After years as a technician, Tim Lanier didn’t jump right into the role of business owner. Instead, he spent three years researching best practices and creating a business plan before he opened his first shop in 2002. Within the business plan, Lanier outlined his plans to create a high level of customer service, one aspect of which was implementing a shuttle service.
Lanier has had a shuttle service since the first day of owning his own business and has kept it going with his current shop, Killian Automotive in Canton, Ga., since its opening in 2006. Lanier says that his shop sees 475 cars per month and he estimates that the shuttle is used 30–40 times per week, which means that roughly one quarter of his customers take him up on this service. The following are five-star reviews awarded to the shop:
“We’re very happy with the service. They accommodate us with transportation to our home and back while our car is being serviced.”
“Great service and very customer oriented. Their service options are a savings and being that we own one vehicle, Killian’s always provides a ride both ways when my car is there for an extended repair/service.”
Lanier says that his customers love the service and that it’s been a selling point for certain customers who may have been on the fence about where to bring their cars. Lanier says that there are times when a customer doesn’t have any way to get to the shop and that the shuttle simplifies the process for them. Here's what to keep in mind, according to Lanier, when adding a shuttle service to your shop.
When selecting a vehicle to use, I think it’s important to consider your budget and your brand. The shuttle is a good opportunity to display what your business is all about. People will see it driving down the road. I looked for a vehicle that would be able to accommodate vinyl lettering or a partial wrap that I could use for advertising. I knew I wanted a vehicle that was 3–4 years old and that had low milage. I decided on a Ford Flex. It’s comfortable and our elderly customers can get in and out of it with ease.
When you’re driving down the road, you only have a few seconds to see something. People won’t be able to read tiny blurbs so I decided what was most important to my brand and put that on the shuttle: the logo, the fact that we’re a AAA shop, and a photo of our facility.
Your shuttle is an indicator of the work you do. People will notice if there are papers and trash in the vehicle. Keep it clean, make sure the dash is dusted and keep up on regular maintenance. We make sure to clean out the vehicle at least once per week. Your customers won’t feel comfortable that you’re working on their vehicles if you don’t take care of your own shuttle.
When I started out, it was just me and a technician, so my father volunteered to drive the shuttle. My business has since grown and we now have 13 employees. My assistant service advisor is in charge of driving the shuttle. If he’s out for any reason, I can take the customers or a service advisor is able to. I want to make sure whoever is driving the shuttle is someone that I am comfortable having interact with the customers. When my assistant service advisor makes the transition to full-time advisor, I’m going to hire someone whose job is to drive the shuttle and help out with various jobs around the shop.
We offer the shuttle service as soon as the customer calls in and indicate that the service is available on the website. That way, we know ahead of time if a customer will need a ride. We’ve also labeled the vehicle as a customer shuttle in our system.
We try to schedule our appointments on the hour so our shuttle usually leaves around then. Since we usually know ahead of time whether or not a customer will need the shuttle, we can plan ahead. Sometimes we have walk-ins that want the shuttle and we always try to get them home. We offer the shuttle right away if it’s available and someone can drive it, otherwise we just explain that they may need to wait 15–20 minutes. They’re usually fine with that.
The area that our shop is in is mostly residential, so we typically drive in a 7–10 mile radius. Anyone that needs a ride further than that has typically set up their own transportation ahead of time.
Customers that have small children will take the car seats out of their own vehicles; we don’t provide those. I have the customer install it, just so they’re comfortable. That’s another reason that I choose the Ford Flex—it’s an easy car to put car seats in. We’ve had a few customers that have come in that use a wheelchair. In that case, we’ll drive them home with their own vehicle and then drive it back to the shop.
We insure the vehicle through our garage owner's policy and fleet plan. The cost is relatively low. Fuel cost is less than $25 per week and the maintenance cost is under $8 per week over the last three years. So far, maintenance has included a new set of tires, oil changes, and a temperature blend door actuator repair.