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Airlines adopt Next IT product

Sat., Feb. 9, 2008, midnight

An automated question-and-answer service developed by Spokane’s Next IT has turned into an online travel agent for Alaska and Horizon airlines.

The Seattle-based airlines unveiled Ask Jenn, an automated information tool that gives advice, finds best fares and responds to customer questions online.

Online visitors to the Alaska and Horizon sites will find an Ask Jenn button on the upper right.

Steve Jarvis, an Alaska Air vice president, said the airline has a tradition of innovation and embraced the technology developed by Next IT, based in downtown Spokane.

Alaska and its sister carrier, Horizon, are the first airlines to introduce an automated customer agent.

Contact via the Web has become Alaska’s primary interaction with customers, Jarvis said. This technology allows people to find answers fast, and frees up regular support staff to answer other questions that Jenn can’t handle, he said.

Customers type in questions on a keyboard, and the online system types or speaks answers.

At present the only language is English, Jarvis said.

The same technology was developed by Next IT and deployed at, where it’s been branded “SGT. STAR.” It’s designed as a tool to assist Army recruitment.

Fred Brown, CEO and president of Next IT, said the company is excited to have Alaska sign on as a customer. “They are an excellent partner and are known as an innovator in their industry,” he said.

Jarvis repaid the compliment, saying the airline searched for comparable solutions by other companies but found no one else who had developed this type of technology.

“In effect this tool is an invention. There’s nothing like it out there. We tested it and found it was totally us, in terms of innovation and customer service,” Jarvis said.

Another key feature of Jenn, he said, is the technology’s ability to learn and improve responses over time.

In addition to straight answers on travel, Jenn – represented as a dark-haired female who looks about 25 – will also answer questions about herself.

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