The number of complaints we made to Ombudsmen last year jumped by 3 million to an incredible 55 million. Shops have been the biggest disappointment to us in the past 12 months - accounting for 24% of complaints. However, the Ombudsman has warned that this doesn't necessarily mean it's the service that lets us down the most. Some are just so bad that we've given up complaining.
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The study, by the Ombudsman Service, revealed the most complained-about services:
1. Shops - made up 24% of complaints - costing £10.05 billion
2. Telecoms - 13% - costing £2.98 billion
3. Energy - 10% - £5.2 billion
4. Transport - 7% - £5.51 billion
5. Banking and financial services 7% - £5.81 billion
The rest of the top ten were made up from leisure and tourism, tradespeople, post, parking and property services.
Disillusionment was rife among train passengers. Long-term, and highly publicised, problems in the rail sector have left one in five resigned to poor service. Complaints have increased by 30%, from 1.56 million in 2015, to 2.04 million last year.
However, this is just the tip of the iceberg, because the researchers found there were a further 75 million problems which people don't end up making an official complaint about. Instead of complaining, 28% of people switched to another provider instead. This is particularly the case when it comes to shops, banks and transport.
Of those who didn't complain, some 28% couldn't be bothered, while 19% thought they wouldn't get anywhere with the company concerned. Some 34% of people felt the only way they would get a decent response is if they made a huge fuss - and they didn't have the energy for a fight.
The study found that 60% of people feel disillusioned and resigned to poor service, because they have completely lost faith in the companies concerned.
Among disillusioned customers - like train passengers - they don't feel they have any option but to put up with terrible service in the hope that eventually the situation changes - or they give up commuting on that particular line.
How to complain
It doesn't have to be that way, however, because complaining can reap rewards. If you have been let down by a company, then there's a five step process that will significantly improve your chances of success.
1. Do your research
In shops it pays to know your rights, such as the Consumer Rights Act, which gives you the right to return items that are not of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose or as described. Have a look online for the law relating your complaint, as it will be far more effective if you can tell firms the law that gives you the right to a refund. For industries like transport, where there's a code of practice, track down the minimum standards they have to adhere to.
2. Get hold of the paperwork
Track down receipts, correspondence, and for any contract-based services, dig out the contract to be sure where you stand. If you have made calls or sent letters before, make a note of when you were in touch, and what was said.
3. Check the process
In some instances, such as transport or banking, there's a recognised complaints service, and you will have far more luck if you follow it.
4. Get in touch with the company concerned
Be polite but firm, explain what your rights are, and what you expect the company to do in order to meet their minimum standards.
5. If all else fails, escalate the complaint
You can go from a sales assistant to a manager, or from a call centre to a complaints specialist. If the company lets you down entirely, where there's an industry ombudsman, you can take your complaint to them. Where you have been left significantly out of pocket, you also have the right to take the company to the small claims court - which is nowhere near as alarming as it sounds.