Customer visits are a good marketing tool. "You never know when the next person in the door is a potential donor or a referring professional who just happens to be in the area," says Carl Mores, president and executive director of Cotting School, a Lexington, Mass., day school for children with developmental disabilities.

The school's literature features its open-door policy, and the school is prepared to show off its programs on any school day. The key is having a plan in place to meet the needs of unexpected visitors, to avoid disrupting students and teachers. Maintenance staff are trained to be welcoming and helpful to visitors they encounter on the grounds.

All employees understand the importance of creating a positive image and shift their priorities accordingly. To avoid potential problems, staff are expected to escort unknown visitors at all times. Receptionists have access to employee schedules, so they can direct visitors to the most appropriate available staff member.

The possibility of an unexpected visit from a parent or professional keeps the Cotting School's 110 staff members on their toes. And the open-door policy sends a strong message to the community that Cotting is confident of its service excellence.