AI ‘stewardship’ | Klarna asked to be OpenAI's guinea pig - now its chatbot does the work of 700 employees

Klarna asked to be OpenAI's guinea pig - now its chatbot does the work of 700 employees

Klarna has announced its AI chatbot is currently doing the equivalent work of 700 full-time customer service agents.

In a press release shared on February 27, the ‘buy now, pay later’ app says the OpenAI-enabled assistant has been operational for one month, processing 2.3 million chats, which make up two-thirds of Klarna’s customer service conversations.

According to Klarna, the chatbot has a customer satisfaction score similar to human agents but is more accurate in issue resolution with a 25% drop in repeat inquiries.

It is also more productive than its human counterparts, solving issues on average in less than two minutes compared to the previous average of 11 minutes.

Sebastian Siemiatkowski, Co-founder and CEO at Klarna, hails the news as an “AI breakthrough in customer interaction.”

Amid lauding the ability of the assistant to superior customer experiences, Siemiatkowski was quick to highlight what this news means for Klarna’s full-time customer service employees.

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Writing on X, he says: “Customer service has been handled by on average 3000 full time agents employed by our customer service / outsourcing partners. Those partners employ 200 000 people, so in the short term this will only mean that those agents will work for other customers of those partners.”

This reflects a similar move by Klarna six months ago to support workers during job cuts. In August 2023, the company cut 250 customer service employees from teams in Germany and Sweden, offering them an equivalent contract at customer service provider Foundever, where they could continue to provide services to Klarna.

Siemiatkowski also notes the company is “happy” for the employees behind the development of the bot, and says in Klarna’s official statement he hopes the breakthrough will deliver “more interesting challenges for our employees.”

Klarna has been vocal about its plans to embrace AI and what this means for its employees. In December 2023, speaking to the Telegraph, Siemiatkowski announced a hiring freeze outside of engineering based on the use of AI tools including ChatGPT.

At the time, he (seemingly successfully) predicted that “things that previously took people a lot of time can be done much faster and much shorter, and we need fewer people to do the same thing.”

Whilst Siemiatkowski did not announce plans for layoffs at the time, he did admit he expected volunteer departures to shrink Klarna's workforce over time. Klarna previously cut 10% of its workforce in May 2022, with further departures in September of the same year.

Earlier in 2024, Siemiatkowski said he told Sam Altman, CEO at OpenAI “I want Klarna to be your favorite guinea pig.” He appears to have got his wish.

In Klarna’s statement on the success of its OpenAI-powered chatbot, Brad Lightcap, COO at OpenAI, says “Klarna is at the very forefront among our partners in AI adoption and practical application.

Siemiatkowski is a firm believer in the need for transparency and communication from employers on how they plan to use AI, and its impact on society including employees. “We decided to share these statistics to raise the awareness and encourage a proactive approach to the topic of AI,” he says.

We want to reemphasize and encourage society and politicians to consider this carefully and believe a considerate, informed and steady stewardship will be critical to navigate through this transformation of our societies.”

Klarna is the latest in a series of U.S. employers to make major decisions around AI usage that impact its workforce.

Earlier this year, Duolingo announced layoffs for around 10% of its translation contractors in a shift to use AI more heavily for content production. But tech companies like Klarna and Duolingo are not alone. Carol Tomé, CEO of UPS, attributed layoffs – the largest in its 116-year history – in part to new technologies including AI.

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