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Klarna says its AI assistant does the work of 700 people after it laid off 700 people



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Klarna says its AI assistant does the work of 700 people after it laid off 700 people
 

 
One month after taking its OpenAI-powered virtual assistant global, the Swedish buy-now, pay-later company has released new data touting its ability to handle customer communications, make shoppers happier, and even drive better financial results.

The app-based AI chatbot already handles two-thirds of all customer service chats, the company said Tuesday—some 2.3 million conversations so far—with the virtual assistant earning customer satisfaction ratings at the same level as human agents. Klarna, which is expected to go public this year and will need all the hype it can get at a time when investors have been generally frosty toward IPOs, estimates that the chatbot could help improve its profits by $40 million in 2024.

Announcing a partnership with OpenAI early last year, Klarna said it was one of the first companies to integrate the firm’s groundbreaking ChatGPT technology into a plug-in for shopping. The natural-language interface initially helped customers choose items and make other shopping-related decisions based on personalized queries, a feature Klarna described as “smooth shopping.”

The company has continued to build out its AI offerings since then. Its app-based assistants are now available to customers worldwide and handle a variety of tasks including refunds, cancellations, and even disputes.

Klarna boasted in its announcement on Tuesday that the AI assistant “is doing the equivalent work of 700 full-time agents.”

That statement may raise eyebrows for anyone who remembers the middle of 2022, when the company laid off roughly the same number of employees, then about 10% of its staff. At the time, CEO Sebastian Siemiatkowski cited economic uncertainty, inflation, and the likelihood of a recession as reasons for the cuts. He was criticized for his handling of the staff reduction after he shared a public spreadsheet on LinkedIn that contained the names of many of the laid-off workers.

Fast Company asked Klarna how the company arrived at its calculation for its AI assistant’s human-equivalent productivity. The company said the number of equivalent jobs the AI could perform wasn’t related to the layoffs. In a statement, a spokesperson said the company’s customer service is supported by four to five large third-parties that collectively have over 650,000 employees, and that it offers customers the option to speak with human agents if that’s what they prefer.

“This is in no way connected to the workforce reductions in May 2022, and making that conclusion would be incorrect,” the statement read. “We chose to share the figure of 700 to indicate the more long-term consequences of AI technology, where we believe it is important to be tr@nsparent in order to create an understanding in society. We think [it’s] important to proactively address these issues and encourage a thoughtful discussion around how society can meet and navigate this tr@nsformation.”

Companies have used chatbots for years to handle low-level customer queries and other interactions, although these tools are expected to become more versatile in the wake of advancements in artificial intellegence.

Siemiatkowski has been a vocal proponent of AI’s abilities to create a more efficient company. Klarna reportedly made an additional round of cuts later in 2022, and in December of last year it announced a partial hiring freeze, citing to Motherboard the impact of AI on its need for additional human workers. The Stockholm-based company had been Europe’s most valuable fintech until a dramatic downsizing of its valuation in 2022, which came amid a broader slowdown in pandemic-era online shopping.

More recently, buy-now, pay-later purchases saw an upsurge during the 2023 holiday shopping season. Adobe Analytics said they drove $16.6 billion in online sales, an all-time high.

Klarna said its AI assistants—available in 23 markets—speak 35 languages and have improved communications “with local immigrant and expat communities across all our markets.” It says the bots are not only equivalent to human agents in terms of customer satisfaction, but also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


 https://www.fastcompany.c .. -after-layoffs
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