Low-Tech, High Returns: Service Businesses in the Digital Era

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Low-Tech, High Returns: Service Businesses in the Digital Era
One common misconception among business owners and entrepreneurs is the belief that a high level of technology is a prerequisite for success. Many startups invest significant time and effort in crafting Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) that often require complex technology. But you don't always need to invent something like Tesla's self-driving concept, Apple's Face ID, or an AI like ChatGPT.
While integrating these high-tech solutions into a business can undoubtedly lead to success, it's not a universal requirement for every venture. A compelling example of this is found in low-tech service businesses. In simple terms, these businesses rely on traditional methods and minimal technological integration in their day-to-day operations.
Consider the evolution of transportation services. In the past, you had to hail a cab or a taxi manually for a ride. However, with the advent of mobile apps like Grab or Uber, booking a ride became as simple as a few taps on your smartphone, revolutionizing the entire experience.
This transformative shift in business is often referred to as "process digitalization." It involves integrating digital technologies into various aspects of business processes to enhance efficiency, agility, and overall performance. This showcases that while the addition of technology can undoubtedly propel businesses to new heights, it doesn't always have to be a grand, high-tech affair.
Explore how startups have demonstrated profitability and success through low-tech means, proving that innovation and success can stem from the simplicity and strategic use of technology.

1. BBVA: Traditional to Digital Banking

BBVA (Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria) is a prominent example of a traditional bank that successfully underwent a significant transformation in response to the digital revolution. It started as a traditional brick-and-mortar bank and for decades, it operated with a conventional banking model, relying on physical branches and face-to-face interactions.
However, just like every other industry, the financial industry also experienced struggles as everyone was adapting to the technological advancements. The rise of fintech startups and changing consumer behaviors underscored the need for established banks to adapt swiftly.
Through different digital transformation initiatives, they tried to be more tech-centric:

1. Mobile Banking

BBVA pioneered advancements in mobile banking. Its app, designed with a focus on simplicity and functionality, allowed customers to perform a wide array of transactions from their smartphones, reducing reliance on physical branches.

2. Data-Driven Insights

Leveraging the power of data analytics, BBVA sought to understand customer behavior better. This enabled personalized services, targeted marketing, and data-driven decision-making within the organization.


2. AXA

AXA, a global leader in insurance and asset management, evolved into a multinational insurance giant over the centuries.
Yet, they also needed to adapt to the digital age. The main problem they faced was the shifting expectations of customers in the digital age and they knew they needed to do something to remain competitive. Otherwise, other emerging companies with modern business models will replace them.
Partnering strategically with Microsoft, AXA embarked on a robust digital transformation journey. The collaborative effort bore fruit in the form of a comprehensive digital health platform, initially tested in Italy and Germany.
This platform offered various services, from self-assessment tools to virtual consultations. AXA wanted it to be open for other services too.
Using Microsoft's tech, AXA broke down healthcare barriers and introduced a chatbot, a medical helper, and safe medicine delivery. In just three years, 1.7 million people used the platform, and teleconsultations spiked. AXA's customer loyalty improved a lot, setting a new standard in health services.

3. ReFuel Mobile: Fuel Delivery Service

ReFuel, a pioneering startup in the on-site mobile fuel delivery industry, has redefined the traditional approach to refueling vehicles, offering a range of compelling reasons to forgo the conventional pump and bring their services directly to the customer. Beyond the convenience of on-site fuel delivery, ReFuel addresses critical aspects of fuel management, productivity, cost reduction, risk minimization, and environmental impact.
One of ReFuel's standout features is its fuel management system, providing clients with the ability to track every dollar spent on fuel. This eliminates the need for gas cards or company credit cards, streamlining the financial aspect of fueling operations.
Here are more benefits provided by this fuel startup company:
  1. ReFuel enhances productivity by allowing employees to focus on their tasks instead of spending valuable time at gas stations. This not only saves time but also reduces costs associated with each trip to the pump.
  2. ReFuel's service minimizes risk by decreasing the frequency of vehicle exposure to potential accidents on the road. With fewer trips to the gas station, there is less wear and tear on vehicles, contributing to both safety and maintenance cost reduction.
  3. The company emphasizes environmental sustainability, highlighting that each trip to the gas station contributes to carbon emissions. By consolidating fuel delivery, ReFuel helps reduce the overall carbon footprint associated with refueling.
  4. Customers also benefit from a touchless experience, mitigating health risks associated with conventional refueling methods.
ReFuel's mission is encapsulated in its tagline: "Let us make today the last day you fill up at a gas station." This shows their commitment to revolutionizing the refueling experience, providing efficient, cost-effective, and environmentally conscious solutions to businesses and individuals alike.

What Was Their Secret?

An essential factor that drove their business to new heights can certainly be attributed to their unique business idea—especially ReFuel's fuel delivery service. Yet apart from that, a huge part of it was also because of their effective digital transformation.
All these businesses share a common thread: they have committed to process digitalization and employed effective strategies. Specifically the following:
Customer-Centric Focus.
Whether it's ReFuel Mobile's streamlined mobile app, AXA's digital health platform, or BBVA's online banking services, each business prioritizes customer experience. User-friendly interfaces, personalized services, and efficient digital channels were central to their strategies.
Adaptability to Market Shifts.
All three businesses demonstrated a keen understanding of market shifts. ReFuel Mobile adapted to the demand for convenient fuel delivery, AXA foresaw the changing healthcare landscape, and BBVA recognized the growing importance of online banking.
Low Technology, High Impact.
ReFuel Mobile used real-time data for efficient fuel delivery, AXA employed advanced technologies for teleconsultations, and BBVA streamlined banking operations. The common theme is the use of technology to optimize internal processes and enhance overall operational efficiency.
In essence, these businesses showcase the transformative power of a forward-thinking, adaptable, and tech-savvy approach in navigating today's rapidly evolving business landscape. The key lies not in the complexity of technology but in understanding its tremendous impact. Even through low-tech means, these businesses demonstrate that a strategic embrace of technology can yield high returns and a significant impact on success.

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