ParentMail – The Seven Steps of Hell?

I genuinely shudder when my email client pings and the subject line reads: You have been sent a new message.
ParentMail subject line

I spend a lot of my day dealing working with developers and designers to build a product that helps the pub trade manage their online presence as easily as they can. There’s one key element I’ve learned during my time doing this: keep the User Experience simple.

Services such as Google and Twitter, or the WordPress platform I write this blog on, work because the process to access their product then achieve what you wish to are extremely easy.

ParentMail, an online communication platform to help schools deliver messages to parents, fails.

The User Experience is dire and poorly thought through and leaves me wanting to throw whichever device I’m trying to read a letter about my child on through the nearest closed window.

To get an understanding of what I mean, here’s the process if using a good old fashioned web browser and my laptop:

  1. Receive an email to my personal email account, telling me there’s a message about my child waiting for me in ParentMail
  2. Click on the button in the email to go to ParentMail
  3. Log in to ParentMail – the longest you can set the cookie time out to is one month but invariably I have to log in each and every time I visit.
  4. Choose the school my child goes to (a redundant step if there is only one child, one school; or two children, one school)
  5. Select the email that I’ve been sent, inside which is a message asking me to download a PDF.
  6. Download the PDF
  7. Open the PDF, which is a letter that could have been attached to the email I was sent to my personal mail account in step 1.

As both my boys go to the same school and sometimes the same letter is sent out for each of them, I technically have to go through this process twice to read the same piece of information.

In this always connected world, where over 60% of Internet traffic is now consumed via a mobile device, there are the obligatory mobile apps for Apple and Android platforms.

But these don’t simplify the process enough. Sure, the app keeps me logged in, missing out step 3, and I’m taken straight to the relevant school, missing out step 4 above (I wonder if this would happen if there was more than one school involved) but the rest of the process stands as above.

Notifications still come through via email to my personal account, rather than a notification in my device and, most annoyingly, the app insists on forcing the device to landscape mode, which I don’t personally like. At least if I access ParentMail via the mobile browser I can see it in portrait mode comfortably.

I get that ParentMail exists to make distribution of notices much easier for the school and aims to eradicate the issue of letters not making it home or remaining in a school bag for weeks at a time, teenagers being the forgetful creatures that they are, and there are other features apparently within ParentMail that could be useful: information on Parents Evenings, for example, or the ability to notify the school of a child’s absence. I’ve used neither of these functions to date, but the process of getting to each section is not far removed from the above.

From a user’s experience, then, ParentMail is the most frustrating communication service available to me. I genuinely shudder when my email client pings and the subject line reads: You have been sent a new message.

Do any other parents feel the same way, or is there actually an easier way to get straight to the message that I haven’t found?

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2 thoughts on “ParentMail – The Seven Steps of Hell?

  1. P Hughes says:

    Hi Mark, I’ve provided my email address below. If you can send me a contact number I’ll call you to explain the journey we’ve been on and why. I can promise it will all end at the right place for you. Kind regards, Paul Hughes (Managing DIrector, ParentMail).

  2. Fabio Caparrelli says:

    Hi Mark, I pretty much share the same frustration!

    To receive an email that says “You have been sent a new message” is laughable (I can obviously see I have received a message!). Before ParentMail, I could easily mark the messages on my email client according to the subject and assign priorities, if I wanted to. Now, all I see is a window full of “You have been sent a new message”! Aaargghh!

    Apparently, when a school admin writes an email, a subject line is included but its content is ‘wisely’ moved to the beginning of the body of the message!

    Also, to have the attachments in the email would dispense me from having to log on to the website. Even providing a web link to these attachments inside the email would work but hey, no, you MUST log on to the website and waste all that extra time for each message that you receive.

    I haven’t used the mobile apps and, to be honest, I don’t really want to.

    I am really curious to know what the MD had to say…

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