What’s a client care program? It’s a value added, after care program in a service-based business. These programs often include access to future services at a flat rate price for a set period of time. For example, in an estate-planning practice, a client care program could include access to the attorney and/or amendments to a client’s estate-planning documents on an annual basis for a set flat fee.
When considering whether to incorporate this type of program into your practice, you should think about: (1) why you might want to create a client care program; (2) whether to start big or small; (3) things you might want to include in your program; (4) whether to bundle your program with the estate plan or charge separately; (5) how to manage the program; and (6) the starting point to create a program.
So, why might you want to create a client care program for your clients? There are 12 main reasons:
1. Get more regular contact. Create a system in which the client sees you more regularly, increasing the likelihood that her plan will be successful. This is probably the most important reason. We all have clients who treat their plan as one-and-done, never expecting to do anything more, no matter what we tell them. Having a client care program that builds in consistent contact with you the attorney is more likely to motivate a client to update her plan when needed.
2. Add recurring revenue. Many estate-planning attorneys will see a new client, create her estate plan and then hope that the client will return in the future for updates or additional planning. Why not build in an opportunity for your clients to come back to you on a more regular basis? The services offered don’t need to be overly complicated to provide real value to your clients. Having recurring revenue from a client care program can also help in income planning for slow months.
3. Have active client touch. This is also referred to as top-of-mind awareness. The program can be designed to give clients special treatment and extra contact with you, which is likely to lead to more referrals.
4. Get referrals. Incentivize clients to make referrals. You can include special client events in your program in which clients can invite friends and family to come with them, exposing you to more prospective clients.
5. Cross-promote. A client care program also gives you more opportunity to cross promote other areas of the firm. For example, if you’re an estate-planning firm, but you also practice in business entities, elder law or asset protection, you could create a special educational event for your program members.
6. Improve overall satisfaction. Help ensure that your clients stay your clients and that they have better overall satisfaction. They feel more connected to you if they’re hearing from you or are seeing you more frequently. I can’t tell you the number of people who have come to me with a trust that was drafted by another attorney who didn’t maintain a relationship with her client. Sometimes the client can’t even recall the name of the attorney, which, in my opinion, is a sad state of affairs.
7. Obtain proper asset funding. Help ensure that your clients’ assets remain properly funded in their trust or coordinated with their estate plan. Updates to asset schedules provide an easy way to add real value to a client care program.
8. Create marketing edge. You create a marketing edge over your competition with your referral sources. Sending a copy of your client care program brochure to referral sources or bringing it with you to lunch dates shows how you are unique and different (and how much you care about your clients).
9. Market to your members. It also gives you a reason to market to your client care members. If they signed up for this extra and special relationship with you, they’re expecting to have a deeper client-attorney relationship and are more likely to be interested in other services you offer.
10. Create exclusive relationship. Your client care program members are also in what I would call an “exclusive” relationship with you, which makes them feel special and different.
11. Launch new practice area. A client care program can also aide in launching a new practice area or product (trustee handbook, other services you offer, special offers just for them, retirement plan workshops, etc.).
12. Establish yourself as knowledgeable. Establish yourself as the wise person in your practice area and show clients that you care enough to make the effort to protect them.
Big or Small?
Next, let’s get into the issue of whether to start big or to begin small in your program. It’s a lot easier to build the plan small and handle the demands as your team takes on new tasks. You can always expand your offerings and price point later. Also, more clients are likely opt in to the program if the annual fee is lower.
Services to Include
Examples of services you might include in your program are:
(1) An annual plan review meeting;
(2) Re-execution of power of attorney documents;
(3) Re-execution of health care directives;
(4) Special “members-only” events;
(5) Unlimited updates to plan documents;
(6) Limited updates to plan documents;
(7) Updates to the asset schedule;
(8) Trust funding updates;
(9) A trust restatement;
(10) Unlimited access to you;
(11) Limited access to you;
(12) Access to a special cell number to call to reach you (during certain hours or anytime);
(13) Healthcare document banking service for healthcare documents (that is, legal directives, Docubank);
(14) Estate Plan Document Banking Service (for example, ClientDocx); and
(15) Free participation in firm signature events.
Should you bundle the program with your client’s trust plan? Do you include the program initially when they come to you as a new client, or do you structure the program as a stand-alone offering? There are arguments in favor of both.
Having it as a stand-alone offering adds more to the annual revenue bottom line and you’ll have clients who want to be in this type of relationship with you. However, you can also accomplish an increase in overall revenue by raising your plan rates slightly to compensate for the price you would have charged for the program as a stand-alone. You’ll also have more people on your plan in the first year if you bundle the program with your trust plan. If you choose the latter, make sure that you wow your clients in that first year, so that they’ll want to remain on your program.
How do you get clients to sign up for the program if you’re offering it as a stand-alone program at an additional charge? First and foremost, you must build a program that you whole-heartedly believe in and that you know provides value to your clients. If you don’t believe in it, they’ll see this as an additional option that they do not need. Create a brochure to give to clients at the initial meeting, providing something to refer to when discussing it with them. Explain in story fashion why many estate plans fail and how your program helps prevent that from ever happening.
There are a couple of ways to manage the program. One is to have a staff person in your office in charge of fulfilling the services promised, minus any services that you’re personally going to handle (such as annual review meetings). Make sure to set up a workflow system that ensures each step is completed in a timely fashion and that renewal reminder letters are sent on time.
A second way to manage it is outsourcing. Companies that specialize in outsourced services, such as trust funding and maintenance program management, can be of great help when you are just getting started.
Where to Start?
The first step is to ink out a few basic services that you know would be of great value to your clients. Then, draft up a brochure discussing those services and the annual cost. Next, send a letter to your existing client base letting them know about this exciting new program that you’ve developed, why you’ve created it and how they can join and receive the benefits. You may even want to offer a limited time credit against their first year program fee (but, make sure you put a deadline on the offer). Then, for all new clients going forward, have the program brochure in the initial meeting and make sure to discuss this option with them. You’ll also want to maintain a database with reminders for all of your program clients.