The big ‘Wi-Fi’ conundrum: a way to make money or a way to give customers what they need?


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Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs  is a psychological theory proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation”. The theory is most commonly portrayed in the shape of a pyramid with the largest, most fundamental levels of human needs at the bottom and with the ultimate need for self-actualization at the top.

71 years later, it could be argued that Maslow’s perception of what constituted basic physical needs has been surpassed by something even more fundamental. Those of you who have ever seen the reaction of teenagers who have experienced a failing Wi-Fi connection will know exactly what I am talking about.  Fellow Customer Experience specialist, Dr Nicola Millard, once said that the best way to reprimand your misbehaving children is not to send them to their room – it is to remove their Wi-Fi!!

In 2014, Wi-Fi has become such a critical part of our day to day lives that it is difficult to imagine how we might exist without it. We need W-Fi for work; at school; to order our shopping; to control our heating; to stream our entertainment – it literally is an essential part of day to day living. We have become so dependant on Wi-Fi, it is becoming increasingly frustrating when we are unable to access it – a problem that is still very common. What is even worse is when we are lured in to thinking we can access it, only for our hopes to be dashed!

I travel regularly with Virgin trains – their Wi-Fi has not worked properly for the last couple of years – it is Soooooo frustrating!!! Our need for Wi-Fi has become so critical that most consumers see it as a basic requirement when interacting with organisations – unfortunately, many businesses do not quite see it that way. As we approach the end of 2014, I am amazed at the number of companies who fall into one of the following three categories:

  • We have Wi-Fi but if you want to use it you must pay for it
  • We will let you use our Wi-Fi for a short period of time for free before you must start paying for it
  • We do not have Wi-Fi available for our customers

There are a growing number of companies who fall into this category

  • We provide free unlimited Wi-Fi to all of our customers

However, how many companies could/should be in this category?

  • We provide free unlimited Wi-Fi to all of our customers whilst collecting hugely valuable data and insight about them to help us serve them better

The provision of Wi-Fi has led to the creation of a Customer Experience Conundrum – should my company look at it as a way of making money out of customers (revenue stream), or should I offer it completely free to my customers as they consider it a basic requirement (customer experience advocacy driver).

Companies that see Wi-Fi as a revenue stream will ultimately have to change their perspective. The key driver of customer dissatisfaction with Premier Inn, one of the UKs biggest hotel chains is that fact that their wi-fi is not free – it is for 30 minutes, but that is not good enough. The hotel industry is one that needs to recognise the importance of Wi-Fi as a driver of customer dissatisfaction. You may not know that there is a website that enables consumers to check the wi-fi provision at hotels all around the world – the fact this website exists suggests how important wi-fi is.

Companies that have incorporated free wi-fi into their experience are reaping the benefits. It is not often you will see an empty McDonald’s – at any time of the day or night. Last year I wrote about the influence free Wi-Fi has had on their proposition – you can read it here. Free Wi-Fi will give your customers a reason to keep coming back to you. If you are faced with a decision of visiting two cafés – one has Wi-Fi and one does not – which one are you more likely to enter?

What to do about Wi-Fi is a similar conundrum to the subject of ‘free delivery’ faced by retailers four to five years ago. Reluctant to give up a ‘revenue stream’, would failure to offer a free delivery option ultimately lead to losing customers altogether? In 2014, the vast majority of retailers now offer a free delivery option – free delivery became a basic…… in the same way free Wi-Fi is today.

The wonderful thing about Wi-Fi is that it is becoming easier and easier for companies to make it accessible for free to customers whilst at the same time maximising the benefits of doing so. Last year I met a lovely lady called Lisa Rhodes. Lisa works for a company called Express Data who is helping thousands of organisations in the UK understand how free Wi-Fi can benefit both customers and the businesses that offer it to them. Essentially, Lisa helps to put in place a Social W-Fi and Analytics solution. The principal of Airtight Wi-Fi is to combine Social Media with Wi-Fi and Analytics – all with the objective of driving better engagement with customers. To achieve the ultimate goal of more loyal customers, giving them free Wi-Fi is now imperative!!

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It is really quite clever stuff – that gives customers what they NEED, whilst at the same time delivering a wealth of insight and knowledge to help you maximise your relationship with them. This is why the answer to the conundrum is a simple one for me. Offering free Wi-Fi to customers is a no brainer – fail to do so and your customers will eventually go to someone else who offers it for nothing. Offering free Wi-Fi without utilising any information it can give you is a huge missed opportunity. In 2014, it is not only our basic needs as humans that have changed. If you can use technology better to help you understand how to engage more closely with customers, your future will look even rosier.

If you want to know more about Airtight Wi-Fi, you can contact Lisa on +447762 887716 or email her at Lisa.Rhodes@expressdata.co.uk

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