The Heavy (Metal) Price of Bad Customer Service

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A few days ago I received an email from Mike, a Cisco customer who had a complaint about the company. His story started innocently enough—he purchased a router that did not work properly out of the box and called Cisco’s technical support hotline to complain. What followed was an unfortunate illustration of why having bad customer service procedures and neglecting the importance of open communication with customers can cost a company’s bottom line.

The Steps Mike Took to Complain Effectively:

1. He contacted the company numerous times. Mike gave Cisco numerous opportunities to resolve his problem but the company was unable to get his router to work.

2. He was clear about what he wanted when complaining. After several calls, when it became apparent Mike was given wrong information and he would need a different model router, “I simply requested a free upgrade to a better model—the difference in price was 50 bucks.”

3. He persisted in pursuing his complaint. Cisco agreed to send Mike the upgraded model but instead sent him the very same (cheaper) model that hadn’t worked—twice!

4. He escalated his complaint to management. After failing to resolve his complaint, Mike asked for the contact information for company management—which customer service refused to give him. Mike looked up the information himself and wrote an email to company management.

The Mistakes Cisco Made in Complaint Management:

1. They failed to take responsibility. Mike spoke to three technicians before one of them admitted the problem he was having was one that was known to the company.

2. They failed to resolve the matter in a timely manner. After a full month of emails and phone calls, Mike is still without a functioning router.

3. They employed planned inconvenience. Mike was told his request for an upgrade had to be “forwarded on” after which he received an email telling him his request was denied.

4. They restricted communication with the customer. Cisco actually made it difficult for Mike to communicate with them, “Through the entire 4 week process…I was never able to speak with a decision maker—that I think was the key problem.”

5. They broke promises and lacked follow through. Cisco promised solutions and then failed to deliver them (by twice sending the same model router instead of an upgrade). Lack of follow through damages customer loyalty and makes the company appear even less trustworthy.

6. They were uninformed about problems with their own products. “I saw a post (on Cisco’s own forum boards no less) about the issue. The person posting it had the exact same experience as me and they also mentioned a technician finally admitting it too.”

The Consequences of Cisco’s Poor Customer Service Efforts

After a month of emails and calls and still without a functioning router, Mike found himself incredibly frustrated. “I’m MOST pissed off at Upper Management and whoever designed their philosophy of service. Some companies have EXCELLENT policies about customer service and returns (sometimes it’s even, no questions asked, just refund or exchange quickly) and clearly Cisco’s policy is to avoid refunds at all costs and if there is an exchange, to make sure you’ve totally exhausted your customer before they get it.”

Mike decided to channel his frustration into composing a song about his experience and titled his ditty “Cisco Sucks”. Mike posted a video of the song and an accompanying slideshow on youtube where it got over 500 views. Then he upped the ante by filming a real music video. “I took my camera and filmed myself singing and dancing around and got my kids to help.”

“I’m REALLY hoping that somehow my video will get tons of views. I’m thinking that once I get over 1,000 (if I do) then I’ll send the link to that guy who wrote me along with a few other people at Cisco. I’m also trying to post my video on forums, websites and blogs to increase the views.”

The Moral of Customer Service Stories like Mike’s.

Mike is the kind of person who understands customer service and its function and therefore had Cisco handled Mike’s complaint correctly he would have been likely to spread good word of mouth about his experience with them. Albeit, he would probably not been sufficiently moved to compose a “Cisco Rocks” song and put it on youtube. Readers of The Squeaky Wheel have been speaking up and writing to me about their successes (albeit Mike did so independently), which means companies with poor customer service might need to brace themselves for more music videos of the “You Suck” genre.

The difference to a company’s bottom line between one customer spreading positive word of mouth to numerous people and that same customer spreading terrible word of mouth to hundreds of people via youtube—is no doubt substantial.

When companies quantify the return on investment of improving customer service and complaint handling practices, they should strongly consider the damage frustrated customers cause to their reputation as well as the potential benefits satisfied ones can provide. If that doesn’t make them revamp their customer service, they too will finding themselves facing the music—this music:

Cisco Sucks! by Mike Soltis on YouTube

UPDATE (May 2, 2011): Last week, upon reaching 1,000 views on YouTube Mike wrote emails to numerous Cisco executives and finally got a response. In fact, he got many. A Senior Manager in Operations called him at home to apologize for his troubles and will be sending him their top of the line router.  He also conveyed that the company planned to make changes because of Mike’s case. In addition, Mike got calls from numerous other executives including a VP of Marketing.

Stay tuned for more updates (and more videos?) from Mike. And my hat is off to Cisco, whose executives (if not call-center employees) clearly do know how to go about doing service recoveries the right way! Let’s hope they implement the changes necessary to avoid/minimize such situations in the future.

Copyright 2011 Guy Winch

Follow me on Twitter @GuyWinch

You might also like:

The Psychology of Customer Loyalty

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7 Comments for The Heavy (Metal) Price of Bad Customer Service


This is awesome! Good for Mike. The $50 that Cisco tried to save by not replacing the router at the start has cost them a lot more than that. So short sighted.

Lloyd Kvam

In Phoenix, AZ. we have a TV channel that helps to resolve customer complaints. It is very, very effective. LK


    Consumer advocates are usually effective because they bring the threat of media exposure with them. I wrote The Squeaky Wheel so that every consumer would have the tools to complain effectively themselves. Albeit, I neglected to include a chapter about composing a YouTube video if all else fails–which clearly, I should have done. At least I get to correct that oversight on my blog.


Great video. We have an Apple router. It’s awesome, easy to install, and the service is excellent/

Cisco Social Media Conference: Teaching elephants to dance

[…] became a case study on Guy Winch’s Squeaky Wheel blog. Guy wrote the book on the benefits of being a squeaky […]


After two days of hell on the phone with cisco (lynksys) customer service to try to get a password for our router I went looking for any complaints about cisco customer service, and I THANK YOU for posting this! They sent us an update that my hubby clicked on which caused us to lose our wireless…and for two days refused to help us unless we paid for an extended warranty! I had to hire a computer expert to help and after talking to 7 people, AND they refused to give us to any upper management…my computer friend FINALLY got us the password. CISCO CUSTOMER SERVICE SUCKS! So, I’m thanking you for helping me to not feel alone! And…if you have a contact number for upper management for cisco I would be SO thrilled to let them know what their company put us through! Sincerely, Saundra


After purchasing a E3000 Cisco Linksys router 13 months ago it stopped recognizing the internet from the cable modem. I called customer service (case #120609-004400), was charged $29.99 for the one phone call, and after 2 hours with a technician was told the device is broken and I could receive a $15 rebate on a new or refurbished Cisco Linksys router.

I opted to go to Wal-mart and purchase a Netgear N750 WNDR400 and had it set up within 3 minutes. Changing the SSID (network name) and password to match the old router, the many wireless devices in my home instantly recognized the new Netgear router.

For a Cisco Linksys router that I paid over a $100 only 13 months previous to be unfixable after paying a non-refundable $29.99 for a customer service call is an insult. I will never purchase another Cisco Linksys product.