A few weeks ago, I underwent arthroscopic surgery on my right shoulder for a ligament tear. Yes, the New Year didn't start on a great note. No, it wasn't from wild partying on New Year's Eve or from the overenthusiastic efforts in the gym that usually follow on January 2nd. I blame it on watching a little too much TV. Really? How is that, you might ask, but we will have to come back to that later.
"Cashless?" she asked. This was the lady managing the small hospital where I was to have my surgery. "Of course," I said, knowing this was going to cost me a little more than a small car. It got me thinking about how the word "cashless" has a different meaning in that world. Just in case you're wondering, having a cashless transaction means that the hospital presents an estimate to the insurance provider in advance, gets authorisation for it and proceeds with the surgery/treatment; the hospital's final bill is settled directly by the insurance provider, without squeezing your cash flow.
So, I went cashless and left the hospital "paying" a large bill, but not feeling the pinch. I thought to myself, this is great, and began appreciating the concept of medical cover. But my cashless journey was just beginning, it seemed.
Pongal, the harvest festival was now upon us and my driver took his annual holiday to go home. I wasn't going to be ready to drive for a few weeks, my doctor said. I needed a ride and my wife was in no mood to be my chauffeur. "Just hire one. They are giving away 50% discounts on rides for a few days," my wife said. Now, I've used the occasional early morning taxi to the airport, but it's not my usual mode of transport in my own city. Nevertheless, she hired one for me using the app on her phone. The ride to my office was a mere Rs 75 and I didn't even have to fish for it in my pocket. Ah, another cashless transaction!
But this got me thinking about how cashless these cab companies and VC firms are soon going to be! They underestimate the average Indian who has grown up driving a hard bargain each day on the street. Sure, the ease of ordering a cab using an app has been a game changer, but if they are still giving away free rides or 50% discounted rides even a year after launch, surely there's something that needs examining.
I did a quick dipstick poll on acquaintances who use various taxi apps regularly and realised that consumers and taxi drivers/owners are having the best time of their lives now. No haggling with auto-wallahs on the fare. Everyone now has multiple apps on their phones, which allow them to first look for the nearest car available and then focus on the cheapest ride on offer.
So, what does it really mean in terms of owning a customer or earning his loyalty, when the product or service is really a basic utilitarian one? Of course, you desire that the car is clean and that the driver is reliable, but the primary aspect becomes the "availability" of a car when you want one. Which explains why aggregators are competing to attract new taxi drivers and now autos too. And all of this makes it perfect for us as consumers. Whoever said there was no free lunch, obviously never lived in today's world and never had a free taxi ride.
So I took my next half-free ride back home and waited for my physiotherapist to come home. These sessions were barely 15 minutes long but cost me Rs 500 a pop. He didn't accept cards and I am usually "cashless", which meant that I had to pitch the benefits of having a mobile POS with him. Ha, converted another one, I smiled to myself!
As he went out of the door, I turned on the TV. I was soon flicking through channels, finally settling on a sports channel. And that brings me back to why watching TV can cause injuries. These TV cameras and HD can trick you into thinking that some of what these top athletes do is very easy. So, here goes... my confession: I tore a ligament thinking I was Kobe Bryant on my local court one weekend, all thanks to watching too much TV!