4 Tips When Providing Free WiFi to Customers

Free WiFi for customers is no longer an option for many types of businesses. It’s become an important part of the customer experience that lets you connect with your customers and build your brand. Knowing that, how do you make sure that your WiFi creates a positive customer experience? The key is to avoid potential pitfalls and make sure that your service represents everything you want to stand for.

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What Makes a Good WiFi Connection?

First and foremost, your connection must be fast and reliable. Otherwise, you risk making your customers even more frustrated than they would be with no Internet access at all.

Think of your connection as a utility. It’s not enough to provide the bare minimum. You wouldn’t be okay with one, dim lamp lighting your entire business, so don’t accept the equivalent with your WiFi.

If your connection is spotty or slow, it’s time to troubleshoot. Review all the potential culprits of slow connection speeds or dropped connections: a service plan that doesn’t meet the needs of your business, a router or other equipment that is outdated, out-of-date router firmware, interference from nearby networks, frequency issues, or even the location of your router.

If you’re having issues diagnosing and fixing the problem, try this guide from Intel, or Christina Mercer’s “10 Reasons Your WiFi Speed Stinks and What You Can Do About It.”

Make Sure You Have Enough Bandwidth

When it comes to your network, your router is only half of the story. You also need enough bandwidth to meet the demands customers will place on your connection.

Estimate how much bandwidth you’ll need, which means understanding what type of browsing your customers will want to do and how many devices you’ll be supporting. Keep in mind that most people rely on mobile much more than they did in the past, which can double your device numbers if those mobile users also bring laptops.

A general guideline for bandwidth is “120 kilobits per second for each user you plan to support at one time,” writes Robert Moskowitz. “Ten users will need 1.2 megabits per second. Twenty users will need double that.”

Do the math for your business, then compare it with what broadband service levels your ISP offers to find a plan that fits. Keep in mind that those numbers may increase over time as your business grows. Make sure that you have some padding to account for future growth—and that nobody has ever complained about a WiFi connection being too fast.

Limit Bandwidth Hogs

If your equipment and connection are configured properly, but you’re still experiencing issues, you might be dealing with a few bandwidth hogs. If that’s the case, consider restricting streaming from specific sites or not allowing peer-to-peer downloading, which is generally done via a content filtering tool. This write-up provides a great discussion of how different small business owners in the hospitality industry have approached the problem.

Remember that these users are still your customers. It’s reasonable (and unsurprising) to walk into a business and find YouTube or Netflix blocked for bandwidth reasons. However, consider putting some energy into how that is communicated.

When choosing language, focus on how these restrictions ensure everyone can enjoy a fast connection. This type of messaging is a lot more positive than, “Site forbidden,” or whatever default error message your content filter displays.

Offer a Secure Connection

When you’re broadcasting a free connection to the internet that almost anyone can use, network security is a must. At risk is your customers’ personal data, like credit card numbers or usernames and passwords, and also your own business data. Again, this is a customer experience issue, and that experience should remain top-notch.

The first place to start is with your router’s security protocol. Password standards have changed, but most routers still offer older standards that aren’t as secure anymore.

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 is stronger still. If you don’t have newer password protocols available, see if there’s a firmware update available, but it’s probably time to consider getting a newer device.

Shared Access Points

One common way to insulate your network from attacks is to have separate access points for your business network and your public WiFi. Use Service Set Identifier (SSID) technology to allow guests to use WiFi while keeping your business network walled off from customers. You can also use SSID to schedule automatic on and off times, so you’re not accidentally leaving a digital door open when you lock up.

What You Can Do Right Now

Offering free WiFi to customers is not optional, and it’s now a critical part of the customer experience. At the same time, as bad as it is to not provide a network, having a slow or unsecured network can be even worse. Make sure your connection is fast, reliable, and safe.

  • Check your equipment and update, replace it, or relocate it as necessary.
  • Do the math to determine how much bandwidth you need, keeping in mind that you’re not just dealing with computers but also mobile devices.
  • Limit bandwidth hogs with a content filtering tool.
  • Use a newer password protocol, and consider a shared access point to protect yourself and your users.
  • If you are in an area serviced by Cox Business – Give us a call or visit www.coxbusiness.com