In the meat business, there are a lot of things that can go wrong with our products. Sometimes, the quality is less than desirable. Perhaps the packaging is compromised, broken or scarred. In some cases, the formulation may not be perfect, the weights may be slightly off, the labeling might be wrong or the product just doesn’t look right. In other cases, contaminants like small shreds of plastic, tiny metal shavings or other foreign objects can sneak into our products.

Unfortunately, in rare instances, these products can also make people sick. When processing ready-to-eat foods, the leading culprit is usually Listeria monocytogenes. Listeriosis is a painful illness that can have severe complications, causing death in nearly 15 percent of its victims. On the raw side, pathogens like E. coli O157:H7 can make their way into ground beef. When that occurs, and our customers do not handle the product appropriately, they can get very sick. E. colicauses extreme gastrointestinal symptoms, and can lead to renal failure and also death.

For nearly 15 years, I have helped meat processors deal with customer complaints. And, yes, I have probably “seen it all.” On the one hand, you may receive a complaint from a customer who alleges that she fed ground beef to her cat, that the ground beef caused the feline to become quite sick, that the illness required veterinary care, and that she now expects you to pay for it. On the other hand, you may receive a complaint from a customer that alleges that she fed your ground beef to her child, that the ground beef caused the child to become very sick, that the illness required hospital care, and she wants to know what you intend to do about it.

In either of these scenarios (and in countless scenarios in between), the best advice I can give is this: When your customers complain about your products, the way you deal with those complaints will often make the difference between a complaint that quickly disappears and one that festers and grows into a significant distraction to the company.

When faced with a complaint, most companies tend to become defensive and look for ways to blame the customer. Resist this natural instinct. In most cases, people truly believe (even when their complaint has zero merit) that they have been wronged and are a victim. And, in these cases, all that most people simply want is to believe that the company has listened to what they have to say and that it cares.

So, when you receive a complaint, regardless of how serious or silly it sounds, make sure that your customer believes that you care, that you are deeply concerned, and that you will investigate the complaint and get back to them. Make sure you follow up and, even in those cases where there is zero merit to the claim, offering something (even if nominal) for their trouble will typically make them feel better and will make the claim go away.

If you ignore or reject the claim outright, your customer may feel offended and make it his or her mission in life to make your life difficult. I have seen it happen many times, and it’s never good for the business. The tone you take with your customer makes all the difference in the world.

Manage your complaints artfully, and they will, in most cases, quietly slip away.