When it comes to online commerce, the point at which money changes hands has often been the moment a sale falls apart.

What was a carefully crafted brand experience becomes off-putting and complicated. There are confusing redirects, forms that clash with the rest of the design, and a lot of sensitive data that needs to be entered. 

But that’s now changing, and fast. Innovative companies have stepped up their game, using technologies that make a much easier payment experience possible. That in turn is changing consumer expectations about what a payment transaction should be like. You now need to bring your payments experience up to this new standard, or risk getting beaten by competitors who do.

Payment is not the main objective of any transaction. It’s just the last mile of a decision that has already been made, but it’s a big part of that whole experience. It needs to be valued and curated and managed in the same fashion as the rest of your customer experience.

In the past, customers accepted payment struggles as part of buying online, because that was the industry standard. That standard is rapidly changing as new technology gives companies the ability to extend customer intimacy to payments.

At minimum, you have to make it so payments aren’t part of what the customer is struggling with. But there’s also an opportunity to exceed expectations and use a customer-intimate payment experience as a competitive differentiator. In the platform economy, the companies that understand and execute on that will win.

Removing barriers for your customers is a hallmark of customer intimacy, and customer intimacy is one of three value disciplines that every company must master to dominate their market. A customer-intimate company has to get to know its customer at a deeper level with every interaction. It must understand what they want and need, sometimes even before they do. Payments are the last mile of customer intimacy.

Contrast that experience with the historic way of making payments online using a credit card or electronic transfer company. Credit cards were not designed to be secure in card-not-present transactions, and adding the necessary layers of security makes onboarding hard and checkout tedious.

Another challenge is that when you’ve filled your shopping cart and want to pay, you’re kicked over to a form on another website to complete the transaction, then kicked back to the original website once the transaction has concluded.

The original merchant, who has invested a lot of time and money in getting the customer to that point, loses their consistency of branding and customer experience because they lose control of the customer while the transaction is happening.

As a sales guy I can tell you, that’s a bad way to close a deal. You’re counting on someone else to take care of your hard-won customer. Even if the transaction goes well, the reality is when they’re sent back to your site, their experience is different than before they left. That’s not a customer-intimate payment experience.

Even if the customer completes the transaction, there’s still a lot that can go wrong. They think they paid, but don’t get a confirmation email. Or they get a call from the credit card company asking if they really meant to spend that much money. Or the product or service they wanted isn’t delivered. All these scenarios create uncertainty, confusion, and friction — none of which you want associated with your brand or your customer experience.

Customer intimacy isn’t just about making it easy to pay. It’s maintaining security, transparency and accountability across every facet of the experience. It’s making sure you stay close to your customer, and they know it’s you and you’re with them all the way.

Kurt Bilafer is global vice president of sales & success at WePay.