In the opening scene of the original Toy Story movie, cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks) tells Andy’s toys that they each need a “moving buddy” for their relocation to a new home. “If you don’t have one, get one!” he admonishes. “We don’t want any toys left behind.”
This is also my message to you about a client maintenance program. If you don’t have one, get one. Otherwise your firm may be left behind.
Yes, I’m continuing to beat the drum about maintenance programs in this post. Why? Because now would be the best time to start planning for 2013. Each year, I work with more estate planning firms that have implemented a maintenance program in their practices. And the firms that start planning over the summer are better positioned for an effective roll-out.
Just in case you need a recap, a maintenance program is a way to keep clients engaged with your firm for the long run. Typically, clients receive certain services on an annual basis for a set fee. (Usually programs are complimentary for the first year.) Services provided might include some variation on the following:
- An annual meeting with a paralegal or attorney to review the client’s plan
- Simple changes to estate planning documents, including law changes
- A “reasonable” number of phone calls to the firm
- Updating advance directives and enrollment in a healthcare directives registry
- An electronic vault for storing and sharing important wealth management documents
- An annual group client meeting and/or periodic educational seminar(s) for clients and family (e.g. trustees)
But even more than that, having a maintenance program changes the nature of your interaction with clients. It’s about moving from a transactional approach to a relationship-based approach.
Maintenance programs foster long-term relationships. They help position you as the “family counselor,” as a trusted advisor who will be there for your clients today, tomorrow and for years to come. With a maintenance program, you convincingly remind clients that “they’ve got a friend in you.”
Each year, you’ll learn more about your clients’ specific situations, and you’ll be able to provide better guidance. Clients will become more comfortable, both emotionally and intellectually, with you and your staff. They won’t want to start over with another estate planning attorney. In an economist’s language: you’ve raised the switching cost.
Without a maintenance program, you’re probably leaving money on the table: future revenue from the client’s restatements, advanced planning, trust admin or probate, plus the potential referrals from that client.
So how do you make a maintenance program workable and profitable in the short run as well as the long run? What are the keys to financial and operational success? Will Buzz and Woody ever understand the benefits of offering a maintenance program? More on that in the next post. Or contact me if you can’t wait.
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.
Academy Guest Blogger
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
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