An experiment by the Postal Service in using artificial intelligence for customer service has the potential for expansion not only there but government-wide, according to an IG posting.

During the recent holiday season—a time of especially high numbers of mailings and thus associated customer issues—the USPS deployed a chatbot, a system that simulates conversations, to field questions and complaints, help customers track packages, and give them options once a missing package was located.

“There are plenty of advantages, including letting customers solve problems outside of normal working hours and avoiding long hold times or a voicemail system. In addition, the experiment provided the Postal Service with valuable knowledge it can apply to broader AI plans,” it said.

A forum on the issue sponsored by the IG’s office identified issues including the need to define AI and machine learning and framing ways USPS could apply it more broadly. Suggestions included leveraging Postal Service buying power in procuring cloud services as a host, and extending a partnership National Institutes of Standards and Technology to develop and test optical character recognition.

“An interagency collaboration around AI could help the Postal Service gather support and pioneer the effort in the government sector,” it said.