Next IT’s virtual travel agent aids airlines without the human touch

You may have already come across “Jenn” at Alaskaair.com or “Alex” at United.com, the virtual travel agents that help consumers gets answers to their travel questions. Now, the company behind those virtual agents, Spokane’s Next IT, is rolling out a more powerful offering dubbed ActiveAgent for Airlines that is designed to more quickly answer questions around reservations, flight times, baggage fees and more. The 10-year-old company said that it has helped customers — which include Gonzaga University, Expedia and the U.S. Army — reduce inbound calls to customer support centers by as much as 29 percent.

In the latest offering, the virtual travel agents can also offer upgrades for hotels or car rentals, helping airlines drive ancillary revenue on their Web sites.

Fred Brown, CEO of Next IT, said in a press release that the new service comes from the detailed analysis and resolution of more than 40 million travel-related questions. The service “knows what airline customers are going to ask and what solution to offer to quickly and accurately resolve their request,” said Brown, adding that “it’s the difference between hiring a recent college graduate and hiring a trained professional with years of experience.”

Ouch. That may not win many fans with college students — or others for that matter — who are actually looking for work.

Of course, these types of automated customer service offerings are nothing new for the airline industry. And with the rise of Apple’s Siri, people may spend even more time interacting with virtual characters to get answers to their questions.

Welcome to the world of Human Emulation Software.

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