note demonetisation

From wholesalers to daily-wage earners, demonetisation has hurt all Indians who use cash

There's less work, the poor are eating less, and no one knows when it's going to end.

Standing on the busy pavement opposite Mumbai Central railway station, Sandeep Yadav had his eyes fixed on every taxi stopping by. Whenever he saw a cab piled with luggage, he rushed towards it – along with at least three other hamali workers – almost begging to be chosen as the coolie.

“We are around 10-15 hamali workers living on this pavement, and usually there is enough work for all of us,” said 19-year-old Yadav, who ferries luggage from taxis to local trains for Rs 50 per 60 kg. “I normally earn Rs 400 or 500 a day, but today I’ve barely made Rs 40 in half a day. It has been like this for almost four days.”

Santosh Yadav waits for load-carrying work outside Mumbai Central station. Photo: Aarefa Johari
Santosh Yadav waits for load-carrying work outside Mumbai Central station. Photo: Aarefa Johari

Yadav’s daily income has reduced to a trickle ever since the central government’s demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes came into effect on November 9. Even though banks have been open for the past three days for citizens to exchange old notes with a face value of Rs 4,000 for new currency, the shortage of notes has severely hit all cash-based businesses in the country.

While daily wage labourers have predictably been hit the hardest, the impact of the sudden demonetisation of 86% of India’s circulated currency has been felt at almost all levels of the supply chain of small businesses.

The food chain  

Yadav’s dramatically reduced income, for example, is directly linked to a section of the leather goods industry in Mumbai. Every day, traders selling purses and other leather accessories transport goods from wholesale markets in South Mumbai to their retail stores in the northern suburbs. They are the main clients for load carriers like Yadav, who have no identity cards or bank accounts but survive on the peripheries of the leather goods business.

“Normally each trader needs at least four or five large sacks to be put in the train, but in the last few days, they are also bringing just one or two sacks,” said Yadav.

In the country’s financial capital, leather is just one of the myriad industries struggling without adequate cash in circulation. With consumers saving every Rs 100 note for their basic needs, all non-essential items – from clothes and masalas to auto parts and alcohol – have dropped off their consumption lists.

A small liquor shop in South Mumbai, for instance, has made almost no sales in three days, except to some addicts. “Even they have shifted from their regular branded drinks to cheaper, desi alcohol,” said a salesman from the shop. “We have almost no customers now, and have no idea when things will get back to normal.”

Grocery store owner Ajit Kumar has the same thought on his mind all day, even though the items he sells are much more essential. “People are buying things like rice, dal, wheat and sugar because they have to, but there are no takers for masalas, soaps and other goods,” said Kumar. “We could probably sell more if we accepted the old Rs 500 notes, but even the wholesalers we buy from are not accepting the old notes.”

Grocer Ajit Kumar with the daily-wage delivery boys who work for him.
Grocer Ajit Kumar with the daily-wage delivery boys who work for him.

The dearth of consumers in retail stores in turn affects suppliers higher up in the chain.

Vishal Motwani, an intermediary dealer in spare auto parts, has not done even 10% of his usual business since November 9. “Retailers are not earning themselves, so they find it difficult to buy wholesale from me,” said Motwani. “And wholesalers above me may sometimes accept cheques, but that doesn’t help because honestly, more than 70% of the market runs on cash even at the wholesale level.”

‘We are eating less, even the children’  

As businesses flail, some employers are helping their daily-wage labourers get by through stop gap measures. Grocer Ajit Kumar, for instance, plans to pay his four daily-wage delivery boys at the end of the month this time, but for now, he is giving each of them a small amount per day for their meals.

For other labourers earning daily wages, food has become the biggest casualty. “The men of my house are barely getting work these days, so we are all eating less, even the children,” said Archana Shaikh, the teen-aged daughter of a hamali worker in Mumbai.

Archana Shaikh with other children from her family on the pavement where they live.
Archana Shaikh with other children from her family on the pavement where they live.

Down the road from Shaikh, 60-year-old cobbler Navabai Bamne sits on the pavement waiting for customers, while trying to ignore the high fever she developed on Thursday. “Because of the fever I can’t go stand in any long bank line to get money, and my son is too worthless to bother helping me,” said Bamne, a widow. “We buy our ration once a week, but this week we won’t be able to. So I’ve barely eaten in three days trying to conserve the food left at home.”

Navabai Bamne has had a fever for three days.
Navabai Bamne has had a fever for three days.

Elsewhere in the city, coconut vendor Mohammed Aziz couldn’t help noticing the irony of the situation: the poor may be suffering the most, but the moneyed classes were not exempt from food problems either. Aziz’s nariyal pani stall is right opposite a local bank, and for the past three days, a long queue of citizens has been waiting under the sun, staring at his tempting tender coconuts.

“Here I am, waiting for some customers so I can earn my day’s meal, and there they are, unable to quench their thirst because they don’t have small change,” he said.

Mohammed Aziz at his coconut stall, right outside a bank with a long queue.
Mohammed Aziz at his coconut stall, right outside a bank with a long queue.
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Putting the patient first - insights for hospitals to meet customer service expectations

These emerging solutions are a fine balance between technology and the human touch.

As customers become more vocal and assertive of their needs, their expectations are changing across industries. Consequently, customer service has gone from being a hygiene factor to actively influencing the customer’s choice of product or service. This trend is also being seen in the healthcare segment. Today good healthcare service is no longer defined by just qualified doctors and the quality of medical treatment offered. The overall ambience, convenience, hospitality and the warmth and friendliness of staff is becoming a crucial way for hospitals to differentiate themselves.

A study by the Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions in fact indicates that good patient experience is also excellent from a profitability point of view. The study, conducted in the US, analyzed the impact of hospital ratings by patients on overall margins and return on assets. It revealed that hospitals with high patient-reported experience scores have higher profitability. For instance, hospitals with ‘excellent’ consumer assessment scores between 2008 and 2014 had a net margin of 4.7 percent, on average, as compared to just 1.8 percent for hospitals with ‘low’ scores.

This clearly indicates that good customer service in hospitals boosts loyalty and goodwill as well as financial performance. Many healthcare service providers are thus putting their efforts behind: understanding constantly evolving customer expectations, solving long-standing problems in hospital management (such as long check-out times) and proactively offering a better experience by leveraging technology and human interface.

The evolving patient

Healthcare service customers, who comprise both the patient and his or her family and friends, are more exposed today to high standards of service across industries. As a result, hospitals are putting patient care right on top of their priorities. An example of this in action can be seen in the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. In July 2015, the hospital launched a ‘Smart OPD’ system — an integrated mobile health system under which the entire medical ecosystem of the hospital was brought together on a digital app. Patients could use the app to book/reschedule doctor’s appointments and doctors could use it to access a patient’s medical history, write prescriptions and schedule appointments. To further aid the process, IT assistants were provided to help those uncomfortable with technology.

The need for such initiatives and the evolving nature of patient care were among the central themes of the recently concluded Abbott Hospital Leadership Summit. The speakers included pundits from marketing and customer relations along with leaders in the healthcare space.

Among them was the illustrious speaker Larry Hochman, a globally recognised name in customer service. According to Mr. Hochman, who has worked with British Airways and Air Miles, patients are rapidly evolving from passive recipients of treatment to active consumers who are evaluating their overall experience with a hospital on social media and creating a ‘word-of-mouth’ economy. He talks about this in the video below.

Play

As the video says, with social media and other public platforms being available today to share experiences, hospitals need to ensure that every customer walks away with a good experience.

The promise gap

In his address, Mr. Hochman also spoke at length about the ‘promise gap’ — the difference between what a company promises to deliver and what it actually delivers. In the video given below, he explains the concept in detail. As the gap grows wider, the potential for customer dissatisfaction increases.

Play

So how do hospitals differentiate themselves with this evolved set of customers? How do they ensure that the promise gap remains small? “You can create a unique value only through relationships, because that is something that is not manufactured. It is about people, it’s a human thing,” says Mr. Hochman in the video below.

Play

As Mr. Hochman and others in the discussion panel point out, the key to delivering a good customer experience is to instil a culture of empathy and hospitality across the organisation. Whether it is small things like smiling at patients, educating them at every step about their illness or listening to them to understand their fears, every action needs to be geared towards making the customer feel that they made the correct decision by getting treated at that hospital. This is also why, Dr. Nandkumar Jairam, Chairman and Group Medical Director, Columbia Asia, talked about the need for hospitals to train and hire people with soft skills and qualities such as empathy and the ability to listen.

Striking the balance

Bridging the promise gap also involves a balance between technology and the human touch. Dr. Robert Pearl, Executive Director and CEO of The Permanente Medical Group, who also spoke at the event, wrote about the example of Dr. Devi Shetty’s Narayana Health Hospitals. He writes that their team of surgeons typically performs about 900 procedures a month which is equivalent to what most U.S. university hospitals do in a year. The hospitals employ cutting edge technology and other simple innovations to improve efficiency and patient care.

The insights gained from Narayana’s model show that while technology increases efficiency of processes, what really makes a difference to customers are the human touch-points. As Mr. Hochman says, “Human touch points matter more because there are less and less of them today and are therefore crucial to the whole customer experience.”

Play

By putting customers at the core of their thinking, many hospitals have been able to apply innovative solutions to solve age old problems. For example, Max Healthcare, introduced paramedics on motorcycles to circumvent heavy traffic and respond faster to critical emergencies. While ambulances reach 30 minutes after a call, the motorcycles reach in just 17 minutes. In the first three months, two lives were saved because of this customer-centric innovation.

Hospitals are also looking at data and consumer research to identify consumer pain points. Rajit Mehta, the MD and CEO of Max Healthcare Institute, who was a panelist at the summit, spoke of the importance of data to understand patient needs. His organisation used consumer research to identify three critical areas that needed work - discharge and admission processes for IPD patients and wait-time for OPD patients. To improve wait-time, they incentivised people to book appointments online. They also installed digital kiosks where customers could punch in their details to get an appointment quickly.

These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.