Interview with Angelo Piccirillo, partner at AVRillo

Angelo Piccirillo is partner and co-founder of AVRillo, which has enjoyed an award winning year. Jane Common at Today’s Conveyancer asked Angelo what the accolades means to AVRillo – and how he plans to keep winning them…

What’s your background Angelo: how did you get into in conveyancing?

“Well, I’m one of three brothers and each of us studied law at university. The two younger brothers – so that’s me and Tony – had Saturday jobs in estate agents before our degrees and carried on agency whilst studying so after we’d qualified as solicitors it made sense to move into conveyancing. From there Tony and I set up AVRillo 16 years ago with the aim of making the customer the priority in every conveyancing transaction. During the last 16 years we also set up two estate agencies of our own. When we first set up AVRillo it was just the pair of us in one room, building the office furniture, doing the post and making the coffee – now we have 42 members of staff. I still make the coffee though!

“In 2008 when the property crash came we had decided to move away from estate agency and focus exclusively on and invested in training our conveyancers’ estate agency skills and open plan environments taken from our agency days. We even have 8.00 am morning meetings with the entire staff as we did in agency. It gives everyone a common purpose.”

So the company ethos is all around customer service – how do you display that in practical terms?

“The company has grown on reputation, I’m proud to say, but I believe we’ve achieved high levels of customer satisfaction by looking after our staff. Tony and I wanted to make AVRillo a family-oriented business, with staff supporting each other in the way that family members do, and about four years ago we undertook a massive investment and hired staff upfront before we had the work for them – risky, maybe, but it’s paid off. We are still constantly on the look-out for hardworking, passionate people with common sense (which is not so common) so we can mentor them to become problem solvers with a great bedside manner.

“We really look after our staff with training sessions every morning at 8am – on how estate agents work and customer care, for example. Tony and I listen to speakers from other industries to find out how they’ve built their businesses up. That gives us a fresh perspective on ours which we then take back to the office and share with the staff. Our training academy is Law Society accredited to give CPD points and that shows our staff that we value them and that they have a career path with us.

“Our three core values are: support and family (so that’s staff treating each other like family members); going the extra mile and hard work. We have red letter points based around those values and if someone displays one of them they’ll be nominated by a colleague. So if a solicitor recognises that someone in hospitality has had a great call with a client or come in extra early to finish off some work that person will earn points which can be redeemed against experience days or meals out. And we have suggestion boxes all around the office where people can post – anonymously, if they choose – ideas to help us keep getting better.

“We love the way John Lewis treats its staff by really making them part of the family and it’s that atmosphere of inclusiveness that we’re trying to emulate. And, of course, if our staff are happy that creates a buzz that clients pick up on. People talk about coming into our office and being offered six cups of coffee within ten minutes of arriving. That’s the sort of open, friendly workplace we strive for – create that and the business will flow in.”

You’ve won a few awards this year: that must be testament to the fact your business philosophy is working?

“We won an Investors in People accreditation this year and that totally backed up our philosophy – in the report on AVRillo auditors praised us for encouraging self-responsibility among our staff and creating new leaders. So that was great – very encouraging and real recognition for the hard work we’ve all put in. Then, this year, we became part of the WOW awards, which is mainly for highlighting excellent service in the caring professions but we got runners-up in the ‘Putting Customers First’ category so that was pretty special.

“We’ve also won three Golds at the Sunday Times Conveyancer of the Year Awards – they were for Best Conveyancer, Best Small Conveyancer and Best Overall UK Conveyancer of any size – and two awards at the Modern Law Awards, including Gold for Best Client Care and Gold for Best Commitment to Training. On top of that at this year’s LFS awards we won gold for Best Small Conveyancing Firm and Silver for Best Use of Social Media and Web and we also won Silver in the Supplier of the Year: Professional Support category at the Negotiator Awards. So it’s been a hard and busy – but very rewarding – year.”

How else do you measure success?

“We’ve signed up to the Net Promoter Score for customer service, which Apple and John Lewis use. Every client who has used a business is asked one question: ‘how likely are you to recommend this company to family and friends?’ That’s scored on one to 10. Everybody who gives a score of between one and six is a detractor, meaning they weren’t really that happy with the service. Even if someone gives a six, which might seem sort of middle of the road, the truth is that, while they might not grumble about the service they’ve received, they probably won’t recommend it either. A seven or an eight is a neutral, which means if a cheaper company comes along next time the customer will probably opt for them. It’s only when we get up to a nine or 10 that the customer will become a promoter and that means they’ll sing the company’s praises and actively recommend them to everybody. If a company scores a zero overall using this system that’s neutral – everything above a zero is a positive and everything below a negative. Apple is plus 65 and we are plus 60, which I’m really proud of.”

How do you celebrate when you win an award, Angelo?

“Last time we had champagne at 11am and everyone dared me to do the Formula One thing and shake the bottle everywhere. That felt good!”

What are the big issues in conveyancing?

“Well there’s the whole issue around ‘Tesco Law’ – so the government allowing non-law firms to enter the market – and that concerns me. Cybercrime is another issue for any conveyancer but we have in-house IT and outsourced IT and – touch wood – we’re secure. Another issue that I gather is a concern from speaking to bosses at fellow companies is a lack of good staff. But we’re lucky there – we have amazing people working for us.”

How will you be approaching 2016?

“Our message to our staff is don’t get complacent as there’s always something new to learn. We are doing something special at AVRillo but there’s always room for improvement. Tony and I live by motto that too.”

And do you think it will be a good year for the property market?

“Yes, I do – the interest rates are low and we have a majority government. Everybody I speak to at estate agencies is positive too – they’re all looking for small but steady growth in 2016. That’s a good environment to be working in so bring it on.”

For more information about AVRillo, log on to www.avrillo.co.uk

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