Less than a third of consumer gripes were reported to companies in 2017, with people put off complaining about poor services from banks, energy providers and retailers.
The Ombudsman Services’ annual report estimates that there were 173 million occurrences of poor products and service last year, but just 27% of these issues were reported to the firms responsible.
It says consumers often choose not to complain because they feel they would need to kick up a big fuss to get a positive result. One in five people say they failed to complain because previous complaints had not been resolved in a satisfactory way.
In the retail sector, poor service caused 40% of UK shoppers to give up trying to purchase an item in a shop in the last year. After walking away, they then bought the item online or in another shop instead. A third of people (33%) say they now avoid certain retailers because of the poor service they have received in the past.
Retail was the most complained-about sector, being responsible for 12.7 million complaints in 2017. Energy providers were the subject of 5.8 million complaints while telecoms companies received 5.6 million consumer gripes.
Transport firms were the cause of 4.6 million complaints from customers while the banking and financial services sector drew 2.8 million.
Complaints about financial services providers can be taken to the separate Financial Ombudsman Services if consumers don’t get a satisfactory response form the firm involved.
Lewis Shand Smith, chief ombudsman at Ombudsman Services, says the number of customers voting with their feet, rather than formally complaining, means firms are finding it even harder to understand where there are going wrong.
“Consumers are understandably frustrated with poor service and when expectations are not met, the disappointment can lead to anger and frustration,” Mr Smith says.
“Voting with your feet is one way you can show dissatisfaction. However, complaining is the only real way to get issues resolved, so we’d encourage anyone with a complaint to come forward and make their voices heard instead of ending up angry and uncompensated.
“If consumers complain more and companies commit to improving customer service issues, the result will be consumer protection that is good for consumers and good for business.”