I recently returned from the Academy’s semi-annual Summit in Williamsburg, VA. As always, it was wonderful to reunite with the Academy members. This cohesive group has a great deal of camaraderie and energy, and I always look forward to going.
I have been attending these Summits for 15 years. What I find striking each time is just how much a relationship can develop in short spurts over a long period. I see these folks for a few days at a time, twice a year. We catch up on changes in their firms and changes in their personal lives. It’s similar to the relationship with an old friend or with out-of-town extended family. We’re not in each other’s lives on a daily basis, but it’s great to come together, catch up and reconnect.
It’s like this with your estate planning clients, too. This is why, I think, the Academy is stressing to its estate planning firms the importance of having an annual client maintenance program and helping firms establish them. (For those of you not familiar with this term, a “maintenance program” is a set of annual client services delivered to the client for a set annual fee. It often includes basic document updates and client education/appreciation programs, among other offerings.)
Yes, the obvious goals of a client maintenance program are to help clients keep their estate plans up-to-date, and to add some extra income to the bottom line in the short term. But even more fundamentally, the goal is to nurture the ongoing relationship between the attorney and the client.
A maintenance program creates the structure that allows firms to reconnect with clients at least annually, and to do so efficiently. You and your clients can see each other in the flesh once a year (or at least offer them the opportunity to see you); clients learn something useful and maybe even have fun at your annual client education or client appreciation day. Some years, you may empathize with them over a death or illness that results in the need to make a change in their estate plan; other times, your staff may answer a quick question that puts a client’s mind at ease.
These brief but periodic contacts make clients feel connected to you, and you to them.
A maintenance program helps firms achieve that holy grail of estate planning — the long-term client relationship — where the client considers you an ongoing trusted advisor. You become someone clients think to turn to in a time of new need, new financial opportunity, or family crisis.
Why? Clients feel that they can easily pick up where they left off with you last. Reaching out to your firm poses a smaller psychological barrier and takes less emotional work for them, because they don’t feel that they’re recreating the relationship from scratch.
Does it take some work to create a maintenance program? Sure. But maybe not even as much as you think. And, there are also tools and systems that can help you do it.
Randi J. Siegel, MBA, is the President of DocuBank (docubank.com), the largest advance directives registry in the U.S., which ensures that the emergency information and healthcare directives of its 190,000 enrollees are immediately available 24/7/365. Working with estate planning professionals since 1997, Randi frequently speaks at national estate planning conferences and has appeared on radio and television as an authority on registries. She is active in health policy and health education related to advance care planning and advance directives and serves as Pennsylvania liaison to the National Healthcare Decisions Day initiative. Randi is an ongoing contributor to the Academy blog.
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