USPS launches tech-savvy customer service pilot program

Gary Reblin on Federal News Radio's Agency of the Month Program

Imagine opening an email with images of everything coming through your mailbox for the day. You’re getting a catalog with a coupon: “25% off your total purchase at Bloomingdale’s.” You click the image, where it takes you straight to the store’s website to do some online shopping.

This is Informed Delivery, a new pilot program launched by the U.S. Postal service to keep customers up-to-date with parcels coming to their homes while they’re away or at work.

The program, which is running betas in both New York City and the Northern Virginia area, was pioneered by Gary Reblin, vice president for new products and innovation. Reblin wants to help make Americans more aware of what mail comes to their door every day.

During week two of Agency of the Month , featuring the U.S. Postal Service for the month of July, Reblin said over 60 percent of people in the pilot program will interact directly with the mail images and another 70 percent open the Informed Delivery notifications within an hour of receiving them.

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“A lot of people are using this because there tends to be one person in the household that will get the mail, filter it, and decide what everybody should see,” said Reblin, “A lot of people who have used this said ‘I tend to not be that person, so it’s great to be able to see whats coming into my mailbox.”‘

Reblin says it helps “get more eyes on the mail” coming into a household, and bolsters the e-commerce industry.

“[Informed Delivery] allows the Postal Service and anything that we send to be able to be quickly linked online,” he said. “With where e-commerce has gone, a lot of mail that, 20 years ago, would have sent somebody to a store, today is trying to send them online to make a purchase.”

The program uses bar code scanning technology to funnel packages,  where it then sends images to a software program to be sorted and sent to mail recipients.

“People think its a lot easier than it is, but its really pretty amazing how we’re able to do this,” he said. “The amount of technology it takes to put that process together is really a lot for what people view as a simple thing, which is to get an email.”

USPS is recruiting testers for Informed Delivery with ads that link to its website, as well as old-fashioned snail mail. USPS also reaches out to individuals and vendors who are already signed up for other services they offer and contact them through those mailing lists with a link to the sign-up sheet.

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But getting into the program takes some vetting.

“One of the things we make sure of is we do a lot of authentication of the person before they can have access to this service,” Reblin said. “What we need to do is make sure that you are who you say you are… and we are going to only send it personally from us to you.”

Privacy is an important part of the program as well. Once Informed Delivery  images are sent, USPS deletes them to keep information safe.

Reblin acknowledged the Postal Service didn’t always embrace innovative technologies like Informed Delivery.

“What we’re trying to do is evolve mail,” he said. “Back when email came, we bemoaned what digital was doing to the Postal Service. Now we look at it differently. How can it enhance the mail and the experience? How can we use technology to make advertising mail even better?”

For now, Informed Delivery is a free service from the Postal Service. Reblin didn’t say if there were plans to later monetize it. If all goes well, Reblin expects the program to get a nationwide roll-out by Spring 2017.

“It’s a pretty aggressive schedule,” he said. “but with what we’ve seen, its been a great service.”