[Lesson 4.2] Next Steps (Part 2)
By the end of the previous lesson, you’re almost ready to hit the road on your first transport journey. How exciting! But before you head out, here are a few things to do and keep in mind to ensure the transport goes as planned:
- Step #1: Vehicle and equipment preparation
- Step #2: Pet care before you leave
- Step #3: Pet care during the travel (IMPORTANT)
- Step #3: Route planning, location sharing, and ETA
- Step #4: Pro Tips (Must read!)
Vehicle and equipment preparation
Both experienced and new drivers who join CitizenShipper consider pets to be the best “cargo” to transport. We agree! And we know that you want to do everything possible to ensure each pet you handle arrives at its destination, happy, adorable, and healthy. Here are some suggestions to help you deliver on that:
Some basic tips in the sense of vehicle and equipment preparation include:
- Provide proper vehicle upholstery protection in case of any “accidents”, spills or excessive pet hair
- Confirm the size of the pet for proper size crate preparation (since a lot of times customers do not have their crates)
- Secure any loose cargo or parts that might injure the pets during travel (i.e. a toolbox in your trunk)
- Employ proper vehicle, crate, and food bowl sanitation (using diluted bleach or alcohol solutions as well as any recommended parvovirus cleaner)
- Carry a cooler if your vehicle permits, to hold cold water for pets during travel (and yourself)
- Examine your vehicle, make sure that it’s roadworthy - you don’t want a breakdown to disrupt your first trip(check your fluid levels, tires, battery, AC unit, lights, and switches, etc.)
- Stock up on supplies you will be needing on the road (i.e. cleaning wipes, litter boxes/ litter, puppy pads, sanitized towels/blankets, extra leashes, toys, any dog food if agreed upon with the customer, etc.)
- Get additional phone chargers and consider purchasing a "power bank" for remote charging as well
Some more “advanced” but highly- recommended actions to take include:
- Prepare a manifest with passengers info and photograph each one - both human and furry passengers (and leave behind a copy in case of an accident) - required by PACFA (State of Colorado)
- Map out the location of emergency vets along the route
- Carry human and animal first aid kits
- Have an emergency/contingency plan set in place (create a worst-case scenario in your head, and try to establish a protocol on how to handle things in case it manifests)
Once you have your vehicle and associated equipment all set, it’s time to plan your route.
Pet care before you leave
- At pick up, spend around 15-20 min with the pet to see how it responds to you. Ask the owner about the animal, find out what it likes, its usual mood, and what tactics can keep it calm, happy, and safe throughout the journey.
- Ask about their disposition and general reaction to other dogs - this is especially important if there is more than one animal on the journey.
- It’s essential that you gather as much information as you can about the animal while you have the owner with you. Good things to note include whether the animal likes to be petted, how it responds to strangers, any specific behaviors it may display when stressed, and check if the animal likes to be handled or petted.
- If you are moving multiple animals ask about their ability to eat around other animals. Are they protective of their food, do they need to eat alone? Will they try and eat other animals’ food etc. Knowing this before you leave will save you time and stress once you are on the trip.
- Get the right information about the food the animal will consume before and during the trip. Ensure there is enough supply for the trip and some extra in case you experience a delay.
- Ask if the animal has a favorite toy or comforting object with them. Check with the owner if it’s appropriate for the animal to have this close to them for the entire trip. Stressed or anxious animals may shred and digest their toys that can lead to the animal getting sick or even needing surgery. Be conscious of this and avoid letting the animals have toys or excess blankets etc. until you are very sure they are calm. Monitor the pet closely when they do use a toy or comfort object. For ultimate safety - it is best to not let the animals have toys while you are driving and instead can be used to calm or distract when you make stops.
Pet care on the road
- Make an early first stop to check how the animal is feeling. The body language of the pet will help you figure out its mood and wellbeing. Most importantly, look for signs of motion sickness. This can include vomiting, retching, dizziness, or whimpering. If you do see these signs let the animal rest for as long as possible. Administer anti-nausea remedies IF they have been agreed upon with the owner. Try another position in the vehicle, more or less air or a view, to alleviate the animal’s suffering.
- If the pet is older, obese, or has any pre-existing conditions specified in their paperwork, don’t hesitate to call a veterinarian or the owner to ask for more specific care guides.
- Taking care of the pet's body temperature and keeping the pet hydrated is especially critical in the summer times. You can read more about this topic in these articles:
- Pet Safety Alert for Drivers: Keep it Cool During the Summer
- Recognizing and preventing heatstroke in animals
ALWAYS KEEP THE CUSTOMER IN SYNC, DO NOT MAKE ANY DECISIONS BEFORE CONSULTING THEM
- Once you are on the road, stop regularly to take a walk and a potty break. Make sure the animal is leashed at all times when it is out of your vehicle.
- Offer water to the animal during these breaks and observe its general health and mood.
Route planning, location sharing, and ETA
Here are the three most important details to check before setting off on a transport:
- Confirm pickup/delivery contacts
- Map and route your trip to ensure efficiency and to set realistic expectations regarding arrival times. (i.e. checking for road closures, tolls, or construction, looking for hotels and booking them ahead of time to get the best pricing, etc.)
- Check upcoming weather conditions (especially important during winter months and hurricane season depending on your route)
Clarification on routing: We have previously discussed route-planning from the perspective of winning shipments: our search tool, our trip notification settings, advice on “thinking outside of the box”, etc.
Route-planning for delivery is different - and important in securing positive customer reviews!
Most drivers transport more than one pet at a time - pets are often part of a “stacked” shipment, which includes multiple deliveries on the same route. Delivering each pet that is part of a stacked shipment causes slight deviations to your travel time. Simply put, each delivery takes time. That’s why it is important to be transparent with your customers when sharing your location and setting a realistic estimated time of arrival (later referred to as “ETA”). Set arrival expectations with customers that allow for time and location variances and discuss why these might occur. Transporters who proudly wear the “zero cancellations” badge tell us that they open this conversation ahead of sending a quote by doing the following:
- They let the customer know how many pets they usually transport at a time.
- They explain the price difference between shared (stacked) and VIP transport (one animal only).
- They provide accurate ETAs within a few hours of each delivery, explaining that the ETA accuracy will vary by type of transport (shared (stacked) or VIP)
- If the customers want location-sharing, they’re informed about all the stops the driver will make along the route, so that they aren’t concerned about deviations from the shortest route - which might not make sense without a prior discussion about multiple delivery locations.
To learn more about how to easily enable location sharing with your customer, please visit the first part of this article.
Calculating the estimated time of arrival, your ETA is one of the most important parts of your agreement with the customer. To help avoid creating unnecessary anxiety by missing an agreed-upon deadline, we’ve included a couple of tips to help calculate delivery time below:
PRO TIP #1 - Use the speed limits Even though the speed limit for most interstates is between 60 and 70 mph, your actual speed will vary depending on many factors such as the time of day, day of the week, season, weather conditions, traffic accidents, etc. . To account for these factors and for the time needed for meal and fuel stops - calculate your average speed at 50 mph. Also, the majority of pet transporters take breaks every 3-4 hours to stretch their legs, feed their passengers, or take them out for potty breaks. Estimate about 30 minutes for each of these stops and add 15 minutes to each stop for each additional pet you are transporting. Note: Each 30 minute stop includes taking care of one pet.
Let’s use this 1 hour per 50 miles + 30 minutes per 4 hours + 15 minutes per pet formula to calculate a 700 mile trip with 3 pets.
1. 700 miles/50 miles per hour = 14 hours is the base time for the transport
2. If the trip takes 14 hours, and you stop for a break every 4 hours, that’s approximately 3.5 stops - to make things easier, bump up to 4 stops. 4 stops, each lasting 30 minutes = 2 hours added to base time for transport.
3. The shipment includes 3 pets but one pet is already included in the time for each stop. That leaves us with 2 additional pets that each need 15 minutes per stop. So, 2 x 15 minutes = 30 minutes per stop, 30 minutes per stop x 4 stops = 2 hours added to base time for transport
To find the total transport time so far, add the baseline transport time plus any additional hours added to the baseline.
14 hours baseline transport
2 hours driving break time
+ 2 hours pet maintenance
18 total hours to transport
Wait, you’re not done yet :) The second part of your calculation is estimating how many days your transport will take, not just how many hours. This is how you arrive at your real ETA.
PRO TIP #2 - Use PRO TIP #1 to calculate ETA
The reason why you need more than the hours a transport will take to determine ETA is that every individual has a “daily drive capacity”. This represents the average number of hours per day that you plan on being behind the wheel. Most drivers average a daily drive capacity of about 12 hours, but of course, you can determine if yours is less or more. But let’s continue using a 12-hour daily drive capacity for this explanation.
If the estimated transport time calculated is 12 hours or below (including all breaks, pet maintenance, fuel, and food stops), then your trip will be completed in a day or less. However, in the sample transport calculated above, the total transport time estimated (including all stops and breaks) is 18 hours - which exceeds the daily transport capacity we are using.
To figure out the number of days this transport is expected to take, divide the total number of hours estimated by your daily drive capacity:
18 hours/12 hours daily = 1.5 days
So the correct way to frame your ETA to a customer is 36-48 hours, or a day and a half to two days - not 18 hours. One last thing on ETAs – please don't forget to account for the time zones!
As for location sharing, experienced transporters that carry more than 1 pet at a time recommend that you ONLY share your current location between the stops and breaks, and begin actual route sharing AFTER you have completed all the previous stops on your route and you can now confidently meet the ETA suggested by the software used for the purpose. The reason for this suggestion is that this way you will avoid any misunderstandings caused by having a different ETA than the one suggested by the app, as it cannot anticipate any road-related delays, stops for breaks, or sleep.
All of the above can be summed up as transparency. And a transparent approach, combined with basic math skills, results in punctuality. These two qualities lead to positive feedback, referrals, and tips. That, in turn, gets you more shipments, more profit, and more satisfaction living the driver lifestyle!
Your comments and suggestions are welcome below!