Can a business survive crisis?  Recovery takes authenticity, transparency and change.  It is a race against time to regain trust before the immediate loss of customer revenue permanently cripples the company.  This is especially true for thinly-staffed small businesses with even thinner financial reserves.

Businesses make bad mistakes.  Even the best-run organizations eventually face disaster.  When something happens, large corporate entities employ teams of crisis managers with protocols and PR and financial resources.  You may see a top executive resign or a temporary loss or stock price decline.  But the better-managed ones get through it.

Not so for small business.  Small businesses have little in the way of capital reserves or bench strength.  When the crisis results from management or employee error, it is especially difficult to recover.  The very people responsible for the problem are the ones relied upon to fix it.

As customers, we wield tremendous influence.  Do we value the business and its product enough to see it fixed?  What do we demand as proof that the error will not recur?  What will bring us back?  Finally, how long will we give them to right the wrong? 

If we don’t care to see them survive, we simply stop patronizing them.  But if we value the product and hope for an improved and chastened company to emerge, then we need to be careful.  While a large company usually can sustain a loss while it addresses internal issues, a small business is fragile.  Without ongoing customer support, a small business could go belly up even while it is trying to right itself.

One of our most prominent, involved small businesses just made a mistake.  We deserve to feel and communicate our anger and disappointment.  Shall we force them to close the doors, fire the employees and put an end to a valuable community service?

Or will we engage them in conversation about expectations, culture and values?  Are we willing to give them the necessary time to identify and fix the problem?  It’s our choice.  A small business will transcend a crisis when the community is willing to let it.

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Cathy Yen

Cathy Yen is the Executive Director of the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce.  She has lived in Oak Park for 21 years and done business locally, first as a retailer and then as a small business...