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Wireless Infrastructure Newsletter

Wi-Fi Cloud-Based Marketing Platforms: who is who? November 14 2014

by Adlane Fellah

There are many platforms in the market which offer the ability to build a mobile digital marketing flow on top of Wi-Fi networks. Most offer similar benefits - splash pages, captive portals and push messages such as offering coupons, or simply pushing a survey all the way to analytics services. But how do they differentiate?

From start-ups with beta-only versions to well financed and established companies, it is easy to get lost in this emerging and highly fragmented space. In fact there is not even a real classification on which everyone agrees when it comes to this class of solutions. Some refer to them as monetization platforms, some categorize them as advertising, analytics, social Wi-Fi, cloud management - you name it.

They all promise to help businesses such as retailers and hotels to boost customer loyalty, improve customer experience, manage that experience, and ultimately monetize these free Wi-Fi access services through smarter and more relevant marketing and customer engagement.

Most solutions, such as Purple Wi-Fi and Cloud 4Wi, are cloud-based and sell through resellers and OEM partners such as Cisco-Meraki. Some, like Wavespot or Yadwire, come with their own gear. To complicate things further, leading carrier Wi-Fi access point vendors such as Ruckus are said to be developing their own monetization platforms on top of their centralized management tools; while players coming from the core network side, such as Elitecore, have released new “marketing” features on top of their Wi-Fi offload service management platform.

While these last two solutions are primarily geared towards carrier- class service, the lines are increasingly blurring between enterprise and service provider solutions.

The following are some of the important features to look for when selecting a cloud-based Wi-Fi marketing solution:

  • Hardware Compatibility: The more hardware and firmware agnostic the solution, the better. If you are a store chain using a mix of hardware this feature becomes quite important to be able to integrate the cloud solution onto your network.
  • Configuration: Some systems are hard to configure despite what the marketing material claims. Is the documentation complete? Does the help section work as described?
  • Management: Is changing settings straightforward? Are the navigation layout and features different for the central administrator? Is it easy to use for a small end-user with no IT experience or staff?
  • Sign-Up & Sign-On: The bread and butter of any Wi-Fi management system is user access. Supported social network logins can include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and others. Here again actual testing can reveal malfunctions. Can form-submitted user email and password combinations be used to sign up as well?
  • Coupons: This is an important aspect of digital mobile marketing and it has to work flawlessly. Does the solution enable to create a QR or UPC code which could be scanned at a point-of-sale terminal? Can you manage how many coupons can be used from a central control panel? Does the email with the coupon code include all the relevant context and business information and expiration date? If a user is confused as to the nature of an email, it is likely to be discarded or forgotten.
  • Surveys: On-the-spot surveys enable businesses like hotels to measure their guest experience or for a store to identify which products the customer is interested in. Forms must be activated successfully and the data captured properly saved and stored for analysis and on-the-spot messaging.
  • Analytics: Big data is becoming important even for the small shop. Some companies like Euclid Analytics focus on the location analytics and partner with AP vendors such as Aerohive in high density Wi-Fi areas. Is the platform agile and is it easy to extract the data? Does it provide a visual dashboard? Is it tracking what is relevant to your business? How deeply does it track Wi-Fi usage in your premises? Does it track online HTTP data including how long people are browsing, categories of interest, the sites they are visiting and the content they are viewing?
  • Privacy: Security and privacy are becoming increasingly important issues as more data flows into all flavors of Wi-Fi networks. Is the connection secure? Is the consumer data protected from spam, intrusion? For instance, vendor Zapfi claims it differentiates by providing VPN connection, content filtering, anti-spam, and intrusion detection.
  • Support: Does the platform provide good tutorials? Is the help section complete? How difficult is it to get someone on the phone for urgent help? What is the response time for the ticket system?
  • Miscellaneous: Is it the best value on the market in terms of price/benefits? How solid is the company financially and will it be around next year? Those are important questions!

This is not an exhaustive list and I am sure there are many more in the market. Feel free to write me for a briefing about your solutions. I will also be speaking at the upcoming carrier Wi-Fi Americas December 1-3 in Dallas.


Restaurants Place Focus on Customer Experience Using Wi-Fi November 08 2014

by Adlane Fellah

 

Reaching customers in today’s mobile-connected world is challenging, especially for restaurants. At one time, diners would choose a restaurant based on curb appeal and word-of-mouth. But with review services and social media comprising such a large part of diners’ lives, restaurants are challenged to reach the public through the tools they use the most.

In fact the National Restaurant Association has released new research during its second annual Restaurant Innovation Summit that shows overall technology use in restaurants is increasing. More than a third of consumers say they are more likely to use technology-related options in restaurants now than two years ago. In addition, a significant number use their smartphones to interact with restaurants on a regular basis, such as ordering delivery, redeeming rewards and paying for meals.

Mobile apps have the power to give customers a more personalized dining experience while loyalty programs and digital coupons can bring happy patrons back. But what is the best way to reach out to customers and ensure they become repeat diners? Here are some major ways restaurants are using technology to reach customers.

In-Store Wi-Fi

According to Technomic, 65 percent of consumers in 2014 expect restaurants in the quick-service segment to offer free access to Wi-Fi in their restaurants. It is an expectation that operators cannot afford to ignore. “Most of our guests carry smart phones or tablets, and this upgrade makes their time with us easier and more enjoyable,” Alex Macedo, president, North America, Burger King, said in the statement. “We are committed to enhancing our digital platforms across the board and having Whopper Wi-Fi is just the beginning.”

Quick-service brands should also look at free Wi-Fi as way to bring back the crucial millennial demographic that has pulled back from restaurants since the recession.

Competitors such as McDonald’s and Wendy’s have both announced plans to make increased Wi-Fi access a central part of their remodeling plans, while Taco Bell said it will offer an entertainment network and free Wi-Fi access to all its locations by 2015. Dunkin’ Donuts introduced a new store design last year that featured free Wi-Fi, television and couches aimed at creating an enhanced atmosphere for their customers. The Canton, Mass.-based coffee chain currently offers free Internet access in most of its more than 7,500 restaurants in the U.S.

“We know our guests are constantly connected to their devices, whether it’s their smartphone, computer or tablet and we strive to accommodate them,” said Justin Drake, a spokesman for parent company Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc.

And while offering Internet access in restaurants isn’t new — chain’s like Starbucks, First Watch and Denny’s have been doing it for years — the number of people carrying internet-capable devices certainly has increased, thus creating a larger demand for access.

Research from Deloitte has found that while other factors may make a dining experience more enjoyable, a restaurant’s food is the top criteria. However, consumers are increasingly relying on mobile devices, especially while they’re traveling. While menu options and proximity are a factor, for travelers, Wi-Fi factors in, as well. In fact, while traveling, Wi-Fi availability is 61 percent more important than when consumers are eating close to home.

Over time, restaurants will learn to use Wi-Fi to communicate offers with customers while in the restaurant. Retailers have already learned to push information on sales and special discounts while a customer is on their Wi-Fi and restaurants and cafés can implement this technology in their locations, as well. If a customer has opted in to notifications, a message could be pushed to his screen when he reaches a certain distance from one of a restaurant’s locations.

Mobile Apps

The growing trend toward mobile has many restaurants launching their own apps. Once downloaded onto a customer’s smartphone, an app remains, giving those customers an easy way to browse menus, view operating hours, and get directions. If an app limits its functionality to information, however, it may find few customers download it. All of these details can be offered on a company’s website, requiring less of a commitment than a full download requires.

Despite the popularity of mobile, app downloads still haven’t taken off for restaurants. Deloitte’ survey found that less than one-fifth of respondents had downloaded at least one app onto a mobile device. Many restaurants have found it’s best to give customers a reason to download an app. For locations that offer delivery, an app could allow ordering directly from the app. Customers could also make payments or request reservations.

Loyalty Programs

Loyalty programs are popular with restaurants, who find their customers enjoy the extra incentive to return. While loyalty programs have failed to gain a great deal of success, the study has found that customers who participate in loyalty and reward programs are more likely to display loyalty to a brand. When a customer can easily earn points for purchases and redeem those points for purchases, a loyalty program can be extremely successful.

A restaurant’s app can simplify the loyalty program process, allowing customers to see the status of their points at any time. Instead of carrying around a card on a keychain or in a wallet, the process can be shifted to a mobile device, with the customer flashing a phone at the register to get points. When customers have a reason to add the app to their devices, the restaurant benefits, with the customer potentially using it to show menus to friends or get up-to-date information on a restaurant’s hours.

With any public internet connection will come increased security concerns. This year alone, data breaches like at P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, Dairy Queen and Jimmy John’s made headlines. With consumers using mobile devices more than ever to access information, it’s important that restaurants find new ways to reach out and at the same time protect their customers.


Hotel Chain Focuses on Guest Experience through Digital Strategy November 04 2014

by Adlane Fellah

 

Following Hilton’s announcement of its new digital hotel experience, Global hotel operator Accor is redefining the customer experience through its new Leading Digital Hospitality plan. Recognizing that services like fast, free WiFi are essential to providing high-quality guest experience, Accor has crafted a $228 million investment digital plan that spans five years and impacts each of its 3,600 properties around the world.

Accor’s plan has three primary targets in mind, recognizing the benefits that high-quality wireless access will have for everyone within its organization. By considering the impact on its guests, employees, and partners, companies in all industries can demonstrate that guest service success extends beyond merely focusing on the customer. When employees and partners experience convenience and ease-of-operation, it benefits the entire organization. Here are three major ways a hotel can utilize mobile to improve customer service.

Guests

Hilton and Accor have both recognized the importance of creating a self-service check-in and check-out process. While these changes require an initial development, over time these hotels will be able to recoup that cost by reducing desk staff and increasing customer satisfaction. The strategies for both companies include the ability to obtain a room key and Hilton allows guests to choose rooms based on a digital layout. Using their smartphones, tablets, or PCs, customers can book rooms prior to the stay and reserve conference facilities. By deploying technologies that give the customer control over his experience, hotels with a clear digital strategy can gain a competitive edge

Employees

WiFi in its hotels will allow Accor to equip employees with mobile devices to better manage guest needs. Mobile capabilities take employees from behind reservation desks and cash registers in hospitality, freeing them up to help customers wherever they are. Accor plans to make its solution employee friendly by allowing employees to complete training programs and interact with other workers through an in-house social network. From an HR standpoint, employees can use mobile devices to check in and out at the beginning and end of each shift, view and manage their timesheets, and request time off.

Partners

Hotel employees interact with a large number of partners in order to conduct daily operations. Ordering supplies, paying bills, and sending invoices are all time-consuming activities for a hotel of any size. Accor’s solution plans to address partner relationships by optimizing its billing processes and creating a portal through which partners can view their own information. By automating billing and creating visibility for partners into their own accounts, hotels can improve turnaround time on payments. This also cuts down on calls and reduces processing time, freeing up employees to work on other issues. Over time, automated business processes will allow hotels to reduce staff, introducing an ongoing cost savings that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

Despite the three-pronged approach, at its core, these changes are geared toward creating the best guest experience possible. Hotels know the many benefits of providing free, high-quality WiFi, which are essential to their guests in. Once WiFi has been enabled on a device, a hotel has an unprecedented ability to communicate with guests, including presenting menus for the day, providing coupons, and introducing customer service surveys at the end of a guest’s experience.

While the transition at each of these locations will be gradual, customers can expect a vastly improved guest experiences at top brand hotels throughout the world in the coming years. Mobile devices will be utilized in increasing amounts for everything a guest needs, removing the need to wait in line or make repeat trips to the lobby for things that can be done from the comfort of a guest’s hotel room.

Here is a partial list of our customers for your reference: