Call center group Teleperformance falls 20%; CEO insists AI cannot replace human staff

Shares of Teleperformance plunged 20% on Thursday, after the French call center and office services group missed its full-year revenue target and flagged a “volatile economic environment.”

Investors have been spooked by the potential impact of artificial intelligence on its business model, as companies become more able to tap into the technology directly for their own benefit.

Teleperformance shares dropped 16% last week, according to LSEG data, after Swedish financial services company Klarna said its Open AI-powered customer service assistant was handling two-thirds of customer service calls.

But Teleperformance CEO Daniel Julien on Thursday said that AI would be a positive for its business model — but that it will never fully replace the value of human interaction.

“AI is part of the solutions we provide to the clients,” Julien told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe.”

“AI helps to increase the accuracy of our employees … which is great, but at the end of the day we are here to reduce the friction between the citizens, or the customer, and the companies they have bought a product and service from.”

He stressed, “It’s not just a transactional relationship, it has a lot to do with reassuring, with trust, with empathy. So we perceive AI as enhancing the job that our human employees do, but absolutely not replacing them.”

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Teleperformance share price.

Teleperformance reported 2.3% higher revenue at 8.345 billion euros ($9.091 billion) in 2023, as net profit fell year-on-year from 643 million euros to 602 million euros. Diluted earnings per share hit 10.18 euros, down from 10.77 euros.

In its results, the company said it is working with clients on 250 AI projects, including in generative AI, and it has expanded its portfolio with new partnerships in the space.

“Even the most high-tech or the most AI-involved companies are clients of Teleperformance. We chose that there is a complementarity and not separation,” Julien told CNBC, flagging the company’s agreement with tech giant and major AI player Microsoft.

“They are there to provide a solution that is going to augment the productivity, augment the quality of the information that can be given to the customer, but, at the end of the day, the customer is a human being. The day the customer is going to be a robot, maybe AI will replace the humans.”

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