One of the best outcomes from the social media explosion is that the customer service bar has been raised.

Now that more people are freely sharing their customer experiences — both good and bad — with the world, quality customer service has become imperative.

Yet with everybody stepping up efforts, the customer service function has to evolve for a small business to further differentiate itself. This is why the next logical step in the customer service evolution is customer engagement.

You’ve likely heard lots of talk lately about engaging customers as if it’s a new fad. Yet as a small business owner, you learned long ago that personalized service and in-depth expertise are the two main factors that inspire customers to return time and time again.

What’s different now is the business owner’s ability to foster these connections in between customer visits through social media. We’ll get to that shortly. For now, let’s clarify the difference between customer service and customer engagement.

Going beyond exceptional service, customer engagement is about delivering more personalized experiences based on authentic relationships with customers.

For example, in the traditional customer service model, a hardware store owner would provide recommendations on power drills for a do-it-yourselfer (DIY). The recommendations would be based on the business owner’s knowledge and would map to the customer’s expertise, needs, and budget. If the storeowner steered the homeowner in the right direction, the DIY would likely return.

Bringing this same experience up to the level of customer engagement, the business owner would come to learn more about the customer beyond the transaction. This might include information about the specific renovation projects underway, future projects, and perhaps a bit about the DIY’s home life.

Based on these nuggets of information, the storeowner can make recommendations on additional tools, offer information on how to save time or money on certain projects, and provide other advice based on industry knowledge and first-hand experience with home renovations.

The more the storeowner knows about the customer, the more personalized the customer experience will be. This, in turn, leads to repeat sales.

To read more of my thoughts on this topic, please visit American Express’ OPEN Forum.