Mail carriers and postal clerks employed at the U.S. Postal Service may soon be asked to keep a more weather eye out for microbusinesses that could benefit from their agency’s special services, as a Sept. 4 Office of Inspector General Report identified the USPS workforce as a key asset to boost that economy.

Microbusinesses are defined as those that have 10 or fewer employees — though they constitute 75 percent of all employers in the United States — and have become increasingly populous with the ability to market their products and services online.

“The Postal Service’s massive workforce is an asset for sharing information and fostering relationships with microbusinesses on a local level. Yet, in the OIG’s survey only 16 percent of microbusinesses said that a postal employee had directly shared information with them about postal services or products that can help their business,” the OIG report said.

According to surveys conducted with microbusiness owners and USPS employees, satisfaction with USPS as a carrier for such businesses is generally high, but employees could do more to educate microbusinesses of their options through USPS.

The agency already conducts programs to educate and empower employees, which the OIG said can be used to expand microbusiness involvement.

“As part of its current small business strategy, the Postal Service utilizes its workforce through several Employee Engagement Programs. These programs are a critical opportunity for the Postal Service to leverage its workforce to better serve microbusinesses,” the report said.

“There are six types of EEPs, generally structured around employee craft and for postmasters. In recent years, the Postal Service partnered with labor unions to create programs that encourage employees to identify new business opportunities and submit promising leads. Taken together, EEPs are a significant source of revenue for the Postal Service, accounting for nearly $884 million in FY 2018, with over 350,000 activities or leads documented.”

According to employees that spoke to OIG, they would benefit from the agency producing brochures, pamphlets and other materials that they can hand to a frequent microbusiness customer to easily introduce them to other business options that USPS offers.

“Some postal employees have used their own creative instincts to offer materials that promote postal services and help local businesses,” the report said.

“In fact, one postmaster in a small New England town shared a pamphlet with the OIG that she developed herself, which served as a holiday season directory of local small businesses. It provided contact information and promoted the Postal Service’s [Every Door Direct Mail] service and Informed Delivery. The pamphlet connected customers to the small businesses and spurred mailing and shipping revenue for the post office, according to the postmaster. This postmaster went above and beyond, but this is one creative example of marketing materials that can resonate with local businesses when shared by employees.”

The report also found that when local postal employees submit potential businesses for USPS representatives to follow up with, the length of time it takes to go from that submission to a USPS business development specialist making a sale could cause the microbusiness to lose interest. This is in part because the BDS employees struggle to make contact with customer retention teams within USPS.

The OIG recommended that the agency develop a formal communication plan for potential microbusiness leads and follow up with employees about the leads they submit. The report also recommended that USPS uncover best practices for encouraging workers to participate in employee engagement programs that can better educate them about their interactions with microbusinesses.

The agency agreed with these recommendations.

Jessie Bur covered the federal workforce and the changes most likely to impact government employees for Federal Times.

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