emails.

So my message for schools and teachers? If there’s something really important you need to tell parents, or if some parents haven’t responded – please send a text message reminder!

Service Companies: reminders and payments

We all have lives to manage and bills to pay. For parents this has to be squeezed into available moments throughout the day and it’s always so good when the services we use take this into consideration.

For example, is there anything more annoying than forgetting to put the bin out or top up your account? Waste companies who send their notifications in the early evening do so because they know that’s when people put out their bins and pay their bills.

Insurance companies and broadband providers also rely on recurring billing – and in some cases their customers are not on direct debit and it can be tricky to get their attention. So when IS the best time to send a message?

I had a particularly insightful meeting a couple of years ago with Shay Waldron of Magnet Plus where we discussed their payment communications strategy. Magnet Plus were an early adopter of Prommt which I co-founded, and Shay’s role is Chief Data Officer and Director of Credit. Shay was kind enough to share his revealing insights on the importance customer convenience.

“For a busy person who may be sitting on the couch and they’ve just had a hard day’s work and they’ve put on a load of washing and emptied the dishwasher and they’ve done everything else, and they get the text to remind them to pay – they may not have the 5 or 10 minutes to go log on to their portal or maybe they haven’t saved the password – if they get a text with a link.. they can pay there and then”.

Consideration for tired eyeballs

When you’ve been up until 1am the night before covering books or putting on the third washing machine load of the day, the last thing you need is the mental drain of a long and complicated message. By all means send the branded email with detailed information, but it might not get read so the same time send a simple reminder by text message.

What’s my key take-away?

It’s that engaging with empathy creates a win-win. A concise, timely message is far more convenient for the customer, and is also far more likely to get a response.

So mix it up with short messages. You can be sure they will be appreciated by us tired parents!

Time to Engage

At Púca, we specialise in mobile messaging for businesses and brands. Our Impower™ messaging platform allows you to get up and running with SMS campaigns in no time. You can also integrate messaging into your in-house systems (CRM, appointments etc) using our secure API and keep your communications in synch at all times.

Get in Touch today to discuss how we help you communicate better with your customers.

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