Should I Offer WiFi to Customers?

Whether your business is open to the public, or only by invitation, it’s a good idea to offer guests access to wireless Internet. Let me explain why, and offer some tips on doing it right…

Offering Free Wifi Access

We live in an era of ubiquitous Internet. Like indoor plumbing, it’s expected as a sign that your establishment meets the minimum standards of civilization. People do like to do business with kind, generous, hospitable people. Providing Internet access tells visitors that you are such a person.
If you think that doesn’t pay off in greater profits, perhaps you don’t belong in business. You may be earning a living at it, but you’re doing it the hard way; it takes more effort to get what you want when you refuse to give people what they want. I know that I sometimes make a decision to do business in places that offer free wifi, and choose not to take my business where it’s not provided.
Incidentally, all of the above applies to restrooms, too. I have been in places that don’t allow even paying customers to use their restrooms, but never more than once. The first rule of business is, “Don’t be a jerk.”
Free Wifi Here!
You will get better service by offering Internet access to visitors. Even if you run a secured business, such as a warehouse or factory, you have visitors who need Internet: sales reps, maintenance techs, delivery people, and so on. If you give them Internet they will be able to communicate with their offices and give you answers or fix your problems faster and better.

The Right Way to Offer Internet Access

So the question is how, not whether, to offer Internet to visitors. Here is some advice:
WiFi is the way to go, obviously. But never, ever share your business’ WiFi network with outsiders! Do not set up a “guest” account on your WiFi network; the security risk is too great. Instead, spend a little money on a totally separate DSL or cable modem line and a $40 WiFi modem/router. It’s a negligible expense to keep your business data safe from strangers.
“We’ll give your customers Internet access at no cost to you,” you may hear from several ISPs’ sales reps. Typically, that means advertisements on the first Web page that customers see when they log on, and even pop-up ads on the pages they surf. What if the ads are for your competitors, or any other business that may lure customers away from your business? That’s a trade-off you’ll have to consider.
The visitors’ WiFi network should be secured with WPA2 encryption and a password. Yes, it’s a pain to answer the question, “What’s the WiFi password” umpteen times a day in a busy café. No, it won’t help to post the password on a wall or even print it on every coffee mug. But it will reduce the risk of being sued or becoming part of a criminal investigation. It’s also not a bad idea to change the password daily, to prevent moochers in nearby buildings from habitually using your Internet.
You should ask your ISP to help you tweak the wifi router so that video streams get lower priority. One or two customers streaming HD video can slow down the connection for everyone else. You don’t want to encourage people to sit in your lobby watching Netflix or Youtube for hours. Also, check with your ISP to see if there are any data caps which might result in overage charges.
Make sure your wifi signon screen has some reasonable terms of service, such as: “This service shall not be used to host, post, or transmit any material that is threatening, harassing, obscene, indecent, hateful, malicious, racist, fraudulent, deceptive, abusive, inflammatory, or otherwise harmful to third parties. It may not be used to send unsolicited electronic mail messages; to host or distribute files; to engage in any hacking, interfering with or monitoring of someone else’s online activities; to impersonate another person; or to otherwise engage in any illegal activity.” You can find longer and more comprehensive Internet access terms of service agreements online if you want something longer and more comprehensive. But in my experience, the more legalese you throw at a person, the less likely they are to like or trust you.
“The Internet is down/slow, fix it” is another unwelcome phrase often heard from customers, usually during happy hour and other peak money-making times. The appropriate response is, “I’m sorry; I’ll do what I can when I can.” Feel free to eject people who get demanding; one of my favorite business policies is, “We do business only with people who are pleasant.” The way to minimize such distractions is to buy reliable Internet service and hardware, then maintain it properly during non-business hours. Don’t just go for the cheapest solution; it will cost you more in the long run.
Train yourself and employees to avoid getting sucked into customers’ tech support issues. You may have an employee who takes pride in his geek skills; make sure he understands that you are not paying him to teach Internet 101 or debug customers’ hardware and software (unless you are, of course). “Sorry, I don’t know about that; ask one of the other customers” is a good response to such requests.
Turn off the wireless Internet access when you close for the night, just as you turn off the lights and lock the doors. Actually, disabling the Internet during non-business hours is often easier than closing up the physical facilities. Many routers have “set it and forget it” settings that enable and disable access during specified time periods so nobody has to remember to do so. Read the user manual or give that geeky employee a shot at configuring this feature. If your router can’t turn itself on and off, a $15, 24-hour on/off timer switch will do the trick.
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below…

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  • Should I Offer WiFi to Customers?


  1. Binary Man says

    A friend of mine runs a small coffee/pastry shop, and offers free wifi. But there are a few “customers” who will sit there with their laptops for hours, like it’s their office. What should be done in situations like that?
    EDITOR’S NOTE: Presumably, this person is not consuming large quantities of coffee and pastry. It might be possible to implement time limits for individual customers via the wifi router. Have him check with the service provider to see if that’s possible. If not, posting a polite message on the wall might be a good idea.

  2. Like you, I often choose not to patronize an establishment if they don’t offer wifi. It really bothers me when the more expensive hotels want to charge $10/day for wifi, and you can get it free at Motel 6!

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