I knew it was bad.  I feel it nearly every time I walk into a store, visit a restaurant, or call for technical support. Customer service is horrible despite businesses reminding me “that your call (or visit) is very important to us.”  What B.S. that is.

Apparently I’m not alone in experiencing this epidemic of bad customer experience. The Better Business Bureau logged 1.1 million complaints against North American businesses last year, up 10 percent over 2009.

That’s a drop in the bucket to what was revealed in a Consumer Reports survey released this week: 2 out of 3 consumers have walked out of a store in the last 12 months because of poor customer service. Sixty seven percent of customers said they had hung up on a customer service phone call without having their problem addressed. What is ranked as “tremendously annoying” for 71 percent of customers surveyed is not being able to reach an actual human on the phone. Another 65 percent were equally annoyed with rude sales people.

Walking out and hanging up is one thing. Taking their business elsewhere is another. Maybe the loss of business due to customer service will finally get management to stand up and take notice.

The Customer Experience Impact 2010 report reveals that 82% of consumers in the U.S. said they’ve stopped doing business with a company due to a poor customer service experience. Of these, 73% cited rude staff as the primary pain point, and 55% said a company’s failure to resolve their problems in a timely manner drove them away.

Almost everybody surveyed, a full 95%, said after a bad customer experience they would “take action.” And that action is a lot easier to take these days than just a few years ago. In 2007, 60% of U.S. consumers said that when they had a negative customer experience, they wanted to speak to a live agent about it.  But that was before Facebook and Twitter.

While bad word of mouth was damaging in the past, a jilted customer had limited range. The old rule of thumb was that for every dissatisfied customer, 14 customers heard about it.  Today…. one Facebook update or Tweet could reach millions of people in seconds. Since 79 percent of U.S. consumers said they blabbed about their negative customer experiences in public and amongst friends, social media has turned the potential for every gripe into a public relations nightmare. And what’s worse, what’s said on the Internet stays on the Internet.

Of consumers who took to social media sites including Facebook and Twitter to publicly air a complaint, 58 percent expected a response from the company, 42 percent expected a response from a company within a day, but only 22 percent said they’d actually gotten a response as a result of griping there.

Customers have apparently heard the impassioned diatribe of Howard Beale, the news anchor in the Academy Award Winning movie Network , when he ranted, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Maybe businesses will get the message this time and shape their own destiny with a happier ending.