'Uber Is Awesome!'

Rice Toyota traded its courtesy shuttle van for the ride-hailing service, and customers are loving it
by Dan Miller
Sept/Oct 2018
'Uber Is Awesome!'
Easy Decision
Mary Rice, general manager at Rice Toyota, says that when she adds it all up, “we’re not paying much more with Uber than we were with the shuttle. But we’re giving our customers this insane benefit of a personal ride.”
Mary Rice had often used Uber, one of the ride-hailing services that have become so popular in recent years, when traveling for business. But if not for an offhand comment by Southeast Toyota’s Ray Natour, Rice Toyota’s general manager might never have discovered how her customers could benefit from it, too.
“I was at a regional meeting focused on the service and parts business and Ray was speaking,” says Rice of SET’s vice president of vehicle processing. “He said, ‘Have any of you considered using Uber to provide courtesy rides to your service customers?’ I hadn’t. But it got me thinking, ‘Why not?’ So when I had a quiet morning back at the dealership, I decided to dive into it.”
Rice soon discovered that Uber has an application that gives companies a way to transport employees. It wasn’t much of a stretch to adapt it to a dealership looking to provide rides to its customers.
“Basically, all I had to do was configure a few parameters,” says Rice. “I set it up so that all of the rides either start or end up at the dealership. And I limited the service radius to within 15 minutes of the store. We’re in an urban market, so that fit the bill for the vast majority of our customers. Our cashiers did need just a bit of training on how to use the page on Uber’s site. But literally within a few hours, we were rocking and rolling with it.”
Here’s How It Works
Most customers interact directly with Uber and, within minutes, are on their way to or from the dealership. Those who need more assistance can turn to one of the dealership’s cashiers or dial up its call center to schedule the ride. On very rare occasions, Rice says some customers just aren’t comfortable with Uber, “so we’ll put a cashier in a car and take them wherever they want to go.”

User Friendly
Uber lightens the load on receptionist [need name], allowing her to book rides with a minimum of keystrokes and clicks. Customers like the ride-sharing service, too, as it gives them more control over when and where they go while their vehicles are being serviced.

This approach has lightened the load on Rice Toyota’s administrative staff. It’s given customers more control while they wait for their vehicles to be serviced. And it’s reduced the Greensboro, North Carolina, dealership’s van-related expenses, such as fuel, maintenance and insurance. Meanwhile, the shuttle drivers have been reassigned to other tasks. One even got promoted to the accounting department.
“The average Uber trip distance is six miles and the average cost is $7,” says Rice. “When I add everything in, we’re not paying much more with Uber than we were with the shuttle. But we’re giving our customers this insane benefit of a personal ride.
“There’s just no way a shuttle can accommodate everyone’s needs, especially first thing in the morning when everyone is trying to get to work at the same time. This gives our customers the freedom to get to wherever they need to go when they need to be there, then return when their car is ready to go.”
Rice Toyota’s service advisors have also embraced Uber. They’ve begun to offer it as a benefit to customers who might be reluctant to proceed with routine maintenance, such as oil changes or new tires, once they learn they’ll need to get by without their vehicle for a few hours. That’s helping to retain business that might otherwise be lost.
Customers Seal the Deal
Ultimately, though, it was Rice Toyota’s customers who confirmed they’d made the right choice.
“We survey our customers and their comments really sealed the deal for me,” she says. “I could see the benefits for our team. But when you have customers telling you, ‘Uber is awesome!’ that’s when you know you’re on to something. I’m quite sure we won’t be the only dealership to do this.”
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