Today's shoppers don't want a free cup of coffee — they want Wi-Fi service.
In fact, the 2016 Cox Consumer Pulse on Small Businesses survey reveals that 56 percent of consumers would choose Wi-Fi over java when visiting a local retailer. Conducted with the help of more than 2,000 consumers from more than a dozen states, including California, the survey found 45 percent of consumers say free, reliable Wi-Fi service improves their small business shopping experience.
Savvy entrepreneurs need to meet those demands, while also providing a positive customer experience through uninterrupted connectivity, says Jared Ruth, director of marketing for Cox Business, a division of Cox Communications offering industry-leading internet, phone, TV and networking services for small to large companies.
"As businesses become more reliant on emerging technologies that require internet connectivity, it is absolutely critical to have a reliable high-speed connection that is always available," Ruth says. "This is especially true with the recent adoption of cloud-based services. Loss of connectivity can be detrimental to any business, but even more for small businesses. Connectivity is no longer optional, and in many ways has become the most essential component of running a business."
In addition to offering free Wi-Fi, here are some other important tips to satisfy the expectations of tech-savvy customers.
Carefully choose your service provider
One of the biggest challenges for those running a small business is partnering with the fastest and most reliable service provider available, says Joe Guillena, Jr., director of operations at 230 Forest Avenue, one of the most popular restaurants in Laguna Beach, California.
With renowned Southern California chef and owner Marc A. Cohen in the kitchen, 4-plus star ratings from Yelp, OpenTable and Zagat, and regular crowds, Guillena and crew must pay equal attention to serving exquisite meals to discerning foodies while also catering to their customers' appetite for mobile devices.
"It's important to know that a provider will deliver," Guillena says. The restaurant's point of sale systems, payment processing and telephone services all require constant connectivity.
To meet the needs of 230 Forest Avenue and similarly sized operations, Ruth says Cox Business developed a premium suite of solutions tailored for small businesses, particularly in the areas of speed, reliability and customer service. The results recently earned Cox Business the highest ranking in the J.D. Power 2016 U.S. Business Wireline Satisfaction Survey Very Small Business category.
"Cox Business is in a unique position to serve small businesses because we are local and able to provide enterprise-grade products and services that would typically only be available to larger companies," Ruth says.
Ensure Wi-Fi is safe and secure
Ruth cautions small business owners that a significant burden comes with offering free Wi-Fi service to customers — namely providing safe service.
Cox Business continues to focus on customizing Wi-Fi solutions for businesses. For diners at 230 Forest Avenue, that means being able to chow on calamari "Rhode Island" style and seamlessly boast about it to friends on Facebook without depleting their data plans.
"Cox's customer service representatives were able to tailor a suitable solution to our Wi-Fi needs by providing a secure network to service the integral back-of-the-house requirements of our operations, while providing a dedicated wireless Wi-Fi network for guest use," Guillena says. "So, no amount of internet traffic will impact vital functions of the business and vice versa."
"Securing public Wi-Fi networks can be challenging if not done correctly," Ruth says. "It is critical for a business to secure the network so that unwanted users are not able to access internal company resources."
Take advantage of video, cloud and web marketing
Businesses are adding video, high-resolution photos and cloud-based tools to their websites to better market their products and services. And owners are quickly realizing that offering such online amenities demands preparation and planning.
Make sure your service provider has the capacity to provide high bandwidth solutions. Cox Business, for instance, offers Internet options scalable from 10 Mbps to 10 Gbps. That range ensures that no matter how much a small business grows, Cox solutions expand to accommodate it.
"As businesses increase their focus on pushing content to the cloud, social media and other content marketing sites, they will want to make sure they have higher upload speeds to compensate for the increase in traffic," Ruth says.
Guillena says this is certainly true for his business. "If the online experience or virtual visitation of our restaurant is impacted by a slow-loading website, the attention of the guest may be lost and they may navigate away, leading the user to other options in our area."
Choose the right level of phone services
Setting up an appropriate, reliable and expandable phone system for a small business, whether it's one just starting out or beginning to grow faster than expected, is crucial today more than ever, experts say.
But the process takes a lot more than just calling a provider and signing up, Ruth says.
The six most important questions for a business owner to consider are:
Do you prefer to spend the capital up front to purchase a phone system, or would you rather pay a monthly service fee?
Does your business have the resources to manage its own phone system, or would a fully managed solution make better sense for your business?
What features are most important to employees and customers? Is seamless mobility important?
How critical is call quality and availability to your business? Are calls routed over the public internet (not advised), or via a dedicated network (preferred method)?
Can the phone system grow with your company and is there a plan to upgrade when new technologies become available?
Would you prefer to have a single provider for all technology services including phone, or are multiple providers acceptable?
For business owners who would rather manage their business than their phones, Ruth says Cox Business' IP Centrex offers a fully managed, highly advanced communications solution that is worry-free for owners. It includes an auto phone attendant that answers incoming calls, providing callers with options for reaching a staff member and a convenient "Push-to-Talk" application that sets up intercom service between employees. IP Centrex offers a wide selection of mobility and unified communications options as well.
"It also reduces capital costs for business owners," Ruth says, "because all of the phone equipment is included in the monthly service fee."
For more information on Cox Business solutions, visit cox.com/business or call 866-456-9944.