"People don't even want to talk about accounting it's so boring," says Yvonne Angelo, cofounder and vice-president of SBT Corp., an accounting-software business in Sausalito, Calif. You need an icebreaker, she says.

When Angelo's receptionist came to work dressed up for the Fourth of July and customers laughed or stopped to talk to her, Angelo knew she was on to something.

Not every day is a costume party, but Angelo now 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, she reports. "If employees are relaxed and having fun," Angelo explains, "it comes across to our dealers."