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How NORAD’s One-day Call Center Helped Keep Tabs on Santa

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Author: McKay Bird

While not a creature was stirring last Christmas Eve, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) call center was a hotbed of activity. Volunteer staff had been gearing up for weeks at the impromptu call center in anticipation of what they knew would be a marathon 24-hour frenzy of calls.

The center’s mission? To field calls from hundreds of thousands of children looking to track the whereabouts of Santa Claus on his Christmas Eve journey.

The 60th Anniversary of A Wrong Number

2015 marked the 60th anniversary of NORAD first fielding calls from kids seeking the whereabouts of Santa on Christmas Eve. This first began in 1955 when two numbers were accidentally reversed on a Santa Line phone number printed in a Sears advertisement and resulted in hundreds of calls pouring into NORAD from children wanting to speak to Kris Kringle. Operators told the children that they were not Santa, but could track his sleigh using their radar.

From its humble beginnings, the Santa tracker grew over the years, and as of 2014, the center was fielding nearly 125,000 calls, requiring dozens of computers and 157 telephone lines, along with hundreds of volunteers. In 2015, even First Lady Michelle Obama took time to volunteer at the NORAD call center.

Changing Technology

Evolving from a simple phone interaction—marking one of the most challenging first call resolution hurdles an operator might ever face—NORAD has integrated streaming live videos through its ‘Santa Cam,’ along with links to social media.

“Technology is always changing,” said Lt. Joe Nawrocki. “Of course, it’s more sophisticated tech today than it was 60 years ago. Part of what we do in the military and part of this program is you have to keep up with the times.”

An Impromptu Call Center

This year NORAD set up its call center in a training building, with all phones, computers and websites underwritten by contractors. Yet even with this underwriting, there was a palpable scramble to get things up and running.

“We start in November,” said Staff Sgt. Kyle Kelly. “We have to test every phone before we bring it in here. We keep adding stuff every year.”

Another challenge for operators comes in preparing for the influx of calls and optimizing the volunteer workforce. Calls come in from around the world, requiring a high level of adaptability from operators.

“We get a lot of calls from Europe, Australia and New Zealand,” said NORAD’s Stacey Knott, who has organized the Santa tracking for three years. Operators are encouraged to be bilingual, which NORAD has a leg up on, because it is a collaboration between the U.S. and Canada, with its large French speaking population.

On Christmas Eve, NORAD temporarily shifts focus from its normal mission of defending the skies to one of inspiring joy in kids around the world. In just 23 hours, the volunteer call center will field 125,000 calls and garner 1.6 million Facebook likes, only to be shuttered once Santa is done making his rounds. Until next year at least.

If you’d like to know how modern call center technology can help your call center run more efficiently, check out the Top 10 List When Considering a Cloud-Based Contact Center Solution whitepaper.

About the Author: McKay Bird

Mckay Bird is the Chief Marketing Officer for TCN, a leading provider of cloud-based call center technology for enterprises, contact centers, BPOs, and collection agencies worldwide. Mckay oversees all marketing operations, campaigns and conferences including; content production, email marketing, and other inbound marketing activities.