Mobile CRM Heats Up

Wireless carriers are partnering with retailers in various industries to allow their customers who are mobile professionals to keep up with customer demands and to conduct business over the Internet. Telecom companies like T-Mobile and SBC Communications are offering Wi-Fi hot spots, at a growing number of Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, Panera Bread restaurants, and other locations. Although consumers also use these hot spots, the driving force behind the installations is the needs of traveling salespeople and other mobile professionals, according to T-Mobile spokesman Bryan Zidar. "We are definitely targeting the mobile professionals, the 'windshield warrior' -- the salesman who's out of the office a lot and the road warrior who's usually on the road," Zidar says. T-Mobile targets retailers that its mobile professional customers frequent, according to Zidar. T-Mobile has 4,600 hot spots at places like Starbucks, U.S. airports, Borders, and Kinko's and plans to have 6,000 by the end of the year, including Hyatt Hotels in a deal that was announced last week, Zidar says. Additional hot spots are coming online or being announced at a quick pace. SBC announced Monday that it would install Wi-Fi hot spots in 6,000 Midwest McDonald's restaurants by next summer. While the sites offered by T-Mobile, SBC, and some other providers require that the user buy a temporary subscription (daily or monthly are the most common), libraries, some restaurants, and some hotels offer Wi-Fi access at no cost. Individual subscriptions may cost $10 to $15 a day or $20 to $30 a month, depending on the wireless carrier. Corporate plans are also available. While the professionals seeking mobile CRM capabilities can benefit from increasing availability of the hot spots, the CRM benefits for the retailers themselves is much less clear, according to independent telecom analyst Jeff Kagan. "Some customers are just sitting there babying a cup of coffee," he says. So retailers need to determine if they wants patrons spending a long time in the store, Kagan adds. For retailers like Barnes & Noble, that want people to come in and leisurely browse before buying, the wireless access probably leads to more sales. But, Kagan says, coffee shops may not sell any more of their products by providing hot spots. "If it's important to enough of their customers, then it's worthwhile," Kagan says, adding that many of the retailers use the wireless access themselves to access the Internet to order supplies, communicate with franchise headquarters, and for other business uses. Therefore, Kagan expects the number of hot spots to keep growing. In the near future there should also be increasing competition from wide area wireless networks from Verizon, Cingular, and other wireless providers. The wide area networks will provide wireless access without the need to be in a hot spot's small (no more than 500 feet) access area. "Wi-Fi is very attractive [for the users], it's easy to use and has a grass roots following, though it does have limitations," Kagan says. The following are some Web sites to help locate wireless hot spots:
  • ConnectedHotel
  • Wi-Fi-FreeSpot Directory
  • Wi-Fi HotSpot List
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