29 January 2016 | Cynan Clucas
Parkinson’s Law comes from a book of the same name which was written by British Historian C. Northcote Parkinson in 1957.
Parkinson’s witty observations on how organisations actually work have stood the test of time remarkably well, although it’s worth pointing out that the book does come with some of the prejudices of the era in which it was written.
In Chapter 3, Parkinson writes about a finance committee meeting with a three-item agenda:
- Approving a £10 million contract to build a nuclear reactor (this was 1957).
- Approving a proposal to build a £350 bicycle shed for the clerical staff.
- Approving a proposal to spend £21 a year to supply refreshments for the Joint Welfare Committee.
Parkinson notes that it takes the committee about two and a half minutes to approve the £10m spend, but it takes them another couple of hours to discuss the bike shed and coffee, leading to the conclusion that “…the time spent on any item of an agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum involved.”
Put another way, the amount of discussion that a subject receives can be inversely proportional to its importance.
Why is this true? Quite simply because people are more likely to have an opinion on those things that they understand.
In Parkinson’s example, everyone knows what a bike shed looks like. Everyone understands what £350 can buy. Fists bang the table, voices are raised and heated debate takes place - the outcome of which is that a £50 saving is agreed and approved. Similarly, everybody knows about coffee - what it is; how, when and where it should be made and consumed - but after an hour and a quarter of debate, no decision has been reached, and more information is requested to be discussed at a subsequent meeting.
Because everybody understands coffee in this context to a granular detail (no pun intended) and can voice and defend a qualified opinion. But because none of the protagonists are expert enough to interrogate the complex and technical proposal before them to spend £10m on a nuclear reactor, there’s no desire for debate and it’s approved quickly.
Point of Vanishing Interest
Parkinson calls this the Point of Vanishing Interest, where the sums involved or the subject matter in question become too big or too complicated to be meaningful to the people who have to decide on them. It’s become more widely known as the bike shed effect.
You know the conversation that goes like this?
“We need to sell more. To sell more, we need CRM. For CRM we need an ESP. And we need to segment our customers. Let’s use their transaction history. Or maybe their gender. Or maybe their company size. Damn it. We’re still not selling enough. We need to do some PPC around our keywords. And we need to send more emails.”
Big data / CRM is the £10m nuclear reactor. Organisations know they need to be doing something with it, but because it’s complicated it quickly becomes a vanishing point of interest for most.
The Explosion Of Big Data - And Mass Confusion
The explosion in data has expanded choice, possibilities and expectations, but for many organisations, it also causes confusion and overload.
The Customer Experience Report sheds more light on this:
“Personalisation needs to be not just a data-driven sales tool, but based on intuitive and emotional understanding. If I buy a product I like, I might be open to further suggestions and recommendations – but not to repeated emails encouraging me to buy more and more of the same product.”
The way to avoid this is to align your organisational objectives to the needs, challenges and aspirations of your customers.
Create a simple document that can act as an uncomplicated and evolving point of reference to anchor your your customers’ changing contexts to your acquisition and retention strategies. Use it to inform how, where and when you can optimise your customer journey and customer experience with tailored content and personalised messaging.
Then make sure that every piece of content you create and every touchpoint you manage has a clearly defined objective - both for your organisation, and for your customer. This will help you to ensure that everything you do serves a purpose and delivers something meaningful to your audiences.
Adapting Your Organisation To Your Customer Experience
Through research, analysis and testing we can help you to understand who your audiences really are, what motivates them, how they want to be spoken to, how they want to be engaged with - and then we can help you adapt your activity to their preferences rather than expecting them to adapt to yours.
That’s how you begin to make your customer experience authentic and consistent across all channels and touch-points. That’s how you build revenue and loyalty.
Adobe’s Mobile Consumer Report published in October 2015 summarises this well:
“An organisation that delivers a personalised experience and fulfils its promises across channels has a greater ability to attract, convert, and retain customers. In doing so, it creates relationships that inspire loyalty, reduce acquisition costs, and increase the customer’s lifetime value to the brand.”
Most organisations tell us they understand what their customers want, but in reality, they only know what they want their customers to buy, and often these two things are not aligned.
Why? Because understanding your customers is hard. But it’s what customers expect from organisations today,
"not just a mastery of data, but a focus on emotional intelligence and authentic engagement.” (Customer Experience Report)
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