A Lesson Learnt About the Value of Good Customer Support

After investing more money in a core routing infrastructure than I paid for my flat, we thought it was quite important that, if the equipment went wrong, we could lean on our vendor to help us with immediate delivery of spare parts, 24/7 technical support and all the other stuff that goes with a proprietary piece of kit that is business-critical.

Cisco does offer this kind of service, it’s called SMARTnet. You renew the contract annually for a small % of your equipment cost. In return, you get a total care service.

Cutting out the middleman

Now, back in 2008, the contract on one of our £20k core routers got renewed. We were using a dealer to handle the contract on our behalf.

Somewhere along the line, the dealer had decided that we didn’t need SMARTnet direct from Cisco, but we would do just as well with a cheaper alternative contract called Shared Support. In a Shared Support contract, your dealer becomes your main source of assistance.  They act as a middleman to Cisco and raise tech support cases on your behalf.

A cynic might believe they make more of a margin on it.  But putting that aside, our core routers are the beating hearts of our network.  If they need surgery, we don’t want a single junior doctor, we want Cisco’s crack team of surgeons on the case.

So we said please give us the SMARTnet contracts that we paid for.  And the dealer said, Shared Support is practically the same, we can help you out with any problems!  We stood our ground about receiving the contract we had requested, and to avoid sounding repetitive, already paid for.

At this point, it became apparent that the dealer had already paid for the Shared Support contract and couldn’t get their money back. Which was why they were so insistent we simply went with the Shared Support.

They went away, they fixed their mistake. Eventually. Three weeks after our router had started crashing, and one week after the old contract was up.

Going Direct

So, there we were with an incorrect contract and a router that was crashing each week. Of course, we had a second router for backup on each site. But not being able to access the support we needed to get everything up and running as quickly as possible was exposing us to unnecessary risk.

Here was the point where we were expecting Cisco to blow us off. We tentatively asked to raise a tech support case with Cisco, without a valid contract, explaining the situation, and they said…

“Sure, so what’s the problem?”

A pleasant surprise

Within a couple of days, they had escalated the case to their BGP experts – we’d found a new bug. A couple of days later, they had suggested a workaround which stopped the router from crashing.

We were so impressed with Cisco. Even as a huge company, they bypassed any bureaucracy to get our (at the time) little company network back on its feet. It also meant that our bug got the attention it needed to be fixed in the next software release.

Going the Extra Mile

While I was writing this I remembered a case from a few years prior. We were essentially still a start-up and had spent a few thousand pounds on a Cisco supervisor card from eBay. A colossal sum of money back then.

We’d configured this card in such a way that it had fallen foul of a documented, obscure, hardware bug.  It was causing us problems.  So, we asked Cisco about it; since they had acknowledged it was a faulty card.

Following our request to (pretty) please send the card back for repair, they responded that it was old and they no longer had any left. Instead, they sent us a brand new, faster, upgraded version.

Everything considered we felt Cisco had nailed customer service. And we had learnt a lot about how we wanted to manage our own customer service going forward. The whole experience was a lesson learnt – no matter what your size, good customer service is invaluable.

If you’d like to learn more about support at Bytemark, check out our help section to view the available resources.