SCORE Small Business Blog

When Free Wi-Fi is More than Just a Business Cost

Like a cool shot of air conditioning on a 90-degree day, when customers enter your storefront they are comforted by the prospect of free Wi-Fi. They may have a large video or photo file to upload or they are looking to perform that bandwidth-intensive application that would otherwise run more slowly on the cellular network or gobble up their data plan allotment megs. Regardless of the reason, consumers are getting as used to free Wi-Fi as they are to free cool air when they enter a store on a hot day.

What Have You Done for Them Lately?

From the point of view of the business owner, it may seem a bit unfair. Business owners wonder, “The public visits my locations and expects to use the Wi-Fi regardless of whether they are buying anything or not?”

We have all seen them. The lounge lizards sipping their free plastic cup of water at the bread and sandwich shop, hunched over the laptop or tablet for hours on end.  Meanwhile, businesses are afraid of not offering Wi-Fi for fear this will alienate customers and give a competitive advantage to their competitors who are offering free Wi-Fi.

Turning Up the Engagement on Free Wi-Fi

Savvy businesses are looking for ways to make Wi-Fi less of a one-way street. They are turning up the engagement between the visitors and the store brand. Here are a few of the ideas I have seen lately that you may want to try:

1. Give your customers more than just Wi-Fi.

Give them your brand experience. Your individual mobile app will allow consumers to ‘opt-in’ so that they can be identified and served when they are “in the house.” Print and digital signage in the store directs visitors to your mobile app with the promise of a freebie or some other hook. If customers are running the app in the store they are identified by store personnel via Location Tracking Services, f or they are given information pertinent to their visit,  including coupons or special offers — all based on time of day and previous buying habits. Social Listening complements this strategy. Check out how KLM has taken that to a new level in Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. By tying in offers and brand messages that are echoed on in-store, print and digital signage, the experience of shopping becomes more exciting and uniform for the shopper.

2. Engage with customers.

Businesses that own the Wi-Fi own the opening splash page. This is where you can interact with visitors regardless of whether they already have the store’s mobile app or not. The key here is interaction, defined as conversing or having a two-way conversation. Too many times these splash pages are one-way advertising vehicles, failing  to give the customer anything to do or react to. How about a contest? Or maybe an engaging one-question poll that gives the customer a chance to win recognition or still more prizes? Maybe a timely give-away during off-hours to drive more foot traffic? How about a chance to meet a celebrity in the store?

3. Anticipate their needs.

Anywhere where people have to wait – an airport lounge, a doctor’s office, the Driver and Motor Vehicle department – there is an opportunity to give your customers what they may need. It could be an update on their progress in queue, an option to download insurance information, or in the case of an airline lounge, an option to sign up for an international data plan they forgot to put on their device before their trip to Asia.  Or maybe customers would appreciate an option to receive a free caffeinated drink.  The ways to delight your customers are virtually limitless.

My forward-looking customers are driving the new world of customer interaction by leveraging a forgotten avenue to engage with their storefront customers: Wi-Fi.

What strategies have you seen for leveraging Wi-Fi to communicate with customers? Do you see the free Wi-Fi trend decreasing as faster cellular data speeds are offered? Or, do you see it increasing as carriers charge for increased data usage over the cellular network?

This post originally appeared on the AT&T Networking Exchange Blog.

Sander BiehnAccount Manager with Signature Client Group Sales, AT&T
Sander has been with AT&T for 18 years in a variety of situations, but he always loves interacting with people whatever the situation. In his current role, he thrives at interacting with customers, getting to know them and then helping suggest and recommend technologies that can solve their problems. | Facebook | @SanderBiehn | More from Sander

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