When what you do leaves customers cold, you need an icebreaker. "People don't even want to talk about accounting, because it's so boring," says Yvonne Angelo, cofounder and vice-president of SBT Corp., an accounting-software business, in San Rafael, Calif. But when SBT's receptionist came to work dressed up for the Fourth of July, and customers laughed or stopped to talk to her, Angelo knew that she was on to something.

Not every day is a costume party, but now Angelo gives employees at the front desk a stash of cash to buy yo-yos, candy, and assorted toys. The result? Laudatory letters from customers spill in faster. "If employees are relaxed and having fun," Angelo explains, "it comes across to our dealers."

Copyright 1999 G+J USA Publishing