Consumers are more likely to complain if they experience problems when buying products or services, with staff attitude and lack of competence the most common reason for complaints.
A survey by the Institute of Customer Service (ICS) found that UK consumers face fewer problems when purchasing products and services than they did five years ago, but are more inclined to complain when things do go wrong.
The findings revealed that, while the percentage of customers facing problems has fallen from 17% to 11.7% since January 2008, the proportion of those that went on to make a complaint rose from 72% to 76% in the same period.
The research also discovered that many complaints arose from what the ICS called "people-related issues", with 62% of complaints arising from problems with staff attitude and lack of competence. By comparison, quality and reliability of goods and services accounted for only 34% of complaints.
When asked to rate the "most annoying or frustrating" service problems, customers rated staff attitude and staff competence 8.5 and 8.4 out of 10 respectively.
Jo Causon, ICS chief executive, said: "Our research shows that customers who have a bad experience are much more likely to tell others, and to tell more people, than customers who have had a good experience. This means that it's essential to try to prevent complaints occurring and, when they do occur, they need to be dealt with as quickly as possible and followed up to make sure customers feel the issue has been resolved."
The research also found a significant proportion of "silent sufferers" who experience poor service but choose not to complain, leaving organisations with no opportunity to address some issues.
According to the report, which surveyed 3,000 responses from the UK Customer Satisfaction Index, 24% of customers who recently experienced a problem chose not to complain about it. The ICS said that were this to be extrapolated across the UK population, more than one million people were in this position.
More than half (51%) of these silent sufferers claim that their main reason for avoiding making a complaint is that they think it will make no difference.