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Alexandra Watson: “Every CEO should know the power of a referral”

Customer appreciation isn’t just a word from the board room — it’s an action, an event, and a celebration. We need to appreciate that our customers are our business. We need to appreciate their loyalty, their feedback, and their passion for what we do or sell. We need them to KNOW we appreciate them choosing our products […]

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Customer appreciation isn’t just a word from the board room — it’s an action, an event, and a celebration.

We need to appreciate that our customers are our business. We need to appreciate their loyalty, their feedback, and their passion for what we do or sell. We need them to KNOW we appreciate them choosing our products and services over others.

Personally when my customer has a birthday they get a card ‘SCENT’ with love and a scent circle of their favourite fragrance.

Twice a year I host a customer appreciation event. I have them over to my home to enjoy great food, hand out a free goodie bag, and let them trial our new products and fragrances.

It’s not about selling to them but rewarding them with little thank you. They get a chance to share with me what they love from our products, and what they want to see more of.

It won’t take a lot of thought to come up with a fun way to appreciate your customers.


As part of my series about the five things, a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexandra Watson. Alexandra and her husband Scott have built a successful business (wickfreecandles.co.uk) selling flameless fragrance products in Europe.

Alexandra left school and home at the age of 18 to make her own way in life. Her career started with customer care roles in social welfare and double glazing, and working these low paying jobs Alexandra put herself through six years of college and university to pursue a career in Marketing and PR.

Alexandra wanted to be her own boss from the age of 25 but fear, lack of confidence, and feeling that she didn’t have that ‘lightbulb’ idea stopped her from following her dream. However a travel opportunity along with a break from 9–5 work gave Alexandra the time and space to start her first business in Fair Trade.

Three start-up business failures (and many life lessons) later Alexandra discovered the direct sales model, and working together with Scott has found lasting success. She now lives in southern Spain with Scott, where they are full-time parents to their adorable but active 6 years old.


Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Striking out on my own at 18 meant taking any work I could. I found myself doing a range of poorly paid, mind-numbing customer care jobs. I’d originally planned to become a police officer at 21, so these jobs were supposed to be a stop-gap until I could apply.

Three years is a long time to think over your career plans however, and I came to the conclusion that fighting crime wasn’t for me! With no real career path in mind I decided to study for qualifications in Marketing and PR — it looked glamorous and a great place to use my creative, arty side.

After six years of juggling part-time studies, a young family, and full-time work I finished up with a postgraduate degree in Marketing Management, zero college debt, and high hopes.

However as most marketers will tell you, the reality of the industry is far from the glamour that most people imagine! What followed was several years with Velcro Inc, Ford and Vauxhall writing product copy and climbing the corporate ladder.

My move into local government was supposed to be the pinnacle of my hard work. Finally, I had a company car, office, team of staff, and all the trappings of success — but there was a nagging voice in my head that told me I could do more.

I’d wanted to leave the rat race and be my own boss since 2000, but never felt I had the right business idea (or the confidence!). This was crazy given that part of my then job was writing political speeches for prominent members of Local Government, making them sound like the cleverest and most confident people in the room!

So when Scott (my now husband) got a rugby contract in Ireland I saw my chance to be brave!

We left the UK in 2007 and, while Scott played rugby, I set up a fair trade retail business. The business had huge potential but it went under in 2010 due to the brutal recession at that time in Ireland.

I saw losing my first business as a huge personal failure and, developed depression and acute anxiety. The recession meant that Scott took a huge pay cut also — and debt began to mount. For a while things were extremely bleak, and we faced the very real risk of both bankruptcy and losing our UK home.

I tried to get back into the workforce, but no one was hiring. Then, completely by chance, I heard that Scentsy, a USA direct sales company, was looking for people to partner with them in Europe.

I knew the power of direct sales from friends I’d met doing fairs and shows with my Fair Trade business, and I knew my strong work ethic could stand me well with this industry model. Better yet I could start a new business with very low investment, zero risks, and the backing of a huge USA company.

Plus Scentsy sold the product I wished I’d invented — the most amazingly fragranced flameless candles!

Now in our ninth year, together with Scott, we’ve built a European wide sales business and mentor a large international sales team. I head up our personal sales, marketing, and team-building work, and Scott mentors our up and coming leaders.

I’ve finally been able to find a place to use all those customer care and marketing skills to my best ability. Together Scott and I are living proof that the direct sales model works — if you do!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

Being desperate to make the new business work we booked our first event and invited a trainer from Scentsy to join us. We arrived to find no electricity at the stand, and as we were selling electric wax warmers and melts this was clearly a problem!

Scott had the bright idea of buying a wax burner with a tealight candle from the next stand and started to melt Scentsy wax cubes on it. The trainer arrived to find customers gathering round to smell the safe, flameless candle bars. We were confident with having the crowd around us that we were making a great impression on our American colleague.

The trainer commented on how incredible the Scentsy fragrances were, because even with no electric warmers on you could smell the scents from out of the door. Scott grinned and showed him the candle burner he’d stashed under the table…well let’s say it didn’t stay lit long as the trainer was seriously not impressed with our decision to burn the ‘safe FLAMELESS candle’!

We’d wanted to make a great impression but nine years on we are still hearing “Ah, you’re that English couple who burned the Scentsy melts!”. Thankfully they laugh as they say it, although that’s maybe more at our own beetroot — red faces!

Takeaways from this? It’s too easy to get well known for doing the wrong things — so always try and do the right thing and think about the long term effects of snap decisions!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Without a doubt I’d say Scott, my husband, and business partner. I’m not exaggerating or being twee in saying that he’s been a huge influence in my business career.

Back at the beginning of our relationship I’d come home from work and unload about the office politics, the stress and general boredom Local Government work entailed.

One day he looked me in the eye and said “Well just quit! You’re always talking about being your own boss, so just do it!”. He says (to this day!) that my face was an absolute picture. Scott is 10 years younger than me, so when he said this I just thought “OK, you’re 21 years old, no responsibilities, mortgage or career aspirations — what do you know!?!”. 
 
 But he was right, and those words stuck in my head and played out every time my work got in the way of living. Months later he was offered a rugby contract in Ireland and asked me to go with him. I didn’t need any persuasion, life doesn’t offer you many chances! I knew I had to grab it, and I quit my much fought for a career the next day. Five weeks later we were living in Ireland.

Scott’s rugby contract meant we had a home, car and enough money to live on, so I didn’t need to work. I filled my time volunteering and doing night school courses whilst he encouraged me to follow my dream to have my own company.

When I set up Fair Eire, my first company, he drove miles to events, carried the boxes, and froze along with me as I tried to make sales. He cheered my successes and told me to get back up when I fell.

In our current business we are equal partners, and he gives me the confidence, space, and support to achieve incredible things. He never lets me take the easy route or produce less than I’m capable of — he’s not afraid to tell me straight if he thinks I’m doing it wrong!

He’s helped me to become the person he knew I could be all those years ago when he casually said ‘quit your job’. And one of our proudest moments together was when we were the only couple nominated as one of six global finalists for the 2018 Scentsy Shining Star award (our company’s highest honour) and we were the sole European finalist chosen.

Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?

At its most basic level — businesses need customers to stay afloat!

In this digital, one-click, the on-demand world it’s easier than ever for a customer to find the fastest, cheapest, easiest product or service on the market. Customer loyalty is fleeting if it’s even there at all anymore.

To stay in a profitable business we need to attract customers AND find a way to keep them loyal to our offerings. We don’t just want to be a one-hit-wonder — so we should also focus heavily on customer retention.

It can cost up to five times more to attract one new customer than retain an existing one. Increasing customer retention rates by 5% increase profits by 25% to 95%, according to research done by Frederick Reichheld of Bain & Company.

Personally, we don’t do anything outrageous or out of the ordinary to retain our customers. We do it through providing exceptional customer service which creates an enjoyable customer experience.

It’s also crucial to WOW your customers to generate customer referrals. Word of mouth is the MOST incredible sales tool out there, and every company should be giving the greatest customer service to harness this customer goodwill and then encourage them to spread the word!

In direct sales we’re a referral business. We don’t have huge advertising and marketing budgets to introduce the products to the masses. We’re a word of mouth business, like so many start-ups out there.

So when I WOW a customer with great customer service, and make their shopping experience simple and fun I make sure to ask them to share their joy with friends. I encourage and reward their referrals, and in every customer interaction I’m always mindful that my actions will impact those referrals (and future business!).

We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?

I think the trend for ‘bargains’ and low prices has meant that companies cut back on customer care. Either they feel there’s no need to wow customers because they’re buying solely based on price, or they just don’t care if the customer is only a one time buyer.

Customer retention and referrals just aren’t on their radar — too few companies understand the profitability of customer retention. By that, I mean how much marketing spend it takes to get the first sale, and how little it would take to get that repeat business through WOWING customers and encouraging referrals.

I’d say in the cases I’ve had appalling service it’s been down to companies not empowering their staff. They haven’t been given the authority or knowledge to be able to give refunds or problem solve, and therefore find it impossible to give excellent customer service.

When I worked for the retail giant Marks and Spencer, we were trained in customer care for six weeks, and were given the power to make major decisions, refunds, and more on customer accounts. They understood that their customers wanted customers to have their issues dealt with quickly, and with minimum fuss.

Many companies make getting a refund or resolving an issue complicated and time-consuming. In the age of the internet, this is unnecessary, and customers tend to construe it as a company being deliberately obstructive or uncaring.

These days we all have the power to solve issues with lightning speed, in turn wowing our customers and creating trust and brand loyalty. If you aren’t doing this, then your customer experience is in danger of being viewed as seriously lacking, and your long term business future is at risk.

Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer? Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?

Yes, I certainly think that increased competition is forcing some companies to look for ways to differentiate themselves, and wowing customers is one way to stand out. That said, I think a company’s customer care drive must come from a genuine desire to serve your customers. If not you’re quickly found out as a fake — being honest and authentic is SO important.

As I said earlier, companies that want to be hugely profitable should be focusing resources on customer retention. We know that the way to do this is by providing incredible customer service and making every interaction with our company a pleasant experience.

If those two reasons aren’t enough to wake up a company to the need to offer outstanding customer service, then the ease with which negative experiences spread should be!

At university they taught us that a customer tells 40 people if they have a negative experience and only nine if they have a good experience. With online reviews, Google, and Facebook scoring systems the ease with which these reviews can go viral means that a figure of 40 could become 40,000 in a matter of hours!

Worse still, the complainer can add media such as videos and photos and the public can comment on these reviews to add social proof to the complaints. It’s a PR manager’s worst nightmare! So it follows that any company wanting to stay in business has to minimise this risk. Resolving a customer’s issues quickly and fully to their satisfaction is the way to address this.

Of course, the upshot of our digital age also means that more than nine people will likely hear of a customer’s joy too. Scroll through your social media and you can see tales of awesome food, great haircuts, wonderful family days out all complete with links to those companies who provided the ‘WOW’ factor for them. So encourage your customers to share their joy (and drive up those all-important referrals).

Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?

In my line of work most of the ‘WOWING’ my customers tell me about comes in the form of comments like:

“I’m so happy! My house smells amazing and my husband isn’t blowing out my candles anymore!”

These are often posted online and shared with cute images, so it helps our referral business build (again, such a great positive of social media!).

One very sweet customer has been so WOWED by my customer care that she baked my family some shortbread for Christmas! All I do is make sure I rush her bars over to her when she runs out, and always have her favourite fragrances on hand. Sometimes it’s not grand expensive gestures that make a WOW!

Scott and I do a lot through our business to help others, and also just to give back. Once the Mum of a very sick little boy contacted me to see if we had a spare ‘Sebastian Super Buddy’. This soft toy was her sons must have teddy for every operation he had, and it was badly damaged from attending over 20 operations in two years. I searched high and low for a replacement, found one, and paid to send it over. Her joy and comfort remain in my memory to this day. I have another spare tucked away should she need it!

Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?

All of the WOW experiences I have given customers during nine years have meant that the sales arm of our business has flourished despite moving countries three times. In direct sales your customer base is often locally based, and if you move away (even to a new city) you could lose them to another local consultant.

However, I’m proud to have retained my top customers and grown my customer base with each move. I always reward those customers staying loyal to me (some for nearly nine years!) because apart from being very grateful to them, I always want to give them my best service.

Knowing your customers, their backstories, their fragrance loves and dislikes, and taking the time to send a new catalogue and samples can easily create customer ‘WOW’. A card to say you are sorry for a loss or a small gift to celebrate a special birthday can create a sense of well being in customers that no special offer or price cut will deliver.

Ok, so large companies might not be able to do this — but every small start-up and mid-size should make every effort to get as personal as they can.

Having a successful direct sales business is as much about new referrals as retaining customers. Again I’m thrilled that I have continued to grow my customer bases in areas I have lived in thanks to people positively spreading my name.

In Ireland I lived in three different towns, each time building a new customer base quickly — mainly because I’m genuinely interested in other people. I wanted them to buy products that suited their needs, not just sell them the most expensive of things! When products broke I sorted out replacements quickly, and no matter how much financial strain we were under personally I got their new products out first before getting the refunds done.

My customers can recommend me as they’re safe in the knowledge that I won’t let them down! That’s the ripple effect I have always sought to create, and in fact achieved, by having a focus on WOWING my customers.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.

1. Customers can smell a fake! ALWAYS come from a place of genuine desire to serve your customers as best you can in every interaction.

When you are creating a customer experience and focusing on

giving excellent customer service you HAVE to come from a deep place of wanting to serve others.

Having a service focus is a mindset, it’s ‘giving more than you take’. It’s putting the happiness of your customers above the profits, and understanding the goodwill you will get. In its truest forms it’s all about true appreciation for the business that these people give you. As I said before, without customers we have no business. We have to put people before profit!

So if you aren’t service focused and are more concerned about profits and ‘business focus’ then hire someone to lead up your service side. Delegate it, find the money for it, invest in it. I really don’t think with customer loyalty at the all-time low it’s currently at that any of us can afford not to make our service to our customers a key focus.

2. Customer appreciation isn’t just a word from the board room — it’s an action, an event, and a celebration.

We need to appreciate that our customers are our business. We need to appreciate their loyalty, their feedback, and their passion for what we do or sell. We need them to KNOW we appreciate them choosing our products and services over others.

Personally when my customer has a birthday they get a card ‘SCENT’ with love and a scent circle of their favourite fragrance.

Twice a year I host a customer appreciation event. I have them over to my home to enjoy great food, hand out a free goodie bag, and let them trial our new products and fragrances.

It’s not about selling to them but rewarding them with little thank you. They get a chance to share with me what they love from our products, and what they want to see more of.

It won’t take a lot of thought to come up with a fun way to appreciate your customers.

3. Retention of customers should be a key component of all businesses, in both the on and offline worlds.

To retain our customers I use an online system from AMI that triggers me to make meaningful customer contact at key points — it’s like my virtual office assistant!

I message to thank customers for online orders (those I haven’t sold to and thanked face to face). Two weeks after the orders I check in to make sure they love their new products and are comfortable with using the. And every two months I’m reminded to check if they’re running low on waxes or oils, and recommend any new fragrances I think they might like.

I’ve seen customer retention skyrocket from using a simple digital system. It costs 6 dollars per month and has increased our retained customer sales by over 50% per month in 2019.

4. Every CEO should know the power of a referral — Too many don’t!

It’s simply the cheapest and easiest way to get new customers — by creating a positive buzz around your business, its products, and services. If you WOW customers every time they interact with your business and products they’ll tell others — it’s human nature to be excited about and share the things we love.

Companies can make it easy for a customer to make a referral, and where appropriate incentivise it as well. I think it’s a far better use of marketing funds to give a reward for a great customer lead than to stick up an ad on a billboard and hope the ‘right’ someone reads it!

Personally, to make it easy for our customers to refer us I give them a leaflet with every order asking them to recommend us if they’re pleased with the products or service they’ve received.

Companies should never be afraid to ask for referrals — and giving rewards for those who refer is another easy way to WOW. Customers love something for nothing!

5. Customer WOWING is about SERVING the customer, and that can be literal. If you are a CEO hiding in an office, get out of there and get on the shop floor, serve those customers, and get personal!

You can’t lead from behind an office door! Let your staff see that the things you say about appreciating and WOWING your customers are REAL. Real enough to get out of your safe space and in front of the people actually buying your services or products!

When I worked for Phones 4 U in Marketing we had one day each month spent in a store. I came up with so many amazing marketing concepts from speaking to customers, hearing what they loved and loathed. I could see the gaps in our customer care programme and from customer feedback came inspiration for improvements and new ideas.

Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?

As I mentioned above set up a referral programme with rewards — it’s a great way to create a double WOW for a customer! Firstly they’re wowed by your initial service and then they’re wowed because you want to reward them for sharing their recommendation of your company.

Make sure that customers have a variety of easy ways open to them to post reviews and share their thoughts about your company’s products or services. Bear in mind that your older markets might not be so tech-savvy, and give people the ability to make reviews both on and offline. Also, remember that not everyone wants their thoughts made public — so always ask for permission before posting feedback or using it in marketing!

Feature happy customers in your marketing and newsletters, and let them tell stories about what they have got from using your products or services. People aren’t idiots and can spot a marketing spin a mile off. However, honest, true customer reviews that they’re happy to share our marketing gold, so make sure your marketing and PR department hear about them!

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would like to offer a micro banking service for fair trade businesses and help with start-ups for women and young adults who are marginalised or impoverished.

I loved working with people producing fair trade goods, especially women’s groups. Hearing the struggles they endure on a daily basis to provide for their families was heart-breaking. These are bright and enterprising women and teenagers who want to make a difference in their lives, family, and community.

Finding the start-up capital for their businesses is often one of the things preventing them from capitalising on their entrepreneurial abilities. So if I could provide the capital, and help with routes to market, and Scott runs the business mentoring for them I know we could help to make a huge difference.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/ABwickfree

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wickfreecandles.co.uk

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/alexandrawickfree/

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/wickfreecandlesscentsydirector/

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/wickfreecandles1/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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