My Thank You Note for the Best Christmas Gift of All
Every Christmas is special. But this Christmas was even more special, thanks to my experience with children young and old who eagerly awaited the arrival of Santa Claus and called the “NORAD Tracks Santa” hotline for info. The hotline has been following Santa’s December 24 travels and answering calls for 61 years—there’s a great story about how it all got started.
The NORAD—North American Aerospace Defense Command—Operations Center at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado is a long-time client of Avaya Government Solutions. This year, NORAD invited Avaya employees to join its team of 1,500 hotline volunteers. I stepped right up.
The hotline is part of a highly-sophisticated program to make certain Santa makes a successful journey. NORAD experts carefully monitor his travels and ensure his safety using radar, satellites, jets, and Santa Cams positioned in strategic locations worldwide. As a result, NORAD Tracks Santa volunteers have an insider’s view of Santa’s progress to share as he soars through the night sky.
Calls fielded by the hotline staff have grown steadily to an estimated 691,000 since Christmas 2009. In 2015, calls from all over the globe during a single 23-hour period set a new record of 141,000 calls, topping the 2014 record of 134,970.
To prepare for this year’s calls, about ten minutes ahead of shift we volunteers got a great training booklet, with a page full of how to start and end the conversations, and five pages of facts about Santa (weighs 290 at takeoff, 1,490 pounds when he lands due to intake of cookies around the globe).
Armed with the training booklet, lots of coffee and donuts, all donning Avaya red Santa hats and sweatshirts, the Avaya volunteers were ready to answer pressing calls coming from the U.S. and Canada, as well as Europe and South America. The call volume was intense. There was zero break between hanging up on one call and getting beeped to take the next. It’s all made possible by Avaya Customer Engagement technology, the leading contact center solution in the market (shameless company plug!).
Most of the questions were about when Santa would arrive in their towns, where was he now (we had a live radar board in each room showing what city he was over at that moment, great graphic display!). Most kids were surprised that they actually got to talk to a live person! The parents loved it when I would tell the kids that Santa could only drop off presents after everyone in the house was asleep. And I kept pushing to make sure they left food for the hungry reindeer pulling the sleigh (reindeer love carrots!).
Then there were the special calls that took my breath away.
- There was one from a young man with autism. His mom stayed on the phone to help translate what he wanted to tell Santa he wanted for Christmas.
- Another came from a young girl who said she hoped that I would get what I wanted for Christmas from Santa.
- And finally a call from a much older woman (who I believe might have had a learning difference) telling me the three gifts she hoped that Santa would get her from the local Walmart—though she said she doubted that he would stop by tonight. So deeply touching. I wish I could have gotten her address and given her those simple gifts.
Sigh…a very moving experience, in many ways.
Offered a chance by NORAD, I would definitely volunteer again. The military on the base were extremely polite and so happy to see so many volunteers helping to cheer up someone’s Christmas, both young and old. I felt like I walked away having been the one blessed by all the smiles and laughs that were shared by the NORAD teams and all the folks on the calls. So thank you for what was perhaps the best Christmas gift of all.