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Next IT has United on board

Spokane-based tech company Next IT announced that United Airlines will start using its virtual customer agent online next year.

The company has developed similar products for Alaska Airlines and Continental Airlines.

Alaska passengers can query a virtual agent named “Jenn,” which gives short answers on schedules, ticket prices and itineraries. Continental’s agent is branded “Alex.”

United will deploy the agent in 2012, Next IT spokeswoman Jennifer Snell said. That agent’s name has not been revealed.

None of the airlines offers a mobile-specific app that incorporates the Next IT agent, Snell said. Airlines do have apps that provide quick responses on flight information and other related matters.

One of the first agents Next IT developed was the “Sgt. Star” tool that has been used on the recruiting site. It also has sold services to Aetna Insurance and other companies.

Virtual agents have become a growing customer service option. Sometimes referred to as chatterbot programs, they are used in many utilities, call centers and financial services operations.

Some companies use virtual agents as backup options when customer volume surpasses the available live agents on duty.

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