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Klarna, AI and the Teleperformance share price. A festival of fake news

Publié le 04 mars 2024 à 09:12 par Magazine En-Contact
Klarna, AI and the Teleperformance share price. A festival of fake news

The fintech Klarna, the AI tulip at work? Klarna, the fintech with moody customer service and abysmal losses, has been talking a lot of rubbish in an implausible press release about the effectiveness of its callbot and efficient AI. Why are analysts and journalists so lazy?

Teleperformance saw its share price fall by 14% on 28 February 2024. Concentrix+ Webhelp, the world's 2nd largest BPO company, dropped 11%. The reason given, and widely reported in the media? Klarna, a Swedish online loan company, is said to have revolutionised its customer service thanks to AI. Extrapolating this to the world of BPO, or specialist customer service providers, raises fears of a future downturn for the latter. These proclamations do not stand up to analysis for very long, and are more akin to a well-executed communications operation in preparation for a stock market flotation. Worryingly, they reveal that the slightest announcement that adds to fears, and sometimes to fabulous claims, does not pass the sieve of a simple, basic check.

An AI replacing 700 people is the main assertion made by Klarna in its press release of 27 February 2024. Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in thirty-five languages, Klarna's customer support AI would enable them to make 40 million dollars in profit, probably in staff savings.

The Klarna App

However, the company remains strangely vague about the nature of this AI. Its founder, Sebastian Siemiatkowski, explained in a press release dated 30 August 2023 that he was forming a partnership with OpenAi, the creators of ChatGPT. The latter is no stranger to declarations about the revolutionary potential of AI, proclaiming in recent days: "Power of AI is now". However, the partnership is nothing more than a version of ChatGPT dedicated to businesses: ChatGPT enterprise. The latter takes the form of a chatbot, helping employees. Mr Siemiatowski claims that 2,500 of his 5,000 employees use it.

Apart from this addition, Klarna's customer service operates in the traditional way. The number refers the caller to a call-centre staffed by real people, after several minutes' waiting. As for the application that allows you to chat with the AI-powered chatbot, it refers you to an "expert" advisor, integrated into the chatbot, should you run into the slightest difficulty. Intrigued, we conducted a few conversations with these experts to determine their nature. It soon became clear that they were human and, above all, impatient with our questions. One of them even told us that he had a system to help him write his messages, but that it sometimes malfunctioned.

This lacklustre reality in the face of the thunderous announcements probably conceals a communication manoeuvre reminiscent of the fury of earnings boosted by the simple fact of pronouncing "AI" as many times as possible. In January, the founder told Bloomberg that he wanted to float Klarna on the stock market and was aiming for a valuation of $20 billion.

Is Klarna's customer service a good place for such a test?

As Cédric Théron, Clara Pumilia and many other of the company's customers tell us on GMB's customer reviews in France (Google My Business), Klarna doesn't always respond, doesn't give refunds properly, sometimes doesn't even give refunds at all, and makes a huge number of mistakes and blunders when it comes to customer experience. In fact, when it comes to complex calls or enquiries, the once-and-done approach - the ability to deal with a request in a single interaction - is not achieved.

In this area, the company is in the top league, not far behind N26, the bank that blocks customers' accounts, or HCR bien être, the new mutual insurance scheme imposed on hotels and restaurants and sold by broker Diot Siaci. It is also well placed in the customer service category, doped up with anaemic callbots. So we can understand the Swedish company's desire to enhance its customer service processes with AI. AI = probability of doing things faster, cheaper.

To sum up, anyone with an insider's knowledge of the current reality of customer services or hotlines, listening to conversations and the reasons for calls, knows that AI is already bringing undeniable benefits, but that within a few years, well-trained agents will not be replaced in the proportions mentioned in the studies.

If Klarna has a good grasp of technology, let's suggest he goes and helps another Swedish-born group: Ikea, famous in the customer service field for its kitchens delivered late or in small pieces (the hashtag Ikea fucked my life is still very active), its employee surveillance practices and its frenetic consumption of wood, as we recently discovered on Arte (thank you Arte and Disclose). Tech for good, we often hear.

Naturally, yesterday we tried to contact Klarna's Country Manager in France and Klarna's worldwide press department. They could not be reached. Since we have to smile about this, we started reading a soothing book about these little arrangements with the truth: Clause de conscience, by Gilles Martin-Chauffier (published by Grasset).

The En-Contact editorial team.

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