Avoid These 5 Common Problems when Offering Free Customer WiFi

You’ve probably heard quite a bit about what offering free customer WiFi can do for your company. It attracts new business, encourages reviews and other customer-generated content, and generally increases both sales and customer satisfaction. Sounds great, right?

It is—but it’s important to keep in mind that providing free WiFi to customers does have potential downsides. By educating yourself about these possible problems and taking steps to prevent them, you can maximize the benefits and minimize any drawbacks. Here are five common issues businesses encounter when offering free customer WiFi and how you can avoid them.

Offering free WiFi to customers isn’t enough—your WiFi must also be fast and reliable.

Offering free WiFi to customers isn’t enough—your WiFi must also be fast and reliable. Customers may be even more frustrated with very slow connections than no internet access at all.

If your connection is spotty or slow, investigate why. An older router, out-of-date router firmware, interference from nearby networks, frequency issues, even the location of your router are all possible culprits when it comes to slow connection speeds or dropped connections. Check out “10 Reasons Your WiFi Speed Stinks and What You Can Do About It” by Christina Mercer for handy tips on speeding up your connection.

Insufficient Bandwidth

A frequent cause of lagging connection speeds is not having enough bandwidth to support your internet usage. Make sure you correctly estimate the amount of bandwidth you will need for the type of browsing and number of users you are likely to have—and don’t forget to factor in mobile devices as well as computers.

To calculate how much bandwidth you require, use the guideline of “120 kilobits per second for each user you plan to support at one time,” writes Robert Moskowitz in “5 Problems to Avoid when Offering Free WiFi.” “Ten users will need 1.2 megabits per second. Twenty users will need double that.” (Lost? Try this calculator.) Moskowitz continues, “Once you know how much you need, compare prices among local internet service providers at that bandwidth level.” Blocking specific sites for streaming or downloading huge files will also help keep your bandwidth from getting bogged down.

Keep in mind that your bandwidth needs will only increase over time. It may be best to include some padding in your calculations to account for this growth.

Unsecured Network

For the sake of customers’ personal data and your own business data, your network must be secure. Not only will a super-secure network protect your confidential company files, it will prevent customers’ information from being compromised—and thus prevent any legal ramifications from such a breach.

Check your router’s security protocol and set it to the highest available. The older WEP (“Wired Equivalent Privacy”) protocol has known weaknesses and is generally considered risky, although it is still in use. WPA (“WiFi Protected Access”) is stronger, and WPA2 stronger still. If your router is incompatible with WPA- or WPA2-level security, you should update your firmware or even upgrade to a newer model.

Shared Access Points

Are customers and employees accessing your network through the same access point? If so, you may be compromising your confidential data. Even if your network is secure from the world at large, anyone using the same access point could potentially get into your company files.

Ideally, your network should have (at least) two separate access points: a highly secure one for your employees, and a second—also secure—customer-facing access point. Service Set Identifier (SSID) technology creates separate access points to allow guests to use WiFi while keeping your business network walled off from customers. Your SSID can also be scheduled to automatically shut off after hours to prevent access by the unscrupulous.

Another option is to install a WiFi hotspot totally unconnected to your internal network. Whichever method you choose, make sure that you create a different, strong password for each access point, network, or hotspot and change them regularly. (Test the strength of your password or passphrase with a service likeCloudCracker.) Put cybersecurity measures in place to protect your entire network from malware, viruses, and hackers. Keep your software up-to-date to inoculate your system against emerging threats.

Squatters

You’re probably all too familiar with WiFi seekers who spend as little as possible (or nothing at all), but then sit at a table for hours, taking advantage of your internet access. A customer who buys $2 worth of coffee and then uses your WiFi for most of the day—possibly occupying a table for two four—hurts your bottom line. Worse, there’s never just one person behaving this way.

These squatters commandeer space that otherwise might serve several customers in the same time period. They may even fill up your business to the point that newcomers leave due to lack of seating.

There are several ways to offer free WiFi to customers and prevent squatters from hogging precious space in your establishment:

  • Require a minimum purchase to receive the WiFi access code.
  • Limit access to a specific length of time (for example, 30 minutes or an hour), then either cut off access or institute a fee.
  • Set up laptop-free “express” tables to maintain customer turnover.
  • Restrict access during rush hours.

What You Can Do Right Now

Offering free WiFi access to customers? Here are some tips you can implement today to steer clear of common pitfalls. (And if you’re not offering free WiFi, what are you waiting for?)

  • If your connection is spotty or slow, find out why and take steps to make it more reliable. The solution may be as simple as moving your router or updating its firmware.
  • Make sure that you are taking all precautions to secure your network and to keep your business computing separate from guest access. This means implementing a separate SSID access point (or a hotspot) for customers, protected by a passcode you change on a regular basis.
  • Consider setting some restrictions—such as a minimum purchase or a time limit—on your WiFi to discourage squatters.
  • Find out how Cox Business can help your business provide fast, reliable WiFi to customers. Visit www.coxbusiness.com

Murray Goldstein

Murray Goldstein

Murray Goldstein serves as the Executive Director of SMB Segment Marketing for Cox’s business services division.He has primary responsibility for small-to-midsize business-to-business acquisition, lifecycle and digital marketing for Cox Communications.As part of this role, Goldstein oversees marketing strategy across industry-leading, business-grade voice, data and video technology solutions.
Murray Goldstein