Heat, light, water, and Wi-Fi: The benefits and risks for commercial buildings

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Commercial venues have certain basics they must offer to their customers. Heat, light and water are absolute essentials, but Wi-Fi is fast becoming a must have.

It may seem glaringly obvious but offering your customers a slick, robust and free Wi-Fi experience is just as important as the environment, and the quality of service you provide.

Whether it’s a bar, restaurant, shopping centre or airport, people now just expect access to Wi-Fi as a minimum but they also have very definite expectations around its speed, safety and reliability too.

Get it right, and the customer will stay on your premises longer, increasing revenue and strengthening your customer base.

Of course lots of businesses already offer Wi-Fi to their customers. Access is usually provided by leaving the internet connection ‘open’ or by writing the password on the menu or a blackboard somewhere on the premises.

I’m sure we are all familiar with asking a member of staff for the Wi-Fi password or wandering around a venue until you spot it blue-tacked to the till.  Unfortunately this way of providing Wi-Fi comes with a number of risks and problems for both business and customer.

First of all, if the internet connection is critical to the day to day running of the company, from processing card payments to running retail point of sale systems, then there is a real danger that customers may stumble across sensitive and confidential information. I don’t need to tell you that this can end badly and be used for all sorts of nefarious activity.

Next is the risk that the default login details to the Wi-Fi router have not been changed. Anyone could simply log into the router and make changes, leading to all sorts of problems, from an unauthorised user wiping out internet connectivity completely, to something as puerile, but damaging, as changing your network name to something offensive or just plain hilarious.

Lastly, leaving your connection open or freely handing out the password means that people do not necessarily even have to be on site to use your internet connection. People just passing by or sitting next door could be happily using up your bandwidth without contributing anything to your bottom line, resulting in you running up hefty internet bills.

Alongside this there is the danger that an openly displayed password draws the attention of hackers. There are a number of free tools easily available on the internet which can be used to ‘sniff’ the traffic sent over a network. This means they could see data, including usernames and passwords. Seeking out open and vulnerable networks is a fairly common practice in the hacker community and is known as ‘wardriving’. Once they have intercepted information they can breach customer accounts anonymously and with no consequences to the attacker but reflecting very badly on your business or brand. The reputational damage incurred could be huge.

But as I said at the start, customers expect Wi-Fi and expect a good guest experience. So what can a business do to provide the best possible Wi-Fi and avoid the pitfalls of having an open connection?

Having a closed network that uses Wi-Fi management software is the way forward. It is very easy to set up and maintain and it is cost effective. It not only secures your business network it also makes it very easy for your customer to access the web safely and interact with your brand or business via dedicated portals.

There are many advantages for a business. Not only do they keep the customer happy by providing what they view as the fourth essential service but such management software enables the business to gather valuable raw data from the customers using Wi-Fi. It can provide amazing insights from new and repeat customers to gender ratios and much more.

This customer data can transform the marketing and promotional activity of a venue. It allows the business to build a complete picture of exactly who their customers are and provides them with the means to engage with them directly. They can then target their key demographic, promote offers that make sense to the customer base and encourage people to spread the word about their great experience.

In this age of instantly sharing our experiences – both good and bad – having a fully functioning, safe, closed public Wi-Fi network work means that companies can be one step ahead as soon as customer walks in. 

Read more: Fairhair Alliance drafts specifications to equip commercial buildings with IoT

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