Feature Article - March/April 2017

Creating a 'Wow' Experience

The Emotional & Tangible Benefits of a Peak Reward Program

By Rick Dandes

One Size Does Not Fit All

Make sure you understand the personality styles of the recipients and how they prefer to be recognized, Ozer said. "Low-key people who might be more introverted are generally not interested and often may even be mortified by the prospect of getting on stage and being recognized in a loud public way, but social, outgoing people live for public recognition and the spotlight of attention. Also, if teamwork is involved, everyone should be recognized and not just the leader or client-facing person such as the sales rep."

The biggest thing to avoid is lack of personalization, Van Dyke said, following up on Ozer's point. "And that does not mean the award itself has to have a person's name on it. That can be manifested in who gives the award. Receiving an award from a manager that is three levels up or does not have a personal relationship with the recipient is not impactful. If the reward is given but no one really communicates why the award was given out, or what the reward performance is, that can be an issue. The more you can be distinct about who is giving it, why it is being given and then personalizing the reward itself, all this will make the reward that much more memorable and that much more powerful."

If you segment and personalize the people in the program and you 'journey map' based on those people, the reward experience is much more successful.

For all these reasons, it is clear that one size does not fit all when it comes to crafting a reward experience, Luckey explained. "In many cases people come up with a program, an experience, and leave it at that. What we've found is that if you segment and personalize the people in the program and you 'journey map' based on those people, the reward experience is much more successful. Meaning, if you have some really top performers you do need to think through their experience a little differently from someone who is performing at a base level."

You need to individualize the experience, because the reward itself is just a piece of the puzzle. Try personalizing the entire experience. If the award is handed out by someone who is meaningful to the recipient, if the communications are thoughtful, and include personal information or something that is meaningful to a recipient—those kinds of things are just as important as personalizing the reward itself.

Watch out for poor communications. "In many cases," Luckey said, "you might devise a wonderful reward experience, think you can send one e-mail and everyone is going to be on the bandwagon. But the reality is that most people will forget about it after the first couple of weeks."

Communication is critical throughout the entire experience. If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? is an adage that really applies here. This is an opportunity to bring everybody within an organization together and share in the excitement, Glamann said. "The sense of accomplishment that award winners will feel when receiving the gift will be magnified tenfold when shared with their peers. You may have found the perfect gift that matches the recipients tastes and interests to a 'T', but if the gift is just left wordlessly on a desk or delivered by an assistant that has no connection with the recipient, the experience has been squandered."

Meanwhile, if the reward includes travel, and "assuming the recipients are traveling from various places," Rivolta added, "you want to avoid gifts and products that are too large to carry home or might not be allowed through airport security. You don't want the recipient to feel like their gift has become a burden. Logistically, to properly execute a great experience you must have everything planned out. Of course, you need to have contingency plans if things change, which they inevitably do, but, you should know every program detail before arriving onsite. Avoid trying to execute a program with too few staff. Lines are the worst for creating a positive experience. If you have enough skilled staff, you can handle almost any variable."

Taking the Extra Steps

Some of the most powerful event experiences you can execute could take place right in your corporate headquarters. The element of surprise when employees are called into a room to select a gift as a thank you for being part of the team is something that you can't replicate. These programs are particularly impactful around holiday time when people are stressed and their employer takes the opportunity to express their appreciation for them.

Dramatic President's Club Group Incentive Travel programs are some of the most impressive ways to incent, reward and recognize top performances, Ozer said. "Many companies hand out engraved crystal plaques or sculptures or rings to top performers and those who hit defined milestones. For example, Proforma, a large promotional products and print supplier, recognizes top performers at the company trip with company jackets that have pocket crests identifying high levels of million dollar sales achievement, much like the golf Master's green jackets." Very symbolic, impressive and meaningful.

But often it's those little touches that count just as much, particularly when the reward recipient sees that real thought has been given to the moment. "One thing I've noticed," Van Dyke said, "is when the potential recipients are asked a series of very personal questions. There are so many great stories of organizations that have asked the recipients or employees what their favorite colors are, or what their favorite treats are, their favorite movies, where they like to shop, who their heroes are. All that can be incorporated into the reward experience presentation, and it's meaningful in quite an extraordinary, lasting way."

It's not rocket science, Van Dyke continued, when you ask what a person's favorite food is, and then it shows up at a ceremony. If your personal hero is Michael Jordan, being rewarded as the company's Michael Jordan of sales is something cool to say, and it is a fantastic touch. But to do this, you have to know more about the recipient than just what his or her performance was. You need to know about the person themselves.