It’s the busiest week of the year for Santa, and that means he has all of his elves working overtime, making toys — leaving nobody to answer the phones at the North Pole. That’s where the “elves” at Appletree Answers in Wilmington are stepping up.
Wilmington’s reputation as the nation’s corporate capital is well established, but who knew the big guy in red took advantage of the state’s infrastructure to support businesses? Santa’s Answering Service was started for the children of Appletree employees two years ago. Last year, the company expanded the special holiday offering to include its customers. This year, the North Pole hotline is open to the public.
Appletree CEO John Ratliff says they’ve received thousands of calls so far this year. “Kids can call and leave a message, talk to one of Santa’s elves, and tell them what they want for Christmas. So, our front line experts, our customer experience experts are taking calls on behalf of Santa and passing those lists along to the North Pole.”
He says the hotline has gone way beyond expectations. “It’s been a great experience for our team and it’s obviously been a great experience for the kids, I would say to date we’ve probably got three to four thousand calls on the hotline, and we expect that will increase as we get closer to Christmas.” Ratliff says the company has had to schedule extra workers to deal with the influx of calls.
While business on the Santa line is booming this month, Appletree is doing pretty well during the rest of the year too. Started by Ratliff in 1995 in a two bedroom apartment with just three telephone lines, Appletree Answers has now expanded to 22 offices nationwide with about 600 employees. “We serve 10,000 customers nationally, about 800 customers out of this Delaware office,” he says.
The company is designed to help small businesses (and some larger ones) ensure that a live person answers the phone, rather than an automated menu. “Twenty years ago, everyone had people that answered the phone, but today, there’s so much automation and voice mail, it now is a competitive advantage for a company to have a real person answer the phone,” says Ratliff. He describes his workers as “virtual receptionists” for their customers on weekends, after hours, or when they get too busy.
The future appears bright for Ratliff’s company, which has been on a growth spurt for much of the past decade. “We’ve grown over 40% a year pretty much since our inception,” he says. And there is expansion on the horizon as well. “We expect to bring about a 100 to 150 jobs over the next three years to Delaware, so we’re bursting at the seams in this space and we’re definitely going to have to expand.”
As for the future of the Santa line, Ratliff says it’s here to stay. “This will be a part of our tradition long term.” He says in addition to letting the kids have some Christmas fun, the hotline helps his employees improve customer service skills. “We want to carry that level of enthusiasm into all of our calls, and we’re using it as a training tool and actually pointing out some great examples of some great calls that are being taken and using those as a coaching tool for the staff.”
To reach Santa’s Answering Service, you can call 1-888-580-9020. The service is also online, at santasansweringservice.com.