Surprise!  Reward Attendees With the Unexpected

Surprise and delight your meeting attendees with personalized perks, and your association will reap the rewards in increased engagement and retention.

Who doesn’t like a little “happy surprise” every now and again? In college, maybe it was that care package from your parents with a Tupperware full of your mom’s chocolate chip cookies. And as you get older, it could be the surprise phone call from a friend you haven’t heard from in months on a day when you really needed a pick-me-up or an unexpected refund from your cable company because you were overcharged. (Hey, it could, happen, right?)

Loyalty is more than transactions; it’s about building experiences and relationships.

A few months back, I wrote about my experience at a concert where the lead singer of the main band came out during the opener’s set to dance and surprise fans with some face-to-face time.

Whatever examples of happy surprises you have, I am sure they managed to do at least two things: bring a smile to your face, and better cement and strengthen your relationships with the people and companies that delivered the surprise.

So it’s no surprise that associations should think about how they can surprise and delight their members and attendees at their meetings and events.

I was reminded of the power and potential of surprise earlier this week when I came across an article about Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants’ new Karma Rewards program.  The free program replaces its InTouch loyalty program and, according to its website, “goes beyond recognizing just [hotel] stays and nights. Loyalty is more than transactions; it’s about building experiences and relationships.”

While Kimpton is keeping many of its previous perks for the Karma program—including free WiFi in all properties, a “raid the minibar” bonus, and the ability to earn a free night after seven eligible visits or 20 stays—members will get additional perks based on their tier assignments (1, 2, 3, and Inner Circle) and how they engage with Kimpton Hotels. (My personal favorite perk of the Inner Circle: direct access to Kimpton’s CEO.)

In a press release, Kimpton said various forms of brand engagement, such as booking directly on, traveling with a pet, and social media interaction, have the potential to boost members’ Kimpton Karma and help a member move up in the tier progression. “The more Kimpton knows about members and the purpose of their visit, the more employees can make the experience unique, personal, and fun,” said the release.

According to an article on Skift, Kimpton will learn more about Karma members and personalize their perks not only by using information gleaned from a sign-up questionnaire but also by empowering its employees to input information into an in-house system regarding things they overhear and observe about guests’ behavior during their stays. To do this, Kimpton invested in a custom-built customer relationship management (CRM) system that will be accessible in real time by employees at all properties.

Imagine if your association’s staff could use a CRM to input notes about meeting attendee behavior on the spot. For instance, say a staffer notices Attendee X always picks up a Diet Coke before walking into an education session. Perhaps after the session gets out, another staffer can be waiting for her at the exit to hand her a can before she moves to the next one. Or, if she completes her post-event survey, you send her a reward for a six pack.

I have also heard of a few associations that keep track of attendees who tweet or post to Facebook the most. They are rewarded with a prime seat in a general session or some other event, so that they can easily take photos and read slides.

Similarly, say that you notice that Attendee Y is only going to sessions that have to do with one topic. Maybe you surprise him by emailing him a personalized schedule early the next morning that highlights only these sessions, or after the meeting you send him your latest book about the topic with a handwritten note from the author. All of these ideas show that your association is paying attention and cares.

Better yet, these gestures could lead to greater attendee engagement and retention, and it could have a “halo effect” for your association. That surprised-and-delighted attendee is probably much more likely to recommend your conference to a peer or buy your organization’s newest benchmarking report. And, as more for-profit companies like Kimpton continue to personalize their perks, your attendees will expect the same of your association, much as they expect the same online and mobile experience they get elsewhere.

How does your association surprise and delight your meeting attendees? Or how have you been happily surprised as an attendee yourself? Please share your stories in the comments.


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!