CONSUMERS make a formal complaint about poor customer service every 1.2 seconds, according to a new report.
Almost 38 million customer service complaints were lodged last year, the British Ombudsman Service said.
The energy and retail industries attracted the largest share of complaints, each with 17% of the total.
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Internet telecoms companies accounted for 14%, while holiday and transport firms received 5% and 6% respectively.
The figures also showed more than one-third of people think big businesses are only interested in money and do not care if something goes wrong with a product or service. Margaret Lynch, the chief executive of Citizens Advice Scotland, said: "This is a damning indictment. It is no wonder public confidence is so low when prices are rising substantially, even when profits are soaring for some of the companies involved."
More encouragingly, the survey found that one-third of respondents were more likely to complain now than they were 12 months ago.
But the Ombudsman report, based on a poll of 2023 people, also suggests that as many as 40 million complaints are never lodged as the majority of customers "grin and bear" their dissatisfaction.
A lack of confidence in the complaints process and a degrading trust in big businesses are seen as the reasons behind the reluctance of many customers to air their grievances.
However, Ms Lynch said that by choosing not to complain, consumers were losing the opportunity to enforce change.
She has also called on the biggest industries to repair their public image by giving greater care to consumers' rights.
"This report has got to be disappointing for companies in the energy, retail and internet sectors," she said.
"These sectors have a real job to do to improve their practices in customer service and satisfaction before their reputation is damaged beyond repair."
She added: "The positive side of this research is that it seems people are becoming more willing to stand up and assert their rights as consumers.
"When people do fight for their rights, they're not only helping to get justice for themselves, but are also forcing the offending companies or services to change their ways and offer a better deal to others as well."
Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, said: "Although more people are complaining about poor service, too many are still put off, which is why we've launched our free consumer rights website full of advice. Businesses need to improve their complaints procedures, but the law also needs to be made simpler and clearer so consumers who fail to get a satisfactory response to their complaint can take their case to an ombudsman or the small claims court."
Chief Ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith said: "Given that consumer trust in companies is low, the time is right for businesses to embrace third parties as a means of resolving disputes."
"The research shows that nearly a third of people would be more willing to buy a product or service from a company offering such a service, so transparency clearly has a big role to play."
A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: "The Government recognise that consumer law is far too complex and understand it can be daunting.
"This is why we have introduced the new Consumer Rights Bill. It will clearly set out in one place the key consumer rights and what consumers are entitled to if things go wrong. In addition, we will soon be consulting on improving consumer access to dispute resolution services, offering a cheaper and quicker alternative to the courts in the event of an unresolved complaint."