Mark Robert Halper Photography

Capers Café, at the airport in Portland, Ore., made me realize just how hungry I was and still am — and not for food. I was there for an early breakfast before my cross-country flight. Going through the order line, I was complimented twice by staff.

Here I was in an airport, ready to fly. Ready for rudeness, impersonality, no privacy. And all of a sudden, things were looking up. What did it take? A couple of compliments and some smiling faces. For a few moments, Capers Café broke through the stress of flying and made me enjoy what I didn’t expect to enjoy.

I left looking forward to my next visit.

Good Humor Stars

We’re all beat up right now. We have less money than we thought we had. We stop and think before every purchase. It’s just more complicated. For homeowners, a large purchase, such as a remodeling project, means examining their conscience: “Can we afford to spend the money, should we spend it, what might it do to our home value and the environment? Will our neighbors disparage our spending?” All this on top of the remodeling-is-hell perception that most consumers have to begin with.

I wish I had a magic answer that would turn your prospects into clients and your clients into loyalists. But I don’t.

What I can tell you is that friendliness, courtesy, and good humor will definitely help, and that they can be institutionalized in your company.

Those attributes certainly won’t hurt your staff’s morale, either. They’re worried — about losing their jobs and their homes, on top of everything else. It would be quite a tonic for them to work at a place where people laugh, where they care for one another. Imagine what a magnet for new hires such a place could be.

Finding a Reason

I returned to Capers Café on another trip to Portland. On my second visit, the English lady who was taking my order remarked on my purple sweater set. My mood immediately rose a couple of points. Then I remembered that she had complimented me on my previous trip also.

The next compliment, on my jazzy glasses, came as I checked out. I recalled that this same white-haired lady had been the one working the checkout before — and complimented me then, too. I went into detective mode.

As I discreetly prepared my coffee, I heard the cashier deliver a mood-boosting comment to each customer. I had to assume she was always searching for a legitimate reason to compliment, but every one seemed sincere. I thought back to Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson’s book, The One Minute Manager, and this phrase in particular: “Catch people doing something right.”

As I ate my breakfast, I watched the waitstaff perform a friendly, customized, client-focused ballet in this otherwise impersonal setting.

I pulled over a busboy and asked: “What special qualities do you have to have to be hired here?” “None really,” he said, “but you do have to be able to work with stressed customers.” He loved his job, he said, because his co-workers inspired him to feel upbeat. He worked in a culture, we agreed, that encourages a certain kind of positive behavior.

It’s probably past time for you to do a culture check on your company. How would your folks rate your mood? Your moodiness? What’s going on in the ‘fun department,’ for staff and clients alike? How energetically is your phone answered? How are folks greeted in your office or showroom?

Brainstorm ways to raise the mood level a notch or two. Model upbeat behavior. You’ve probably seen that commercial where one good deed keeps inspiring another one. Be the inspirer. I can’t say when or how often, but doing so will bring you clients, and they will become loyalists.

—Linda Case is founder of Remodelers Advantage, in Laurel, Md., a company providing business solutions through a network of experts and peers. 301.490.5260;;

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