What is that sets brands like Apple, Nordstrom and Nike apart from their competitors? It isn’t “customer satisfaction.” Lots of technology vendors, retailers, clothing makers and other types of companies have satisfied customers. What sets these brands, and outstanding performers in other industries, apart from their peers is reaching a level beyond mere satisfaction (which customers now expect): customer connection.

 Writing in 1to1 Media, Alan Zorfas reports that “while American business has obsessed over satisfaction—to the great benefit of the American consumer—it has reached commoditization. We ‘expect’ to be satisfied.” But what sets exceptional brands apart, according to Zorfas in The Secret to Customer Engagement, is their engagement with customers, creating a sense of connection: “Sixty-eight percent of Apple iPad’s customers ‘connect’ beyond satisfaction. In retail, 42 percent of Nordstrom’s customers connect at a higher level compared to 29 percent for Macy’s and 23 percent for Walmart.”

Zorfas goes on to provide statistics and recommendations for the banking industry specifically with regard to customer connection, noting that “customers who connect with their banks beyond satisfaction are three to four times more likely to buy more products and services, stay loyal, and tell friends. Connected bank customers are also five times more likely to blog about their brand and more than twice as likely to forward information directly to a friend or family member.”

Across industries, customer connection now drives increased brand loyalty, sales and referrals. So how do companies achieve this?

One key is to stop “hiding” your best people inside a wall of web technology. Generic contact forms, 800 numbers and “info@” email addresses do not foster connection. Engagement can happen only with real people. Make your people real, discoverable and connectable, by making it easy for buyers to find, evaluate and engage with them on your website and anywhere else they may be looking.

Customer satisfaction has become a commodity. People aren’t a commodity. Using web technology to expose your people, and encourage engagement, is a true differentiator that can also lead to exceptional business performance.