When I moved into my new home last December, I was determined to find the most colorful Welcome Mat available. Not only did I want my visitors to know I was happy to see them, I wanted to remind myself that I was entering a place where good things happened.

There may have been another factor motivating my insistence that I get it right; my downstairs neighbors have a mat in front of their door that growls Go Away. Since I pass by it every time I come home, I felt obligated to counterbalance that grumpy message.

When it comes to your clients, customers and potential clients and customers what’s your sign? Are you putting out the Welcome Mat—or hanging a Do Not Disturb warning?

You don’t have to look very hard to see that every business invites you in—or warns you not to bother them.

I  learned about the Do Not Disturb sign from years of flying with Northwest Airlines. Apathy and indifference seemed to pervade the corporate culture.

As the planes got grubbier and dirtier, the crews got crankier. Questions were often treated as an irritation and passengers were an unfortunate interruption.

There wasn’t much smiling going on during the million miles I logged with them.

Now that I am not limited to NWA (merged with Delta) as a carrier, I avoid them at all costs. In fact, I’ve not touched my frequent flyer miles with them despite the fact that I could have a free trip to Europe if I was feeling the need for more abuse.

On the other hand, my trips these days are mostly on Southwest Airlines and I find myself anticipating these trips since I never know what friendliness may be in store.

Is the flight attendant heading to Las Vegas auditioning as a standup comedian? Will the passengers be invited to sing  Happy Birthday to a fellow traveler? Will I manage to read all the interesting articles in their in-flight magazine before we land?

You don’t need to operate an airline to recognize the importance of sending a message that welcomes.

Of course, there are times when the Do Not Disturb sign comes in handy—especially if you live with other people who don’t understand that you have a business to build, but in every part of your business where you’re connecting with other people, keep the Welcome Mat out.

Here are a few easy ways to do just that:

° Answer all telephone calls with friendly expectation. Yes, it might be a telemarketer on the other end, but unless you’re a really gifted psychic, don’t risk it by sounding grumpy.

Your voice message needs to be upbeat as well. (Skip the trite, “your message is important to us” stuff, however.)

° Get into the conversation on social media sites. If you’ve got gas or you’re bored, keep it to yourself.

Use social media to praise, share, ask questions, interact. That’s not difficult stuff, but it does take conscious effort to do so.

Keep in mind, too, that this is about connecting with other people. No matter how adorable your kitten is, use your own photograph since you’re the one we’re responding to.

° Don’t make busyness an excuse for rudeness. Dazzle people with your fabulous and thoughtful good manners. If you really want to astonish people, send them a hand written thank you note or express your gratitude publicly.

Keep asking yourself if you’ve got your Welcome Mat out. It’s one of the best business building tools you’ve got.

As Anita Roddick reminded us, “You will never fail as a result of any investment you make in humanizing your business.”


When I picked up my mail yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised to find a small package waiting for me. I was so curious that I opened it right in the post office and discovered a nifty luggage tag with my name printed on it.

The little gift arrived from Southwest Airlines with a note thanking me for five years of membership in their Rapid Rewards program. I had to laugh when I realized they were thanking me for taking advantage of their free flight program.

It’s no secret that I’ve been smitten with SWA from my very first encounter with them a decade or so ago. I had flown to Sacramento from Minneapolis on Northwest (almost the only option), but was taking a side trip to visit my family in southern California.

When I arrived at the airport, I stopped to ask a question at the gate. The gate agent then asked me if I was returning home to Burbank. “No,” I said, “it’s my birthday so I’m going to spend the rest of it with my daughter.”

By this time, the waiting area was filling up so I found a seat in the back and settled in. A few minutes later, the gate agent came on the PA system and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have an important person flying with us tonight. Would you join me in singing Happy Birthday to Barbara?”

As my fellow passenger broke out in a rousing chorus, I blushed and thought, “This would never happen on NWA.” I’d had enough experience with the older carrier to know that making their passengers smile was not in their company policy manual.

Shortly after I moved to Minneapolis, Making a Living Without a Job became one of the most popular adult ed classes in the country. For the next decade, I flew frequently  and eventually amassed a million miles on NWA. (Note: I didn’t even receive a thank you note when I hit that milestone.)

It wasn’t because I loved the airline so much, however, that they got my business. In Minnesota, NWA had a near monopoly, bumping out other carriers and making it difficult to exercise any choice in the matter.

This lack of competition produced visible results. Airfares were higher, crews surlier, and planes dirtier. After all, there was no incentive for doing things well when customers had no other options.

After I moved to Las Vegas, I vowed to fly NWA only as a last resort. Even though I have frequent flyer miles sitting in my account, I have managed to avoid setting foot on one of their planes.

(On my last flight with them, my seatmate was a smelly drunk who should not have been allowed to board. Shortly after takeoff, he nodded off and began groping my leg. Instead of moving him from first class back to coach, I got reseated in a cramped smaller seat.)

On the other hand, I’ve wracked up numerous jolly memories of my flights with SWA. I often wonder if they studied NWA’s way of doing business and decided, “Let’s do the opposite.”

Saturday night stay over? Not required. Hire flight attendants who actually like people? Good idea. Keep things simple and efficient? Makes sense. Charge for baggage? Heck, no. Give passengers an in-flight magazine that’s actually worth reading? Let’s do it. Allow passengers to catch an earlier flight for no charge if there’s room? Sure.

So here’s another radical idea, one you can use even if you aren’t running an airline.

Find a business that disappoints you. Study how they operate. Don’t just be annoyed, however. Learn from them.

Then simply do the opposite.