At Forrester, we define customer experience as how customers perceive their interactions with your company.

Over the past few years, my colleagues and I have written a lot about the perceptions piece of that definition. Here’s a quick overview: Customers’ perceptions occur on three different levels, which we collectively refer to as the customer experience pyramid. At the base of the pyramid is “meets needs.” Do customers perceive that you’ve met their basic needs and provided value through the interaction? Then we layer on “easy.” Do customers perceive that you’re easy to do business with or that they have to jump through a bunch of hoops? And at the top of the pyramid is “enjoyable.” Do customers perceive that you’re enjoyable to do business with — that you’re connecting with them on some personal, emotional level?

Now let’s talk about the interactions themselves. Customers interact with your company at all stages of the customer journey: discover, evaluate, buy, access, use, get support, leave, and re-engage. But it’s not enough to know that these interactions exist. If you want to shift your customers’ perceptions, you have to examine those interactions on a deeper level. Specifically, you need to look at the types of interactions customers have and the qualities that those interactions embody. And that’s where your business model and your brand come into play.

Your business model determines the types of interactions customers will have. How can your customers interact with you? Can they buy your products and services directly from your mobile app — or do they need to go to a brick-and-mortar third-party retailer? Do you have self-service customer support on your website — or do your customers call an outsourced call center when they need help? The answers to these questions are deeply rooted in your company’s business model.

For example, Zipcar’s car sharing business model necessitated de-centralized, nonstaffed access to vehicles, which in turn drove a need for keycard (and then mobile phone) vehicle entry — a type of interaction never conceived of with business models based on vehicle ownership or centralized, staffed rental locations. And mobile operator giffgaff built its business model around social platforms and a tiny number of core employees. The result? When customers have questions, they speak to each other — not to giffgaff.

While the connection between business model and customer experience might be obvious, I don’t find that many companies actively consider the two in tandem.

Brand values drive the qualities of those interactions.  What does your customer experience really feel like? Do your sales reps maintain an air of professional distance — or do they chit chat with your customers about their plans for the upcoming weekend? Do you have generic stock photography on your Facebook page — or custom imagery that evokes a particular emotion? The answers to these questions represent the more intangible attributes of your customer experience, and they’re deeply rooted in your brand. They’re what make any given interaction feel like it really belongs to your company — and only your company.

For example, if you walk up to a check-in kiosk at an airport and the word “Howdy!” scrolls across the screen in gigantic letters, you’re likely flying on JetBlue. Or walk into any Westin lobby, and you’ll surely be greeted with its signature white tea scent and tasteful floral displays, both of which reinforce the hotel’s calming, sophisticated brand.

Companies that want to differentiate their customer experience need to go beyond find-and-fix efforts that result in incremental improvements. They need to innovate the customer experience by refocusing on their business model and brand.

I'll be speaking more about innovation, business models, and brand at Forrester's Customer Experience Forum East, June 25th and 26th in New York. Hope to see you there!