The NBA named Marlene Hendricks, Charlotte Hornets vice president of guest services and event staffing, the recipient of its first inaugural guest experience award. The award recognizes an NBA executive who delivers top-notch service experience to basketball fans.

Hendricks has been on the Hornets executive team for the past 12 years and has implemented several customer service initiatives, including mandatory gift-services training for employees, a program for first-time guests and many more.

“This is a validation of all of the work we’ve done over the years in trying to make service a very intricate part of what we do in serving our guests,” Hendricks said to the CBJ. “It really means something to the lead (executive team) and also to our fans and our internal guests.”

Hendricks was surprised to hear she won the award because she knew there were other teams involved in service initiatives for their fans.

During the 2012-13 season, many NBA teams adopted Disney ELEVATE, a customer service program designed to improve fan experience, but the Hornets opted out. Hendricks wanted to start from scratch and create a service program unique to the Hornets by using the Disney framework.

“We wanted to make it more personalized for our marketplace and our culture and our guests because what I find in Charlotte, it’s more about the personal connection and then the service is added on,” Hendricks said.

2017 draft pick, Malik Monk engaging with Charlotte Hornet fans.

Pete Guelli, Hornets executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer, said fan experience is critical to ticket sales. Ticket holders numbered about 5,000 when Guelli joined the Hornets executive team eight years ago. Ticket sales have been “up sharply” since then, Guelli said. The Hornets had around 11,000 ticket holders last season.

Guelli said he expects to see a rise in ticket sales this upcoming season with the Hornets’ newest draft picksDwight Howard, Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon. The Hornets began marketing around all three players on their website for Swarm365 memberships, which start at $516. The ad reads, “Howard, Monk and a side of Bacon.” Guelli said the Hornets are primarily focused on Howard right now by tying him to their off-season ticket sales.

The Hornets measure its customer feedback through surveys provided after games, monthly employee secret shops and other digital tools. Hendricks said the organization is rolling out a new app across three phases in the fall and will feature a survey component that will make it easier for fans to provide feedback.

“Everyone in the organization is involved in our service program,” Hendricks said. “It’s a commitment across the board in this area.”

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